As introverts one of our greatest sources of joy is our own mind. Often, our most memorable experiences occur alone, in the quiet, without a kicky soundtrack or entourage.
This is very difficult for people to accept. We are told that our shining moments should be accompanied by fireworks and cheers. Consequently, we begin to believe that happiness is big, bedazzled and loud.
We forget that happiness does not have a face.
Often, what appears dull and boring on the outside is vibrating, buzzing and bursting with life on the inside. Happiness can have crinkled brows and frowning lips. It is not that jovial fellow who has rosy cheeks and a permanent smile; nor is it the guy who cliff jumps in the rainforest or the girl who leads the conga line at parties. Sunshine and talking animal friends do not follow it wherever it goes. It can be found under the sun or alone in a dark forest.
Perhaps this doesn´t seem like a great revelation to some of you. You´ve never imagined that your life would be better if only you could kick off your shell and do all the things that happy people are supposed to do. Unfortunately for me, I was foolish enough to believe what advertisers and strange little Disney creatures told me about joy.
For most of my adult life, I chased the golden calf of happiness. I tried to replicate the images of bliss that I saw in movies, magazines and even allergy commercials. Everywhere I turned, people told me that in order to be happy, I must ¨open up¨ (and occasionally run through wheat fields with a dopey look of wonder on my face). I believed them. I was too blinded by the glare of the golden calf to realize that it was just a hollow, wooden mule with some gold paint.
Some lies I believed about happiness:
Everyone liking me = happiness
Doing things that I don´t enjoy, but other people love (ie. paintball, partying, meeting new people all the time) = people thinking I´m cool, which will make me feel happy
Money = success, which leads to happiness
Not being so freaking socially awkward a lot of the time = lifelong peace, joy and self-acceptance
Being really beautiful = people won´t notice how weird I am and will accept me into their normal person club where everyone is happy and well-groomed
At various points in my life, I achieved each of the above criteria for happiness. I was able to perfectly replicate the images of happiness that I’d seen on T.V. But each time, I felt more and more like that wooden mule that was shiny on the outside, but hollow inside. I had only achieved the appearance of joy, not the actual sensation.
Famous diarist Anais Nin once said: ¨And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.¨
Many people imagine that in order to open our bud and blossom we must spread our arms wide and let the whole world come rushing in. We think that we need to do it all, see it all and join hands with our neighbors as we sing Kumbaya. But there is more than one way to open up.
First and foremost, we need to crack open the wooden mule and discard the lies surrounding happiness. This year, I did just that. I broke all the rules for finding joy: I closed doors, I said no more often, I went out less, I stopped flat-ironing my hair.
Instead of opening my arms and letting the whole world in, I folded them around me and only let a few VIPs slip through. Rather than grinning everywhere I went, I stared off into the middle distance like a cat. I spent more time thinking and less time doing. Looking back on the year, my moments of greatest joy – and I mean true, reverberating, soul satisfying joy – happened when I was alone.
Of course, I had beautiful experiences with other people. But somehow, being alone magnified my joy. Sometimes a sunset is more awe-inspiring when you can give it your full attention instead of dividing it with someone else; likewise, a morning run is more peaceful when you don’t have another person’s voice constantly interrupting your thoughts.
For me, simply being able to write and create (which I must do by myself) is the essence of joy. When I experience moments of pure bliss, I might not be smiling on the outside; I could very well be crying, or scrunching up my face in concentration, or staring off into space with a blank expression. I may look pretty or I may look disheveled and plain. Regardless of my outward appearance, what I feel on the inside is still joy.
So, let everyone else continue chasing the fake golden calf. We´ll stay right here and relish in every dull shade of grey in which true joy can dwell.