“Happiness is gained by sacrifice!”. “Anything good in life comes with hard work”. “Life is hard”. “Life is a battle”. “The world is a dangerous place, you need to fight to come through”. “Only the best succeed in life”. “When good comes too easily, something is wrong”. “Nothing good comes without struggle”.
I could go on and on with a string of limiting beliefs which make people suffer from what a good friend calls “the fear of happiness”.
At first sight it seems absurd – how can one be afraid of something which we all desperately pursue all our lives? How can you run away from the one thing which, declaratively, all people want?
Yet I see, every day, people who unconsciously sabotage their own happiness. People who succeed every time in ruining a moment which they strove for and dreamt about sometimes for years – the interview for the perfect job, the date with the dream partner, the relationship with the much-wanted children, the joy of a long-awaited vacation. Every time, when they reach their goals, these people, and there’s many of them, start finding the flaws or worse, just as they are about to get what they dreamt about, they manage to fail at the last moment so then they can cry in self pity and convince themselves once more that life is hard and they are out of luck.
There is somewhere, woven in the education many of us receive, a fear of that magical moment when our dreams will come true. Many people carry, deep inside, the conviction that they don’t deserve to be happy, that happiness is illusory or that after anything good something bad is bound to happen. So they would rather create strings of self-fulfilling prophecies and never reach that “something good” lest suffering should follow.
This comes, I believe, from the lack of self love many of us suffer from. We were taught that loving ourselves unconditionally is an act of arrogance, of egotism, that we must always pay a price for the good in our lives. We were taught to react suspiciously to any happy surprise life might have in stow for us, to be on perpetual alert, on the lookout for danger – thus the endemic mistrust that plagues us in our relationships with others and in our outlook on our own destiny.
I was recently chatting with a friend who just got married with her soulmate, has a job she likes, a beautiful house, a dog she loves – everything she ever dreamed of to be happy is there – and yet was telling me she found herself, right after the wedding (which was everything she had hoped for), going into a bone-chilling panic, thinking of all the tragedies and dangers that might beseech her or her loved ones. Another friend, an actress, was sharing something similar at a moment when she is appreciated and recognised for her talent and has every chance to get the role she is dreaming of – now, with so little to go to the fulfilment of her dream, she feels overwhelmed by fear in front of her own success.
I have so many other examples of people who simply freeze when faced with their own happiness and seem to create problems when all others have been solved. I myself have done this countless times. I became critical when my life seemed to finally get into a smooth, happy flow and the results of my work started showing, whenever I was offered opportunities out of the blue or people I barely knew generously opened doors for me, doors I never thought would open. Every time I thought something was amiss, I thought it couldn’t be that easy, every time I almost felt guilty for any happy outcome which hadn’t been obtained with “blood and tears” but had come easily, effortlessly, almost like a walz.
I believe few of us are truly aware of the endless creativity with which we sabotage our own fulfilment. Few of us truly understand the dimensions of our lack of self-love which makes us believe, deep down, that we don’t really deserve that our dreams come true.
That critical spirit, that Inner Judge who constantly evaluates us and forever tells us we aren’t good enough, haven’t done enough, something is missing -would perish in the instant when declared ourselves officially and fully satisfied with what we are, can or have. This Judge is a character who fights stubbornly for its own survival. Always critical, always discontent – he tries to convince us that perpetual struggle and dissatisfaction lead to progress and that any moment of relaxation, when might feel at peace and completely happy – would mean stagnation, complacency and staying in a mediocre comfort zone.
I have started catching Mr. Judge red-handed whenever I notice myself saying it’s not enough, I need something more, I haven’t done enough, those around me haven’t done enough or that I can do better. I started recognising him more easily in others too and I am amazed at how present he is in our lives.
This Judge carries within him all the “You can’t do that”, “You’ll see when you grow up!”, “Get your feet back on the ground!”, “Life is not what you think!”, “Forget the stupid dreams and do something useful!” we’ve ever heard in our lives. It’s as if all the judgements and fears others projected on us when we were young, fearless and constantly living in the present moment have been interiorized and grouped under this sole voice which always sees the next catastrophe, is never satisfied no matter what we do and becomes a fierce guardian against self-peace and depository of all the fears which prevent us from allowing ourselves to be happy.
I for one have more and more days when I simply let Mr Judge know I don’t need his services anymore. I notice he doesn’t like my defying attitude and the way I enjoy everything anytime, stubbornly believing that happiness is not a destination (as he would have me think, along with the eternal “you aren’t there yet”) but a journey, a string of moments hidden, like gems, in the apparent routine of every day. A child’s smile on the street, a few hours telling stories with a good friend, the voice of my beloved from the other side of the world, a song, a walk in the park, a successful workshop ending in hugs and plans for a better life, an evening making pancakes with my dear ones – all these are happiness for me.
For the first time in my life I am no longer afraid of happiness and for the first time I accept I can grow and evolve even if I no longer have that perpetual dissatisfaction pushing me from behind.
In the old days, when I ate a cake, I always started with the part I liked less thinking I’d save the best for last. Too often, when I got there, I was already full and didn’t enjoy it anymore. Today I start the cake with the part I like best. And I cannot help wondering now, after the long journey that brought me here, how easy it really is and how much time I wasted convinced it must be really hard…