Yesterday afternoon I completed a weekend master coaching workshop with mentor Steve Chandler. The workshop was held near Times Square – about as opposite to Jackson Hole, Wyoming as one could get.
As we were leaving the seminar, someone mentioned that Billy Joel was playing at Madison Square Garden at 8pm. The words only slightly registered until about 7:30pm when I had a surge of energy and decided to look online to see if there were tickets available. For $80, I could get second level center stage seats. This blog could be entitled, “How to go from thinking about going to sleep to running down 7th avenue to see Billy Joel in 15 minutes or less.” But it’s not. It’s a blog about how to think about happiness.
Going back to Aristotle, people have talked about different levels of happiness. There’s the spontaneous, experiential, somewhat superficial level of happiness – the surge we get from a new purchase, a fun dinner, Instagram likes, going to a Billy Joel Concert. It’s the adrenaline rush, the fun story, the memory. Some writers call it the ego happiness – external things and experiences that just give us a cool zing. With social media leading the charge, this is often what we define as happiness – so we can end up zooming around trying to fill our cup with stuff, experiences, activities, accolades – thinking this is full happiness. But it’s really the thinnest of happiness.
Next, there’s the relationship level of happiness. This is about the joy of connection, of love, of sharing the world with another, of the knowing that we aren’t alone. This dimension of happiness brings in commitment and growth. Relationships aren’t always easy or smooth sailing but the synergy of 1+1=3 is real. In the U.S.’s longest running study on human health and longevity (a large-based study run by Harvard since the 1930’s), the only variable they can find as a determinant of longevity is how connected we are in relationship. The more we are connected, the longer we live (and people report higher levels of happiness). Yesterday at the concert, I sat next to a woman my age and her 23 year-old daughter. She told me they had bought their tickets in February as birthday presents to each other. I was experiencing the concert at the level of a fun experience. They were experiencing the concert at the level of deep joy, connection and shared memories with each other. They laughed as they told me how they’d been singing his songs in the car since her daughter was a little girl.
Finally there’s the purpose level of happiness. This is the level where the deep work exists; the level where we make the daily commitment to uncover, ignite, expand the values we want to live by, the gifts we want to share with the world, the purpose for which we were born. This level of happiness has little to do with the first level (although it can sure have amazing powerful joyful zinging moments). This is the container of happiness that includes frustration, exhaustion, practice, humility, resilience, heart connection). Billy Joel last night embodied this level of happiness. How many thousands of hours of practice did he put in over a lifetime to now so effortlessly have his fingers fly over the keyboard? His journey hasn’t always been an easy one, but his joy at those ivory keys he played for the 111th time at MSG was palpable.
While we may not all have the musical gifts of a Billy Joel, we all do have the power of our unique purpose within us. It is when we commit to courageously finding it, living by it, learning to dance with the fears of our own insecurity while we more joyously allow our gifts to play in world, that the deepest happiness awaits us. It is the happiness of owning our life, of creating our story, of breathing in our deepest knowing. A daily practice of setting aside our fears and quietly breathing can help that inner voice be heard.
Then when we show up in relationship, we bring more clarity, understanding and honestly. The relationship can deepen, bringing more happiness.
When we commit to a daily practice of listening within, setting intentions and allowing our beautiful selves to show up in the world, we open up to our most powerful happiness – the connection, acceptance and love of ourselves.