The image of myself which I try to create in my own mind in order that I may love myself is very different from the image which I try to create in the minds of others in order that they may love me. – W.H. Auden
In the never ending search for happiness, is love really all you need?
In the June 2009 issue of The Atlantic Magazine, the article “What Makes Us Happy?” reveals some amazing insights into what makes people happy. The article looked at research gathered from a study that tracked the lives of over two-hundred men for more than seventy years. The article concludes that love is the key to happiness.
“The job isn’t conforming; it isn’t keeping up with the Joneses. It is playing, and working, and loving. Loving is probably the most important. Happiness is love, full stop.” – George Vaillant, director, the Grant Study
I had it all backwards.
For most of my life I sought acceptance rather than love. In hindsight, even when I thought I was in love or acting lovely, it was just a tool I used to seek acceptance.
On March 12, 2006, at the age of 35, the tireless cycle of searching for love, acceptance, and wrestling happiness out of life drastically changed course for me. Locked away from the world and suffering from depression, addiction, a failed marriage and a lost job, I faced a difficult decision; whether or not to commit suicide.
I share this not to be overly dramatic or invoke a response, it’s just the truth. It’s what happened and at the time life or death were the only clear options I could see. The decision was difficult to make; living was very painful for me and I just wanted it to end, I was tired.
In a moment of clarity I remembered a note my mother had snuck in my luggage as I traveled overseas just out of high school:
Take your time and count to five,
Keep yourself always safe and alive,
the greatest gift a child can give,
Is that their parents they outlive.
So I gave up, but I chose to live. I surrendered my perception of what happiness was supposed to be and sought help as only the dying can.
Fear spinning at light speed
After making that decision, I recall just a few of the things I said. The first was after hitting speed dial on my phone, hearing my sister’s voice I said, “I’m done, I can’t do this anymore.”
The next conversation I remember was while lying in a child’s bed at my sister’s house. As she gently rubbed my forehead, I remember saying, “I don’t love myself.” She replied, “That’s OK Jared, I’ll love you enough until you can.”
It’s sad. My heart still swells and I want to cry and love me then. We really need to hug ourselves more often.
In the past, regardless of what life threw my way, there remained an underlying knowing that I could figure it out. Whatever it was I struggled with—addictions, bills, relationships, happiness—if and when I really put my mind to it, I could overcome anything with self-will.
Desperation led me to this point. A place of complete surrender and acceptance that I had no idea how to be happy. Every conceivable option and outcome had been tumbled through my mind, leaving no more jagged edges; just a mass of regrets, guilt, and fear spinning at light speed.
In contrast was the moment of clarity that made a decision inevitable, the complete and total clarity in the realization that the solution was not in my power to achieve.
I tasted true humility for the first time in my life.
What followed was simply hard work. Books, therapists, 12-step programs, clergy, physiatrists, life and spiritual coaches, seminars… etc., if I thought they had something to teach me I was listening. I no longer cared what others thought of me. I was just happy to be alive and anything after that was gravy.
I was taking real action and responsibility for my own life and happiness.
The most important thing I learned was how little I cared for myself; which was hard for me to accept or imagine at first. After all, most of my friends would have described me as positive, out-going, funny, and having my crap together. So it took a while for me to realize that’s just what I was showing on the outside.
Inside I was consumed by fear; fear of not being loved or accepted, which for me was the same thing.
Through a lot of hard and continuous work, I have a pretty realistic view and love for my authentic self today.
A few years ago I saw an allergy commercial on TV that reminded me of my own journey. A gentleman is strolling through the woods, yet there are two slightly transparent versions of himself; each version on a different path. After taking allergy medicine, the two versions come together as one, clearly defined man and moving confidently down the center of the path.
That’s me today. I feel God’s heart-swelling love and am no longer split in two; I’m who I’m supposed to be and I’m OK with that. Actually, it’s pretty awesome.
Growing up on a farm in East Central Kansas, I was amazed that we could put all these little seeds in the ground and they would grow and fill an entire field with food. A wheat seed is tiny, yet it has all the potential to sprout, grow, and become something more. So do you.
You intrinsically have everything you need to be happy, loved, and fulfilled; put there by your creator. You just need to invite it in, accept it, believe in it, and allow it to shape you into who you were meant to be.
I think a lot of us still over complicate happiness. In most cases it just takes a little work. But that work is often uncomfortable; it means dealing with emotions.
We’re reluctant to dig deep within ourselves for answers in fear of what we may or may not find.
Naturally we seek an easier way through immediate gratification and external sources.
It’s OK that we do that, it’s natural. I lived that way most of my life, seemingly happy. But it’s not comparable to the happiness I experience today.
The process of self-discovery allowed me to become emotionally connected with myself, God, and my own divinity. Sometimes referred to as “self-love” or acceptance, but the concept is pretty basic; know yourself better than anyone else and learn true acceptance and love for self.
Happiness is love
In the final scene of the movie Into the Wild (and if you haven’t seen it, I warn you it’s pretty hard to watch), Christopher McCandless is writing in between the lines of a book—his journal—for the last time.
Alone, dying in the Alaskan wilderness and reflecting back on his life he weakly scribes, “Happiness only real when shared.”
There have been times in my life when I’ve been alone and scared. And even times I’ve been alone and relatively happy. But by becoming emotionally connected and loving of self, I know what it feels like to be loved.
To truly love oneself is to accept the love of God. It’s not a belief for me anymore but a knowing as it permeates every part of my life. With that kind of love, there are no obstacles in life today, just opportunities to learn.
And no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I may physically be alone, but I’m never lonely.
I feel the empathy for the guy alone in the dark. It’s not just in my head anymore, I feel it, I experience it, and it’s real. That is the love that moves across conversations, that you can feel emanating from others and makes experiences palpable.
Happiness is love.