"Happiness is the Consequence of Personal Effort"
This is a quote I pulled out of my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eay Pray Love - - a book I've kept next to my bed for the past 3 years that serves as a fixed reminder of the utter sweetness of striving.
The other day while cleaning out my closet, I came across a box of books. My gaze rested on the colorful cover of Filastrocche Italiane, a children's book of nursery rhymes. I remember buying this cartoon-laden beauty when I was in a town in Italy called Ascoli Piceno (in the Marche region - fairly unknown) in 2006. In my attempt to learn Italian, I thought starting with a children's book (and accompanying English picture translations) would be helpful, along with the Italian pop music I listened to on repeat. While I had learned French when I was in grammar school, learning a new language at the age of 25 was a lot more difficult. Apparently my window of opportunity for a language to take up free rent in my head had closed at the ripe age of 5 (I still don't understand why we start teaching kids languages in 6th grade - hello!?! our instant language learning sponge absorbing effect is diminished by now!). I remember starting with the nouns and learning how to string them together, but always having to make a conscious effort to think before I formed each word.
While staring down at this children's book of nursery rhymes, nostalgia rushing into my head like water rushing into a capsizing boat (my trip to Italy was quite memorable), I thought about the parallels between learning a new language (at the age of 25, not 5) and happiness. Happiness is something that, like language, doesn't always come instinctively, or effortlessly. Instead, happiness is something that we must choose time after time, day after day, in the small decisions, and the big, and how we let our attitude shape our perception of the world. Sometimes it comes from choosing to be a good friend, investing in our own dreams, complimenting the stranger in the elevator on her shoes, spending 5 hours on a well earned Sunday to do something charitable, or giving ourselves the time to strive for something, maybe even something impractical by the world's standards.
So again, to the language parallel, the more we practice ways of happiness, no matter how old, or grandfathered in we are to a certain way, with practice, happiness can become more natural, instinctual, and take up more free rent in our heads, so that we don't have to think about it each time we want it to come out right. If we don't use it, we'll probably lose it.
Happiness is in the never-ending, conscious striving.
"I keep remembering one of my Guru's teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you're fortunate enough. But that's not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have a achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don't you will leak away your innate contentment. It's easy enough to pray when you're in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments." - Elizabeth Gilbert