Cheerfulness is what we naturally feel when we give up trying to make things happen the way we want them to, and accept things (including, especially, oneself) as they are. Robert Johnson, the Jungian analyst, lecturer, and author of many wonderful books, including Inner Work, Owning Your Own Shadow, Ecstasy: Understanding the Psychology of Joy, Contentment: A Way to True Happiness, He, She, We, etc., says that the word “happiness” is derived from the root “to happen.” And since things can only happen in this moment, the only way to be happy is to be fully present in this very moment.
Can you recall a moment in your life when you were truly happy? Do you remember how alive you were in that moment? You weren’t preoccupied with the past, nor were you anticipating the future. You were fully present in the moment in which you were experiencing that particular joy. In fact, had you been involved in the past or future, you wouldn’t have been experiencing the joy in that moment.
It is being fully in the moment that allows one to experience joy. You may think that it was the particular circumstance that created the joy for you, but if that were true, you would experience that same joy every time you were in the same or similar circumstances. You cannot plan to be joyous. You can only learn to allow yourself to be present in the moment, and joy will come by itself. It is a matter of letting go.
Children live in the moment much of the time, and so are joyful much of the time. Before they learn to suppress their feelings, they simply feel what they feel when they’re feeling it – and then let it go. They don’t hold on to their anger, fear, or sadness. They fully experience their feelings in the moment that they are feeling them, and then that’s it. The feeling is done being felt, and they get on with whatever is next. There is no residue. And so they are joyous. Even when they are experiencing deep feelings, there is an element of joy in the experience, no matter what they are feeling. Joy is present whenever one is fully alive in the moment, no matter what the experience of the moment may be. As Jesus said, “You must become as children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
We have lost that ability to experience joy because we want certain feelings and experiences, and not others. We try to hold onto “good” feelings and experiences, and get rid of “bad” ones. This is the source of our suffering – our lack of joy. The only way to experience joy is to allow oneself to fully experience whatever one is feeling when one is feeling it.
We must give up hope in order to have Hope; we must give up belief in order to have Faith. The first time I gave up hope was the first time my wife told me she was leaving me. I lied down on the floor and let go of hope – for saving the marriage, for the future I had planned on, for lots of things…. And in giving up hope, I Knew (the kind of knowing that comes from very deep inside – not an intellectual knowing or a hopeful “knowing”) that I would be o.k., she would be o.k., and the kids would be o.k. The next time I gave up hope, it was the hope of getting the kind of love I felt I needed from my mother. In giving up this hope, I became my own mother, giving directly to myself what I had been waiting my whole life to be given to me by someone else (i.e., my wife). The next time I gave up the hope of living forever, and I found my wholeness and interconnectedness with everything. Small “h” hope is a kind of wishful thinking that keeps us from experiencing and living in the capital “H” Hope that is the foundation of our being. Having given up everything, all that is left is what we have always been searching for: peace, joy, and love.