key to happiness

key to happiness (Photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~)

I have come to understand that happiness takes many forms.  And rarely do these forms include a state of giddiness or silly irresponsibility.  In my case, my happiest moments have been when I have accomplished a great feat, a difficult project, or achieved an important goal.  For example, one of my toughest courses at the university was a specialized computer course that I failed at first, but then chose to face the monster again and vanquished it, triumphant, and was granted the highest grade without needing to take the final exam.  That was a victory over the subject matter, but much more importantly, it was a victory over myself and my own demons.  It was just such difficulty that allowed me to see my deeper self, my core, realize my own strength; and it was that realization that produced a sense of joy and happiness. 

There was another occasion where I chose to override my own urges; where I chose to toe the line, even though it was unpopular, unnecessary, even, and yet that choice of asceticism produced an enormous sense of joy, satisfaction, victory, triumph over myself that cannot be duplicated in any other way.

So, I ask you: is personal choice the way to happiness?  In many ways, yes.  In the situations I described above (and many others), clearly, it was a choice on my part to follow a certain course of action, action that was not as comfortable or pleasant, but action which ultimately was a measure of my mettle.  It is that very sense of pride which has produced my happiness.  And in my ability to make choices also resides my personal freedom.  Were I not free, could I make any choices at all?  Indeed, how many choices would be available to me?  As it is, I have designed my life in such a way so as to have many choices in many situations, and looking at the sum total of my life, it looks like the choices I have made thus far have been solid ones.

In 1984, I applied and was accepted at George Washington University.  I was thrilled and proud to have been accepted at such a prestigious university.  But of course, that would have involved relocating to Washington, D.C. where I knew no one, had no job, and did not like the weather.  The more I thought about it, the harder it became.  Leaving Miami meant abandoning my best friend, relinquishing the deep affinity and meditative spirit I attained from my weekly early morning pilgrimages to the beach, and also meant being far away from my son.  The choice to study at GWU was all the more undesirable when I considered that I would have to push graduation farther by a year and a half to comply with its academic requirements.  To clinch the deal, my boss gave me a raise which I simply could not refuse.  The pros and cons did not even come close.  Prestige of a degree from GWU vs. the life I had carved for myself thus far.  My current life won.

More importantly, in retrospect, I am happy with the choice I made in 1984. 

Then, in 1989, I had yet another opportunity to relocate to Washington, D.C., and again, life in Miami won out. 

The point is that as I look over the choices I have made, I realize that they were all my choices — the so-called good ones, and the not-so good ones.  In fact, we all have infinite choice.  The test is which ones we take?  Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, is quite applicable here:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
I cannot know, of course, how my life would have turned out had I taken the other road.  I do know how my life is now, and when I take full responsibility for my choices, I can clearly recognize the power behind the freedom I have, the freedom I have had to make the choices I have made, which have all converged to bring me to the present moment.