A license to be happy

At an event several weeks ago, I was presented with a small piece of paper. It read:

Happiness License
This document officially grants the bearer a perpetual right to be happy,
for any reason or no reason at all, without let or hindrance.
Let no one infringe this right.

At the bottom of the license was the signature of Ajahn Brahm, the Buddhist monk from whose book it had been photocopied.  I thought it was brilliant, and worth repeating: You have permission to be happy! It's a reminder that I frequently need.

There seems to be a story out there (and in my head as well) that the pursuit of happiness is selfish, and that focusing too much on our own happiness is irresponsible. But I don't think it's true.

Just think about it. Does it make you happy when you are selfish and irresponsible? I know for sure it doesn't make me happy to be that way. In fact, it feels pretty rotten!

So why is it that we human beings act that way so much of the time?  I actually think it's because we're not pursuing happiness enough. We do plenty of things to avoid being uncomfortable (many of which do seem selfish or irresponsible), but that is not the same as pursuing happiness.

When I am authentically happy, I care more about other people, not less. My own needs are met, so I can more easily give to others. I feel loving, accepting, humble, and generous. I think the world needs a lot more of that!

The word authentic is key. There are plenty of times when I've pretended to be happy, or felt I should be happy, or tried to manipulate myself into being happy, without actually taking care of my needs. It doesn't work.

That said, it's not always obvious to me what I need. Circumstances change from moment to moment, and what made me happy yesterday may not have the same effect today. Happiness requires slowing down and paying attention to now.

What would make you authentically happy in this moment? Remember, you have permission:

  • If you're hungry, you have a right to seek food.
  • If you're sleepy, you have a right to seek rest.
  • If you're cold, you have a right to seek warmth.
  • If you're lonely, you have a right to seek connection.
  • If you're ashamed, you have a right to seek forgiveness.
  • If you're afraid, you have a right to seek comfort.
  • If you feel a calling, you have a right to pursue it.

And if you're happy, you have a right to experience your happiness.