Chester Higgins, Jr./The New York Times
Two prolific Poets and Writers – Amiri Bakara and Maya Angelou dancing at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York in 1991.
What is Happiness? Is it finding fulfillment through a passionate career or a creative endeavor? Is it sharing laughers with good friends or holding your child for the first time in your hands? Or is happiness the awe we feel staring deep at a large sleepy sunset on a sandy beach or staring at the infinite ends of a night sky filled with vast clusters of distant suns and galaxies. Happiness might be all this but what exactly is it and how does one reach it in their lives?
For me, the problem lies in posing that very question which presupposes that we can reach a state of perfectibility when we as humans are very imperfect. These imperfections I believe defines our existence today and are at the roots of understanding the complicated nature of happiness.
I’ve read too many positive psychology books and heard too many motivational Gurus who have created this false sense of knowing around happiness painted as reaching this sustained mental state and attitude at all times. Happiness as being in the ‘moment’ every day of the year or happiness as something that is far out in the future as this intangible creature dependent on that next job, vacation or promotion. At best, this false and dependent sense can render you lifeless, numb, empty and always wanting more, unfulfilled, or worst following a never ending rat race, always feeling the pressures of comparing oneself to others successes of these imagined moments of happiness or always measuring yourself up to how happy you’re ‘suppose’ to feel right now.
On my journey I’ve come to realize that it’s very important that we continually remind ourselves that we are imperfect species condemned to always reach for perfectibility in an imperfect world. The very art and soul of happiness is at the root of all this and you need to begin to reflect deeply this statement and how it connects to your own individual lives.
We are all filled with vices, polarities, extremities and rhythms, we are not static beings and the moment we see those things playing within ourselves and accept that we are bounded forever to these imperfections and in a rather meaningful way see those as part of the human experience and accept our inability to escape them; we set a foundation of truth. A very fertile and rich foundation of possibilities. With it, we begin to see others, the world and ourselves differently, much more real, one outside of the visceral grips of the ego. We begin to realize that our entire experience in striving for this Happiness is much more nuanced as you engage others and this world. It gives us a lot of freedom actually. A bit of liberation to feel more, to fail more and get back up, to learn and express more in ways you never thought possible. This starts to deconstruct the ego and in the process makes room for the possibilities of experiencing peace as you appreciate life much more vibrantly and give gratitude to the things and people around you. Happiness is not the removal of our imperfections or our pains and sufferings, it is the incredible ability to be with these elements and emotions, all of it and it’s entirety.
Though, I have to admit there does exist many ingredients that can expand that foundation and ignite more freedom to experience more ‘happiness’ in one's life. For me, one of these ingredients is the notion of ‘Neuroplasticity’. The malleability and plasticity of the brain’s ability to shift and form new neural patterns and connections all throughout our lives from the day we are born to the very day we leave this world. As I said before we are not monolithic structures, we are always emerging into being and with a bit of focus, diligence and perseverance one can tap into the power of this ’emergence’ and our interconnecting brain. We can adapt and learn a new language or a new musical instrument, tap into different modes of thinking and intelligence; we can form new healthy habits, and even unlearn old behaviors and patterns and we can do so much more.
The human species though endowed with its imperfect abilities, we are boundless beings, always emerging, and if we apply ourselves, much can change around us for the better, and if we unite through solidarity and work together, even on a large scale we can positively transform this small planet. We have seen this through powerful cultural movements as well as many political and social movements where a multitude of people and organizations have and continue to fight and push the societal envelope for more justice, more rights to disenfranchised and marginalized groups, thus making this world a little less imperfect and less static.