Gestaltists say that happiness is not the goal, it arrives with the sense of open-ness which is a by-product of our relational approach. Finding the joy of life, knowing we are able to be what we want to be, including our wounds in our sense of self, trusting not only ourselves but others, trusting there will always be a next step for us, a ground under our feet – these are the fruits of “the work.” But we know we live in a society in which the work is never done, the fruit is never harvested, in which the moments of victory never seem to last long before we are onto the next thing. Because of this moments of expansion, of joy, pass us by, and we spend thousands of dollars on addictions and holidays to try to make happiness a goal.
It is a common saying that we listen more closely to criticism and judgment than we do to praise and acceptance. We do not trust praise because we have never been praised for our natural self, our “warts and all” for which every child wants to be loved. We have come to believe that we are not worth happiness. And because we fear to be “open” – confusing open with vulnerable (an entirely other condition that means wounded) we lack the skill to know what “happiness” feels like.
Happiness is for children. They know where to find it in any space. We now know that throughout our entire lives we will have the capacity to be a child. It never leaves us. There is no need for regression, we can always call on that child aspect of self and ask it to find happiness. It exists in the world: in the reflection of the moon on water and in waves, in the colour of birds, in hidden rooms and forest trails. Your child can find it in the room you are in now – the place in the room where happiness is – and its call is as personal and as different as you and I.
Under all of our motivations is the will of our child self. Desire for change, desire for different experiences, desire to grow, desire to learn, desire to determine one’s own way in life – these are the child’s will. If even one element of the child’s happiness is present in our work, our home, our relationships, we will stay despite other hardship.
I tell my students that over my years of therapy work my clients have asked me to support their grief, their anger, their longing, but not one person in all the years ever said to me: “Jay, I have had some joy and I would like you to help me to have some more”. Joy is the one emotion we literally expect to be random in our life, rather than part of the cycle of everyday life itself.
Here is an assignment for you if you have had some joy and would like to have some more:
Write down 50 things that make you happy. Start with simple things – the feel of wind on your cheek, playing with a kitten, laughing with friends, curling up with a book, snowflakes on your tongue. Look for the feeling of humming inside you, think of the moments when you were a child when you laughed from your belly, trusted the out of doors, drew with abandon. How many can you list?
Think of the times in your life that you were most happy and remember the environment, the circumstances, the activities, the people, and add them to your list. When you are complete, look over your list and see the arenas in which your child likes to play. Are some of them in nature? With friends? Solitary? Active such as Dancing, Walking, Sport? Music? Art? Take those categories and write them into your daytimer. Under each one generate specific things that you can do that fit each. For example one of mine is Adventure and under that I can put a range of activities from Climbing Machu Piccu to exploring Queen Street West. The important thing is that any touch of happiness gives energy and it is more important to do something each day than wait for the big adventure.
Some of us have been lucky enough to have met people in our life who have made their careers out of their child’s joy. I have been that lucky. Early on I met a man who made a living telling stories to people in ancient cities where people paid for his journey and for the stories as well. Joan Bodger one of our early Gestalt therapists made a living taking people to Stonehenge and re-enacting the paths of Arthur. I am told that body workers live past 100. When I asked my own teacher Jorge Rosner why he was a Gestalt therapist he said to me: I am getting away with murder, I get paid just to be myself. It is why I am a Gestalt therapist. When we develop a taste for happiness we can let our brilliant creative brains find a way to turn it into a vocation and a way of life.
Homework: Put your list in your daytimer or on your phone so you can have it with you wherever you are. Each day check it to see how many you have done. Can you do minimum 5 acts of happiness a day? Do this for a month to test it out – it will take at least that long or longer to make space for happiness in your life, and even longer to allow the feeling. To navigate the difficult atmosphere of our contemporary life, it is the missing fuel.