Many of us fear being too happy. Some of us fear being happy, period! If you ask yourself why this is, you may say, “I am afraid of being too happy because I don’t want to be disappointed.” I have heard all kinds of answers to this question, but many seem to follow that rationale, including this big one dealing with relationships: “I am afraid he (she) is not the One.” Let me suggest a different reason why people fear happiness, and how you can confront this fear and let more happiness into your life.
If you are like most of us, the “you” that you think you are is not really you. The real you is sitting there reading this, right here, right now. The real you exists moment-by-moment. However, if you are like most of us, the you that you identify with is the image of yourself that you hold in your mind. This image of yourself is made up of your memories of the past and your anticipation of the future. Memories and anticipation frame the you that exists right now, and define it.
The image of you that is created from memories and anticipation is sometimes called the ego. In addition, some call it the “small self,” and some call it the “false self.” Regardless of what it is called, it is very different from the real you that exists at this moment.
The essential quality of the real you is happiness. We know this because in deep meditation, when the past, the future and thought disappear, what comes up is happiness. The happiness that arises from the real you may be the only source of authentic happiness.
With this background, let’s talk about fear. What do you fear when you are afraid to be happy? Here is what it may be. If true happiness comes from being in touch with your real self, then you have to pull your attention away from your false self to be happy. You have to experience happiness in the moment. It may be that you fear letting go of your false self, even for an instant. You may fear being in the moment.
It may be that you fear letting go of your false self, even for an instant. You may fear being in the moment.
Our memories and anticipation not only frame and define us in the moment, they create the stories of our lives. They create our personal narratives of ourselves — what we have done, and where we are going. Without these stories we are just here, in the moment. Without the stories in which we see ourselves, we may feel untethered and uncomfortable.
Shifting your attention from your false self to the happiness of the real self can feel like pulling yourself out of the story of your life. Letting go of your story can be uncomfortable, even scary. Some people talk about letting go of your false self as feeling like dying. (They also talk about it as being reborn.) Even if the feelings are not that extreme, they can be uncomfortable enough to make you shy away from allowing yourself to be too happy.
When I think of my own fear of taking my attention away from my personal narrative I think of a juggler spinning plates. The juggler balances a stick on the stage, puts a plate atop the stick, and starts it spinning. She does the same with another, and another and another and another, until there are five plates spinning on their sticks. As the first plate starts to spin more slowly, she has to rush over and get it spinning again. Then she sets up another two sticks. She shoots back to three plates that have slowed down nearly to the point where they will fall and gets them going again. She puts up two more plates, and then another, so she finally has ten plates, all spinning. She cannot put up any more plates because she has to keep rushing from plate to plate, speeding them up so they’ll stay on their sticks.
I cannot help but think that the personal narrative looks a lot like this. It is a story with scenery, players, plot lines, winners, losers, happiness, and sorrow, all set in motion, and kept in motion by our minds. It is much like the spinning plates. The ongoing drama we call our lives is kept going, kept spinning, by us, and only by us. Our thoughts, fears, memories and expectations are like the spinning plates. Like the juggler, we zip from one thought to another. We feel that if we did not attend to a particular thought or worry, we would lose control, and something bad would happen. We may fear to pull our attention away from the story, because if we do it may fall apart. The plates may all come crashing to the stage.
In truth, you can let go of your narrative periodically. In fact, you do this all of the time. When you sleep, when you get involved in something, or when you are truly happy, the story is gone. However, it always comes back. When you are conscious of being happy, however, some part of you may also be conscious of letting go of the narrative. This is where the fear can come in.
However, you do not have to fear losing yourself just because you sometimes take a break from your ongoing drama and bask in the happiness that is natural to you.
What to do
The next time you start to feel afraid to be too happy, notice where your attention is. Do not look for specific reasons for the fear, just notice that you may be casting about in your mind for reasons to be afraid. Try to notice that perhaps you have slipped into a moment of awareness of yourself, and that you may be uncomfortable knowing that you have momentarily taken yourself out of the narrative of your life.
Here is an exercise:
Sit in a meditative posture, with eyes open or closed, and take three or four long slow breaths. Now, imagine that you are really happy. You can help bring up a feeling of happiness by thinking about something that makes you happy. However, once you have begun to generate feelings of happiness, focus on those feelings alone. Try to experience happiness for no reason at all. As you do this you come closer and closer to your real self.
Now try to notice any sense that such happiness is not right. This sense may be loud and demanding, or it may be in the background. In any case, it will often be there. It may be a fear of being happy, or it may be a simple feeling of unease. You may feel untethered. If you can notice this feeling then try to allow it to be. Don’t resist it, just allow it to be.
The object of this exercise is to see that there may be a fear or discomfort with the fact that happiness can exist for no reason; that happiness can arise naturally from your true self, and need not be caused by anything happening in your “story.” This fear may simply be the fear of letting go of the importance of your narrative. The fear goes away, allowing you to be happier and happier, as you practice being happy for no reason at all, and get to know this new self — your real self.
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