“Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.” Anonymous
I made myself a salad last year (I do it at least once every year whether I need to or not). On top of a bed of fresh spinach leaves, I sprinkled a few vegetable bits, some tiny pieces of dried fruit and some chopped pecans. I love that hint of nuttiness in my salad, don’t you? (smile)
As I searched for my favorite vinaigrette, I found something in the refrigerator that I had to have on my salad – a perfect little chunk of cheddar cheese. Of course, I couldn’t just throw a single chunk of cheese on my salad. I’d have to grate it first. I wondered to myself, “Where’s that cheese grater?”
I started looking through the kitchen drawers and cupboards, but I didn’t find it right away. As I searched, I imagined my salad with those little bits of cheesy goodness spread over the top. I eventually came to a drawer with a grater inside, but it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined.
It was tiny. I could hold it in the palm of my hand. I wondered what this thing was doing in the big people kitchen. It looked like it belonged to a doll. It was the smallest grater I had ever seen, but it would have to do. My chunk of cheese wasn’t that big anyway.
The little grater worked perfectly, and helped me add a nice touch to the best salad I had eaten in over a year. After lunch, I quickly rinsed off the grater and left it sitting next to the kitchen sink.
Later that afternoon, my wife went to the sink and washed the dishes. Before she began, she held up the little grater and asked, “Did you use this for cheese?”
I responded, “Yep, it worked great. I’m sure glad I found it.”
She laughed and said, “This is for little things like garlic, ginger and lemon zest.”
I admit that I was surprised that such specialized kitchen devices had actually been invented. As I pondered my wife’s slightly stunning revelation, she opened a cupboard above the kitchen sink and pointed to a cheese grater sitting at eye level and in clear sight. Go figure.
Now, what does that have to do with our emotions? Literally, very little. Figuratively, a lot. Let me explain.
1. Just Let Happiness Happen
Let’s say that happiness is like the cheese sprinkled all over our salad. It’s that finishing touch that pulls the rest of our lives together. We don’t necessarily want one big chunk of happiness all at once, especially if it means that we’ll never taste it again (OK, maybe an occasional chunk of it would be nice). What we really want is for happiness to flavor every aspect of our lives. We want to taste at least a little bit of it in every bite.
On the day I made my salad, I didn’t really care how my cheese was grated. I just wanted the finished product. If I had demanded that my cheese be grated with a cheese grater, I would have either settled for no cheese at all or eaten the whole chunk at once. Part of my lunch would have been too cheesy and the other part cheese-less. And, that is entirely unacceptable! (just kidding)
One of the secrets of finding happiness is to simply let it happen without forcing it. Happiness is always happening without any help from you or me. All we have to do is accept it. It can only get inside us if we’re willing to let it in, no matter how or when it shows up.
When we’re in too much of a hurry to find happiness, or we try to force it, it will remain elusive. Happiness rarely comes to those who demand their version of it this very instant. It comes, instead, to those who see the perfection in otherwise imperfect things and recognize truth and beauty in even the most difficult times. How many reasons to be happy do we pass over in search of the perfect one? If we really want to be happy, we need to stop demanding that happiness be delivered in perfect packages according to our predetermined schedule.
2. Look for Ways to Expand Happiness
We really are better at being happy than we imagine while we’re miserable. When we learn to look past the imperfections on the surface of things, we discover all the reasons to be joyful everywhere we go and all the time.
There are a variety of inner tools available to us for spreading happiness all over our lives. Gratitude, simplicity, awareness, creativity, and passion are just a few of our innate abilities for finding happiness in every bite. If one doesn’t work, another will. If I hadn’t found that garlic grater, I probably would have just sliced up my cheese into little pieces with a knife or crumbled it delicately with my fingers.
If we’re true to our pure desire for it, we’ll eventually rediscover the inner resources that make consistent happiness possible. Even when an answer comes in an unexpected way, accept it. I wasn’t looking for a garlic grater, but I used it anyway. I didn’t know that I was supposed to be disappointed that it wasn’t designed to grate cheese. It turned out to be the perfect tool for my little chunk. It was no big deal that I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. In the end, I found what I wanted.
3. Love Whatever Comes into Your Life
Another key to consistent and prolonged happiness is to welcome it in without being overly concerned about the clothes it wears or its choice of words. I can’t think of anything in my life that’s perfect in absolutely every way or at absolutely all times (Can you?), but I can think of thousands of things that I love, and I know that you can too.
To the extent that we choose to love whatever comes into our lives, whatever comes into our lives is perfect. None of us may have a perfect spouse, perfect children, a perfect boss, perfect friends, a perfect house, a perfect car, perfect weather, perfect blah blah blah, but when we choose to love the people and things in our lives, we’re rarely disappointed and never dismayed. Even our pain can be perfect if it helps us change for the better.
Even if I had never found my chunk of cheese in the first place, I was still free to simply savor my salad without any cheese at all. Those who find a taste of perfection in every imperfect bite, the emotionally resourceful people we most admire, are almost always happy. And, even when happy feelings are elusive to them, they’re still fulfilled. In our literal lives, fulfillment is not found in the cheese, and that’s OK. Even without the cheese, we can still enjoy the nuts.
What are some of the imperfect things in your life that you love?
Where do you find perfection in an imperfect world?
How have you learned to be emotionally resourceful?
Note: A version of this post was published previously at MisterMaguru.com by Dr. John C. Brailsford.