Two things have happened recently that really affected me a lot.
One event of course was the shocking killings of thirty two students and teachers at Virginia Tech in the United States.
When I was reading about this terrible event that made news headlines around the world, I was even more shocked when I read in one of the articles that in the United States, about fifteen young people between the ages of fifteen to twenty-four are killed every single day.
So that the thirty-two people who were killed by a madman in Virginia recently, as terrible as it is, is just the two days toll of the killings that happen to young people every day in the U.S.
If that’s true, it means that every month, in the United States, there is the equivalent of fifteen massacres on the scale of what happened in Virginia.
Because every day these killings happen to only one or two young people at a time, it never makes the national, or international news. Each of those young people killed should be valued and remembered just as much as those who were killed in Virginia, but instead, these killings are largely ignored, except for a tiny flurry of local attention in the media.
And nobody seems to know what to do to stop it.
The other thing that happened that really affected me this week was an accident that I witnessed very near to my house.
I was just coming back from a long car trip and anxious to get home when I rounded the last corner on my way to my house. Half a block from my home, I found my way blocked by a lot of police cars and ambulances with flashing lights. I got out of my car to see what was happening.
What I saw really shocked me. There had obviously been a very high speed collision involving three vehicles, smashing all of them, and injuring some neighbors who live across the street from me.
Two trucks and a van were involved in this collision which happened at a very quiet intersection in a very quiet residential neighborhood. When I looked at where all the pieces of the trucks and van were scattered, I couldn’t figure out what had happened, but it was obvious that somebody must have been going much too fast.
It turned out that my friend who lives next door to me just happened to be walking past this corner when the accident happened, and one of the trucks that was involved in the crash just missed hitting her by inches. She was too shaken to sleep for several days afterwards.
The good thing was that even though all the vehicles involved in this accident were very heavily damaged, through some miracle, nobody was very seriously hurt. The baby in the van survived only because he was in his car seat in the middle of the van, and not sitting on the side where a truck smashed into the side of the van.
My friend jumped out of the way of the truck that was coming at her.
Most of the people involved in this accident lived only a few hundred feet from where the site of the accident, and they missed an unexpected death by a matter of seconds and inches.
These two events happening so close together made me reflect on my life, and I realized one of the big mistakes I was making was that so often I was putting happiness on the back burner. Happiness was something that would come later.
I started to think about what it would mean to live more in the present, and instead of putting things off, to “choose to be happy now”.
Now, you might think that it’s a strange choice to want to write about happiness after a big mass murder and a big accident, but these events reminded me that we make a big mistake if we keep thinking we have to postpone our happiness till something perfect happens.
None of us knows what’s in store for us in the future, so if we ever want to be happy, we have to develop the habit of looking for happiness now, instead of postponing it to some future date that might never come.
We all want to be happy.
The problem for many of us is that even when we find happiness, it always is temporary. No matter how happy we feel for a while, the sensation of happiness eventually goes away, and sometimes we don’t know what to do to get it back.
Many of us are very busy trying to do the things that we think will make us happy, and buying the things that we think will make us happy. We have learned to think about happiness as something we will achieve in the future, instead of something we can actually have right now.
The problem is that if we think that happiness is something we might have in the future, those future moments of happiness may never come.
How many of us say “I’ll be happy when I lose twenty pounds” Or “I’ll be happy when I get a new car” Or “When I have kids I’ll be happy”. Or “Winning the lottery will make me happy.”
Sure, we may feel very happy if we accomplish these goals. But if you think achieving a particular goal or buying a particular car will make you feel happy forever, you’ll quickly find out that any lift is very temporary.
If you’ve had a big improvement in your life, such as winning a lottery, marrying the person of your dreams, or having wonderful children, after a while you get used to the change in your life. For a few years the change may make you feel very happy, but in a couple of years you’ll get used to your new situation, and you’re left back where you started in terms of how happy you are.
Happiness is very mysterious and elusive. Even when we have it we can’t hold on to it.
And happiness isn’t a goal you can actually set out to achieve. You can feel happy as a byproduct of other positive things you are doing in your life.
And you can be living your life in such a way that you are always driving away whatever chance of happiness you might have.
So, if you want to be happy, accept the fact that it’s not a permanent thing.
And realize that happiness is not something that you should put off for the future. Don’t tell yourself that you have to wait until you do something or have something before you allow yourself to be happy.
If you think you have to tie your happiness to some future accomplishment or some future purchase, you will find that any happiness you look forward to may not happen. Once you have the thing you thought you really wanted, you may find out that you feel disappointed instead of happy.
Or the happiness may wear off very quickly, and then you go off chasing something else that you think you need to make you happy.
Instead of postponing your right to happiness to some obscure time in the future, live in the here and now, and look for opportunities to be happy right now, where you are.
Instead of looking for happiness in external objects, learn to develop your capacity for being happy just by existing in this world.
There can be happiness in a lot of little moments you have every day.
Get in the habit of looking for those moments Remind yourself often how many gifts you have been given. Get in the habit of staying in a state of appreciation.