Are you waiting to feel good? Need a reason to be happy?

You don’t need a reason to be happy. We should not wait for a reason, to feel good.

I’m talking truly, deep down to our rooted spiritual bones good—not fulfilling cheap whims good, not numbing out with a substance good, not entitlement and instant gratification. Good, as in: able to appreciate the magnitude of what’s possible in the world; taking pleasure in silly nothings and ridiculous jokes; tapping into gratitude for the miracle of your existence.

Some people are waiting for reasons to feel good. They believe that they have no right to feel good, when so many others suffer; they believe that they cannot feel good, because how could anyone possibly feel good, given the XYZ challenges that they are facing?

If you hold yourself back from feeling good because other people still suffer in the world, you will never feel good (and people will still suffer, by the way; your feeling bad won’t change that).

If you hold yourself back from feeling good because you are facing life challenges, you will never feel good (and you will still have life challenges, by the way; your feeling bad won’t change that, either).

We have never lived in a world where people do not suffer, and no one has ever lived a life where they don’t encounter challenges.

Pause. Hold on. Read that one more time: We have never lived in a world where people do not suffer, and no one has ever lived a life where they don’t encounter challenges.

If people always held themselves back from feeling joyful until either of those issues were eradicated? Not one person would ever be happy.

People are about as happy as they find reasons to be. This isn’t some pithy personal growth statement. It’s science—negative mental rumination has been found in a host of studies to increase feelings of depression and anxiety, not provide anyone with helpful ways to solve problems. Everything we understand about shifting the psychological tides of stress, fear, anxiety points to a need to take control of ruminative thinking and reframe in a more positive direction.

We live in a highly binary culture that often sits poised for outrage, which means that I need to clarify my perspective on this as being non-binary: in saying any of this, I don’t believe all of one thing, and none of the other.

In other words, I don’t believe that the options are either holding yourself back from joy because you’re paying attention to suffering and challenges, versus being totally joyful because you completely ignore the fact that people suffer or you pretend your own challenges don’t exist. Of course we need to pay some attention to the fact that people suffer, that we suffer, that challenges exist.

I’m just pointing out facts: being so immersed in suffering or challenges that you feel you can’t allow yourself even an inch of pleasure, is parasitic.

It does you no good.
It does the people who suffer no good.
It’s not helpful.
A parasite dissolves its host.
Stewing in the things that don’t feel good, will dissolve you.

So it’s worth it to ask yourself: why don’t I feel good? Many answers will emerge. In every life, there are a certain number of reasons for not feeling good that are largely outside the scope of our control or that are part of systems that are bigger than ourselves and which we cannot immediately change.

And, in every life, there are places you can find where not feeling good boils down to a decision that needs to be made, to consciously choose something that feels good. Consciously choose a little bit of cautious optimism. Deciding to laugh off the small stuff, the petty annoyances. Find something, anything, to be grateful for.

Again, let’s not get reductive. If there’s one thing that drives me nuts about public discourse these days, it’s when someone picks one little thread of what someone has said, and gets reductive, acting as if that one little piece is the totality of what someone is saying. I’m not saying, “Systemic oppression doesn’t even matter; it’s all just your mindset!” I’m saying systemic oppression is real, and it hurts, and it needs to be changed, and the way we change it is through each of us as individuals doing the painful and necessary work of looking at our lives and what we take and what we give—and—we must still experience joy, along the way. We must find ways to cry the tears and scream the rage and also laugh the laughter.

You can’t wait to feel good until after the work is done. One more time: we have never lived in a world where people do not suffer, and no one has ever lived a life where they don’t encounter challenges. You must do what you can, wherever you can, to not be pulled into a psychological undertow. That means right here and right now, you don’t need a reason to be happy. You can, simply, be happy—you can breathe, in and out, and notice that it is pleasant enough and that can be your happiness, or you can think about things that have made you wildly ecstatic in the past. It’s up to you. Right here, right now—your choice.