The Pathless Path

Wayne C. Allen – a simple Zen guy – writes about living and relating elegantly


The Courage to be Happy

Introduction:Happiness: myth and real­ity

I’ve been semi-intrigued with the HBO TV show, "Tell Me That You Love Me," which just ended its first season. The plot revolves around a middle-aged female sex ther­a­pist, and three of her couple clients. The ther­a­pist, last episode, received a box of her freshly published book, called "Bed Dread." Her husband read the Dedication, the last part of which went, "… and to the men and women who have the courage to be happy."


I certainly appre­ci­ated the concept. Given society’s propen­sity to think that ‘love’ should auto­mat­i­cally equal happi­ness, it’s a brave thing indeed to suggest that the real source of happi­ness is courage.

Why is this so?

Well, there’s a progres­sion of silli­ness that is common to most rela­tion­ships. It begins at the ‘falling in love’ stage, when every­thing seems so perfect. The biolog­i­cal imper­a­tive sets in, and the quirks in each others’ behav­iour are painted over.

As time goes by, (six months is usually about the stan­dard time) a bit more ‘real­ity’ sets in. The things not noticed in the romance of falling in love begin to emerge. What’s really happen­ing is that a certain level of comfort has been reached, and the parties are more will­ing to be who they really are.

At this point (as with much of life) there are:

Three choices – two popular ones, and one that’s all about courage.

1) Blame your­self – this one is not as popu­lar as the next, but chiefly is this:

  • "I’m no good. I can’t find a decent part­ner because I was brought up wrong, am weird, am stupid. I’ll never be happy."

2) Blame your part­ner – This one is an epidemic – point­ing the finger at some­thing "out there."

Many are the disguises for "other blam­ing." Here are a few:

  1. Plain blame: "You make me so unhappy. You’re a terri­ble person."
  2. Manipulative blame: "If you loved me, you’d do this one thing for me / put me first."
    Real message: "Your job is to endlessly serve me. When you fail, I have some­one to blame."
  3. Educating Rita: "It’s not your fault. You just don’t know any better. Thank god I am here to teach you all you need to know, to be a better person, to talk right, to balance your cheque­book…"
    Real message: "If only you weren’t so stupid and inept, I’d be happy."
  4. The lead anchor tech­nique: "You are keep­ing me from my poten­tial." "You’re disturb­ing my spir­i­tual path." "Your constant inter­fer­ence keeps me from medi­tat­ing."
    Real message: "If only you weren’t so unde­vel­oped and ‘mate­r­ial,’ I’d be a guru by now."
  5. Comparisons: "There’s some­thing wrong with you. Every other person I’ve been with has been delighted with me."
    Real message: "No one has ever stayed around, but maybe if I compare you to what I want, you’ll change and also stay."

I could run this list on and on. Many are the vari­a­tions. However, here’s the key.

Blame is this: making another person responsible for your feelings, intentions, thoughts, and actions.

The third choice is courage.

It plays out as:

Acceptance: Fully and completely being with the person you are with. (if you can’t, or won’t, you leave.)

  • accept­ing personal respon­si­bil­ity for every­thing about you. Your thoughts, feel­ings, inter­pre­ta­tions, and actions are yours, and yours alone. Major courage required to own this.
  • accept­ing that your part­ner is your part­ner, warts and all (just like you…) Your job is to be there, with a real person, despite your burn­ing desire to turn your part­ner into some­one else.

Curiosity: Admitting that you do not and cannot know anything about your part­ner, and there­fore asking instead of analyz­ing, guess­ing, or psycho­an­a­lyz­ing.

  • Most people think they should (if it’s ‘real love’) know what their part­ner is think­ing, feel­ing, and inter­pret­ing. Hint: you can’t. All you can do is listen and ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Your job is to learn about your­self, and to reveal your­self – courage is watch­ing and listen­ing as others do the same, with­out inter­fer­ing.
  • Last night Darbella and I were coming home from Yoga, and got into a discus­sion about the emotional pain of unmet expec­ta­tions, (in this case, not having the Family of Origin you might have wanted.) I was talk­ing theory, and Dar was talk­ing from personal expe­ri­ence, and we kept bump­ing against each other.
    As we got home, Dar said, "I was making the point that the pain of disap­point­ment comes up for me occa­sion­ally. That’s all I was saying." I real­ized we were talk­ing about the same thing from differ­ent perspec­tives.
    I said, "OK." There was noth­ing else to say, no agree­ment neces­sary. Just two perspec­tives, danc­ing.
    Once I got over trying to shift what Dar was talk­ing about, the conver­sa­tion actu­ally made sense.

Partnership: you’d be surprised how many rela­tion­ships tank over ‘stuff that stands for other stuff.’

  • I mean: "You are a slob. Clean the kitchen," is short­hand for, "I’m not sure I want to be in rela­tion­ship with you, and espe­cially if you won’t do it my way."
  • There is no ‘one way’ to do things. There are, however, effec­tive ways. Dar’s never been much inter­ested in house­hold finances, whereas my obses­sive nature makes me perfect for them. It would be silly for Dar to do them, even though she ‘could.’
  • Because couples are caught in the trap of blam­ing, things get divided up oddly. I see a lot of "her money, his money," and lots of convo­luted games for (not) paying bills. A human part­ner­ship is also a busi­ness. Money is often spent to ‘buy happi­ness’ because the rela­tion­ship itself is bank­rupt. If you can’t be your partner’s part­ner, grow up, move on, and get over your­self.

Choosing to be happy: Happiness is not a right, nor is it a given. Happiness is not some­thing we work toward.

You are either happy, or you are not.

  • Many people spend their lives going, "When this, this, and this happens, then I will be happy." And the ship never gets into that port. Happiness is an inter­nal state of bliss­ful content­ment, and it happens (as does every­thing else) in the here and now.
  • 2) Here and now is not a goal. It is not gained, (nor is content­ment, peace, medi­ta­tive states, anything) in the future, through current actions.
    In Zen, this is seen as a mind trap. Meditation does not lead to being in the here and now.

Stilling the mind lets us see that we are ONLY in the here and now, all the time, whether we are aware of this or not.

  • Choosing happi­ness, then, is simply notic­ing, right now, who and where I am. As I do that, I can choose grat­i­tude or I can make myself miser­able.

Courage: not much of this these days.

Most people are wimps, caught in feel­ing sorry for them­selves, whin­ing, and blam­ing.

  • True courage comes from total self respon­si­bil­ity, no excuses.
  • True courage means total accep­tance of what is, no whin­ing, no blam­ing. From total accep­tance of "The way it is, is the way it is," comes the abil­ity, in the next breath, to act to change my rela­tion­ship with the moment.
  • True courage comes from ‘no complain­ing." Seems like every­one on the web is point­ing read­ers to the website: "A Complaint-Free World"
    I just bought the book, and agree with a blog post by Tim Ferriss.

    The real goal is not simply to stop complain­ing, but to state the complaint this way: "Here is what I notice, and here is my inter­pre­ta­tion (in this case, "Here’s what I judge to be ‘wrong’") AND here is what I propose to change things for the better."

    Complaints, on the other hand, do noth­ing more than point the finger at ‘outside stuff.’

  • True courage is look­ing in the mirror and not blink­ing: the source of every­thing is hiding in your mirror. Go have a look. Who you are, where you are, where you are stuck, what the solu­tion is… it’s all there, star­ing you in the face.
look into the mirror

Go look. Be of good courage.

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  1. Tony Hawke

    Could there be a math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tion to happi­ness.

    • Hi Tony,
      Not in any real sense, as ‘happi­ness’ is subjec­tive. Scientists who study happi­ness actu­ally end up measur­ing other stuff i.e. sero­tonin or endor­phin levels, for exam­ple.
      I think the key to all of this is to under­stand when I’m going off into my head and judg­ing some­thing ‘wrong,’ and making myself unhappy thereby. If I notice the process I am engag­ing in, I can then make better choices.
      Ultimately, it’s accept­ing that happi­ness (and every­thing else) is an inside job… if I’m unhappy, I must learn to make other choices.

      • Tony Hawke

        So choices and good choices. Courage I guess is to be able to make the choice, wisdom is to under­stand which is the good choice. Why do men and I guess some women that have been together for many years (over 30) suddenly go differ­ent direc­tions, I presume there are the hormone flutu­a­tions that make crazy decions, and others that have been brew­ing many years and final surface one way or another. My guess would be that choices related to hormone flutu­a­tions would be easier. That is not me. Got any words of encour­age­ment.

        Thank you

        • Hi Tony,
          There is no ques­tion that hormones add another level to “life.” A bodily feel­ing arises quite power­fully. This is part of the arti­cle I’m going to write today, for next week. We use the word as The Haven does – care­fully. We consider feel­ings the actual phys­i­cal sensa­tion – tight/loose, hot/cold, close/distant, etc. As in, “I’m feel­ing cold and distant toward you right now.”
          Most people take the feel­ing, judge it, and hang an emotion on top of it. “Hmm. Tight. Cold. I must be angry.” This ego process at that point also controls the memory bank, so it looks around for some­thing or some­one to blame for the emotion IT CREATED. Thus a feel­ing (which may be created by hormones, or simply as a bodily response to a stim­u­lus,) is turned into an emotion.
          None of this is ‘bad.’ We simply propose slow­ing things down a bit, and being totally honest about the process. “I am tight. I am going into my head and judg­ing that you are attack­ing me, and am making myself angry.” Then, it’s possi­ble to deal with the anger construc­tively, and then swing back to the tight­ness.
          Whatever one’s part­ner is doing or saying is always neutral TO ME. Until I choose to judge it as bad, hurt­ful, rude, etc. If I can make myself (and yes, it takes effort) to stop before I bite on my inter­pre­ta­tion, I can instead as my part­ner for their intent, let them vent, and simply listen and learn a bit about their real­ity. If I assume I am RIGHT, (a judg­ment not based upon anything other than my opin­ion,) there is either going to be a fight, or I am going to stuff the info. (your “brew­ing”) and move on, think­ing it’s better to stuff it than deal with it.
          Eventually, there is no more room for unre­solved issues.
          So, choice, for me, is being aware of my reac­tions and judg­ments, and deal­ing only with them – not, in other words, trying to “fix” Dar when I am unhappy.
          I hope the next arti­cle might say all of this better.
          Feel free to ask ques­tions for what­ever you want to know.

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