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.

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

4 thoughts on “The Courage to be Happy”

    • 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.

      • 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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