joyful woman
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” 
– Marianne Williamson

It’s not an overstatement to say in recent months I’ve gotten everything I wanted. While I still have a few mountains yet to crest, from this vantage point they look more like welcome adventures than inordinate adversities.

When good things first started noticeably showing up a few months ago, I went into emotional crisis. I didn’t know how to handle the amount of joy triggered by getting things I’d long hoped for, and the sudden onslaught felt like being hit by a tidal wave.

The result was I felt more stress than joy, as all my tools had been focused on handling life’s difficulties. I found myself unprepared for life to go well.

Since getting what we want isn’t considered a problem, people usually don’t prepare for it. We buy lottery tickets without being ready to win, and as a result about 70% of the winners go broke within a few years.

The fact that welcome events can be at least as stressful if not more than unwanted ones is worth noting. Due to our evolution, anything that disrupts our inner sense of homeostasis creates a felt experience of being unsafe, even if we like what’s happening. If feeling happy is too much of a disruption, we will find a way to struggle again, even if it requires blowing through millions of dollars in less than four years.

For myself, as time progressed and not only did the good things remain, but new ones came to keep them company, I felt myself adjust to a new normal. My emotions adapted to maintain the feeling sense of difficulty I’d grown accustomed to, and while I’ve never been particularly unhappy in life my daily mood is generally not the level of radical gratitude circumstances invited.

The fact that happiness exists independent of external events is proven by the inability to sustain it in the face of getting what you want.

My suggestion, if your goal is to actually be happy, is to focus less on getting what you want, and more on developing your capacity for joy. This can help maintain an even keel in the face of dramatic news – good or bad – and, unlike getting what you want, will actually make you happy.

To do this, think of joy as a constant, already present and freely available to you. Now relax anything inside that resists it, or puts up conditions of what needs to be in place before you can feel happy. Slowly, gently open your heart, mind, and body to the experience of joy, as one relaxing into a hot tub. Let your resistance go, and allow.

This practice remains the same, whether you’re living in a trailer or in a mansion on a hill. As we develop our capacity for happiness, it grows throughout our lives. Then as circumstances consequently improve to reflect the joy we bring to life, we are prepared to handle them.