Finally I was free. After eight months of applications, informational interviews, and countless denials, I had at last landed a job at a tech startup. All that stood between me and escaping the “9 – 5” office life was my obligatory two weeks notice.
I stood up and peaked my head over the cubicle wall and looked out the window to the sky beyond. Limitless I thought. I could feel a rush of excitement for the first time in nearly a year. My lips curved upward into a rare smile. I couldn’t help it. All that I had worked for was coming true at last.
What made the moment even sweeter? I had already booked a sixteen day solo trip to Japan. After my two weeks notice was up and before my next job began I’d be on a direct flight to Tokyo exchanging my thank you’s for arigato’s.
Suddenly, everything in my life was falling in line like some sort of fairy tale. I couldn’t believe it. It was such a juxtaposition from the previous eight months.
I remember thinking at the time, this is it… I will be happy forever.
Well, not to ruin the fairy tale ending but as you may have guessed, I did not remain happy forever. In fact, I didn’t even make it back from Japan before that familiar feeling of discontent started to creep in again.
I remember climbing up the steps of the breathtaking Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine in Kyoto in what should have been one of the best moments of my trip. Yet my mind began flipping back to “real life” in Boston. With each step I took up through the beautiful shrine gates my mind rushed to another problem.
At one moment I’d catch myself worrying about negative comments I had received on my blog. The next I’d think about a dwindling relationship I was in. Then I’d worry about my new job. Was it really going to be what I thought it would be?
No matter how high I climbed that day I could not escape these pervasive thoughts. Eventually I reached the top and rested for a while on a bench overlooking the Kyoto skyline as the lazy April sun slowly faded beyond the horizon. I remember thinking, if I could not be happy now then when would I ever be? It was madness to be having this experience and not be happy.
I realized then that the reason I was not happy here was because I was not actually here at all. While my body was on this amazing excursion in Kyoto, my mind was back in Boston. I also saw in that moment that despite what I had “accomplished” in my life, it was never going to be enough. Getting a new job and flying to Japan didn’t satisfy my insatiable hunger. It didn’t make me happy or whole.
As the sun set that day and the Kyoto skyline started to flicker on I closed my eyes and began to meditate. For fifteen minutes I took a deep breath whenever one of the negative thoughts crept into my head. I’d see the thought and then push it away. After the meditation was over I sat in a comfortable numbness for some time.
I then opened my eyes and took out my journal. I had come to a realization during my meditation and had to write it down. What I jotted down that day turned into a mantra that I still carry in my journal today.
The phrase I wrote down was “happiness now is the only remedy.”
On the hilltop that day I could see that if I did not choose to be happy in that moment then happiness would never come. Happiness was not something I could chase by getting a new job or traveling across the world. Happiness could only arise in this moment and if I actively chose to be happy.
Even today, nearly two years since my trip to Japan, I can feel moments of discontent creep in and have to remind myself of this mantra. If I don’t find happiness today then it will not come tomorrow. Happiness doesn’t come from what we achieve or experience but rather in making happiness in the present a conscious choice.
Next time you feel yourself slipping into worry or discontent, remind yourself “happiness now is the only remedy.”