For a few years now, I've become painfully aware of how I used to be a happier person when I was younger. I don't know exactly when I lost this ability to become excited over the smell of the ground when it rains, or how pretty the sky looks when the sun is setting or something equally simple and beautiful.
There was a time when my heart would pound with excitement long before it was Christmas, not even because we celebrate Christmas but because there was a festive buzz in the city in the run up to Christmas Day.
It was easy to be happy. A long time ago.
I don’t know how my instincts for happiness have eroded away over the years.
Lately, I have had to list out things that make me 'happy' so I could refer back to the list to follow the steps to get my happiness levels up.
It's not all that bleak either. I am not especially melancholy either. I can be quite cheerful, enjoy good banter and get through most days without having an existential crisis, but it's almost as though my upper limit of happiness has lowered over the years.
If I could produce 50 'ounces' of happiness upon eating my favourite food when I was 10 years old, I can only produce 5 ounces now by doing the same thing. If I had a 5 octave range of happiness at 11 years old, I don't even know if I have a range of 1 octave anymore!
I'm not sad or depressed or anything like that, it's just that I feel like I've forgotten what it's like to let myself be happy, to be carefree.
Thoughts inside my head have gone from:
"My teacher praised me today. I'm happy I'm such a good student"
"My boss complimented me today. Is he/she thinking of assigning me an additional project, what's his/her game?!"
Everything is painted with the subdued colours of judgement and cynicism.
It's a bad habit that has slowly overpowered me.
I've shrunk from being a glorious symphony to a honky tonk tune that refuses to play half the time.
I was born a forest, but I masquerade as a garden.
Distrustful of happiness, of people and their intentions and sometimes even losing faith in myself.
What’s shocking is that I’m not the only one. Too many people I know are wading through the murky waters of subdued happiness. Some of us are even trying various kinds of devices to jolt our systems into feeling something - alcohol, smokes, drugs, chocolate, coffee, Netflix, <insert your poison here>
The effects of these devices are too synthetic to last, but they get you results, and that's good enough.
Years go by. It's still good enough. You need stronger hits now but it still gets the job done. Soon a lifetime goes by, and little by little, everything fades to gray.
I've always wanted a way out of this.
I think my self-improvement journey is my mind's way of protesting this slow degeneration of my ability to be happy and free. The "high" of the self improvement game lies in setting stretch goals and going after them. It's beautiful and empowering but it's not everything. It doesn't always return you to the state of pure undiluted joy that you're used to experiencing as a child.
There's something missing.
Yesterday, I believe I found the missing piece.
It came to me in the form of a firm sponsored soft skills program on Mindfulness. I had thus far written it off as hocus pocus and scoffed at anyone swearing by it. And yet, ever since I discovered it, something has shifted.
It's not too complicated.
All it asks is for you to direct your full attention to the present experience, from each moment to moment, in an open and non-judgmental way.
It's neither difficult nor hard. It just is. It's a bit like singing, you hold a note and then another and then another and you build your vocal range by practice.
It's not difficult, it simply asks that you keep returning to your practice long enough for it to become a part of who you are.
There's nothing inherently good or bad about the present moment. In fact, the present moment is all that we can perceive. The past and future are all in our minds. Just the simple act of gently pulling back one's mind from wandering into the past or to the future and into the present moment is all it takes.
There is so much richness in the present moment. There is so much to feel, so much to see, so much to be grateful for. But somehow I've always been making plans for tomorrow, for the next week, next month, next year, and letting my present fade to the background. It's time to bring back the colour into the present.
I think it's time I stopped holding out on myself - it's important to think about the future and reflect on the past; it's equally harmful to constantly oscillate between thinking about the future or the past while the present moment slips away into nothingness.
It's time I stopped confining my happiness to this fenced garden I've made for myself. It's time to embrace the forest.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you’ve felt what I’ve been feeling, I think Mindfulness might help you find a way out of the maze of subdued happiness. I wish you the best - be happy, stay happy!
Unleash your forest.
Special thanks to Kamlesh Jain for delivering the training on Mindfulness at KPMG and for introducing me to the quote "You're born a forest. Don't die a garden".