A Happiness Mission


There are ants in my living room.

The first time I was alerted to their presence was when I received a text at work from my daughter, which read, "MOM, we have ants."

I whispered a silent apology to their tiny community and went on with my evening.

I stopped by the local drugstore on my way home and somewhat begrudgingly picked up a package of ant traps. I don't like to kill things—not even bugs—but I also don't want my house overrun with ants. As I placed the octangular-shaped death traps around my living room, I whispered a silent apology to their tiny community and went on with my evening.

Though this methodical insect massacre was orchestrated a few weeks ago, I still have ants in my living room. Either the traps are not working, or I have a feisty colony on my hands. As I sit on the couch with my face directed toward the floor, I watch them crawl back and forth, this way and that, and my dog watches too. It seems no amount of traps are going to wipe out these minuscule beings, or at least not yet. I think I have a mission laid out for me. 

And I begin to notice, just as these ants are invading my living room floor, so are my thoughts invading my brain. For the past five years at least (maybe more) I have been pursuing happiness. Such an abstract concept really, as many people have tried to nail down its meaning. I've watched documentaries, I've read books such as The Art of HappinessThe Happiness Project, and the most recent, 10% Happier, in hopes to infuse my life with happiness, an emotion that appears to be as solid as the steam coming off a pot of boiling water, present but intangible.

I've come close to understanding, I think. I have figured out that a lot of happiness comes from the way we look at things or the way we don't look at things—however you choose to see it. Our situations are all relative. What one person sees as a tribulation, another sees as a challenge to face with vigor. What one sees as something to be pressed away and forgotten, another sees as a bump in the road to be landmarked and shown light on.

Giving credence to that which we desire is also subjective, depending on the goals we are striving toward or the star we are trailing. This falls into the grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side category. A few years ago, I watched a filming for Oprah's Super Soul Sunday, and it continues to appear in my mind whenever this theme of wanting what I don’t have replays in my head. In her trek to discover the culture of India, Oprah sat down with various families—one that was fairly destitute.

The family of four lived in a tiny, one-room house. Everything that was done was done in that room. They ate in that room, slept in that room, watched television in that room, fought, laughed, and loved in that room. The only bathroom was down the hallway, past a group of other apartment-type dwellings, which everyone in that complex shared.

They had the things that were important to them and that was what mattered.

I sat in awe, listening to the young girl tell Oprah that she and her family were indeed happy. They knew they didn't have things that others had, like bigger houses or cars or even separate rooms, but they had the things that were important to them and that was what mattered.

I know this. I get it. I can sit here and rationalize that all of the stars that provide structure to my life are aligned. I have a home and a healthy family and I have those that love me. The sun is still shining every day (or most days, at least), and my grass is pretty much just as green as my neighbor's grass (although it needs a good cutting). The concept of a glass "half-full" or "half-empty" rings true in the deepest parts of my soul because it has always been my nature to look for the half-full side of things.

I understand.

But no matter how many books I have read, no matter how many darts I have thrown at a meditation practice, no matter how many endorphins I have attempted to scrape from my spotty yoga attendance, I still have these thoughts that seem to wriggle back and forth, forth and back. And in my attempts to force some control over them, they resist. I think I have a feisty colony of thoughts on my hands.

I want to force all of the thinking that I don't like—the thoughts that make me uncomfortable, that shove a sharp elbow, prodding me out of a restless sleep—into tiny octangular traps before they have overrun my mind. This noncompliance is making me mad, truly.

In a recent bout of sadness, I laid on my bed staring into space. From somewhere far off I heard a voice whisper, "I need help."

As though I were feeling my way through gelatinous fog, I mentally searched for that voice. Who needs help? Who is that calling for help? As though my feet finally touched cold earth, a shiver wound its way from the base of my spine to the skin on my scalp, and I realized that I was alone on that bed.

I find it interesting how our thoughts can grab us by the fingertips and pull us into a dream-like state at times, almost as though we have left our bodies and floated upward toward the painted ceiling.

Sitting up, still shivering, I felt those thoughts shake around and settle into clumps within my mind, like colored chips in a kaleidoscope forming one solid image.

Somewhere among all of the wriggling, one thought steps forward, claiming attention with a statement.

I thumb through the hard-backed, glossy-covered tenth edition of The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, and watch as the thoughts wriggle back and forth, forth and back. Somewhere among all of the wriggling, one thought steps forward, claiming attention with a statement:

Maybe the answer isn't so much in the trapping, because truly not all of these pesky thoughts will be harnessed. Maybe the answer rests within providing space for them. Space for the thoughts I don't like, the ones that prod me out of a restless slumber. Space for them to find a home—acceptance.

I think I have a mission laid out for me.

About the Teacher

teacher avatar image
Dana Gornall
Dana Gornall is the co-founder of The Tattooed Buddha and mom of three crazy kids and a dog. She has... Read more