First, you must know where to look. One of my favorite spiritual authors is Eckhart Tolle. In his bestseller, The Power of Now, Tolle tells of a stranger who walked past a beggar one day, as he held out his tattered baseball cap and muttered, "Spare some change?"
The stranger stopped, looked, and asked the beggar, "What's that you're sitting on?"
"Oh this?" he responded. "Just an old box I've been sitting on as long as I can remember."
"Have you looked inside?" asked the stranger.
"Why should I?" objected the beggar. "There's nothing in it. As I said, it's just an old box."
"Why don't you look and see?" encouraged the stranger.
Reluctantly, the beggar stood, turned, and slowly stooping over, he opened the box. When he looked inside, to his consternation, he discovered a fortune of priceless gold and silver coins."
Most people look outside for what could only ever be found inside. And, where they look is likely to be anywhere. But, some of the more common places are these:
1) Pleasure. This explains how most people endure the work week. They do so by thinking about what they're going to do on the weekend. They're the pleasure seekers who mistakenly think that the stress they feel comes from outside just as they mistakenly think that their freedom from it lies outside of themselves, too. According to the New York Times, researchers have determined that, while fewer heart attacks occur on weekends, there is a day of the week wherein most of the heart attacks do occur. What day is that? Monday. Think on this.
2) Profession. Lots of people think their happiness is in finding and holding the right job or career, or having the right profession. Well, I would not minimize the importance of matching your interests and natural abilities and talents with a profession that compliments, as well as cultivates them. But, whatever fulfillment or happiness you may find in a career will eventually come to an end just as everything else does. One day, you're going to retire. Then, what?
3) Promotion. Then, closely associated with the right profession are the promotions that many feel will award them everything they need to be happy. "If I could just get that promotion, the recognition, win the sales awards," and so forth, "I'll be happy." Again, any joy you feel, and most promotions come with some measure of it, could only ever be temporary. The excitement with the promotion, like everything else, will wane and, eventually, disappear. Then, what? Another promotion?
4) Possessions. This may be the most common place in our culture people look for happiness--in the stuff they accumulate and acquire. The cars, houses, fashions, and so forth. And, it is true, when I put on a new suit, I feel good. When I drive a new car, it smells new and looks terrific and evokes the envy of others--all important aspects to my own illusory happiness.
5) Partner. I think one of the biggest myths in our culture is that people think, if I can just find and marry the right partner, I'll find the happiness for which I long. That was one of the myths I believed, the consequence of which brought about the failure of my first marriage.
I assumed it was my spouse's responsibility to make me happy. So, I looked outside to her to do inside for me the impossible. When asked, "Why do you want to marry her?" I remember my honest but immature response was, "She makes me happy."
It wasn't too many weeks into the marriage, I woke up one morning, looked at her and thought to myself, "You aren't making me happy!" I have the feeling she was thinking the same thing of me.
We stayed together some twenty years precisely because there are not too many places a divorced Baptist minister can go and be a minister. Church people don't like preachers who come across flawless and perfect. But then, church people have not quite figured out how to handle their ministers imperfections either.
I once heard of a couple who couldn't get along. Every day they disagreed, argued, called each other names, and, as a consequence, threatened divorce on more than one occasion. But, being the good churchgoers they were, they had been raised to believe divorce was never an option. So, they remained in misery, made threats almost daily, but never followed through on separation.
One morning, she had all she could take and so snapped.
"Something's going to have to give here!" she shouted at him at breakfast.
"Oh yea," he responded. "So what are you going to do?"
"I think," she hesitated and then started again. "I think we should just pray that God would take one of us...and...and...and then, I'll go live with my mother."
Happiness is an inside job. If you want it, you'll have to go to the one and only place where it can be found - inside yourself. There is nothing outside of you that can do for you what you could only ever do for yourself. Happiness is not something you will ever find in life; it's an attitude you bring to life. So, do what virtually every spiritual master, including Jesus, suggested: If you want to know where happiness is, it is inside of you. Make it your spiritual practice to go within - to meditate, or call it prayer, if you prefer, but spend time in the quiet place of your heart. Try it and see what happens.
I've put up an entire post on my blog about this (and written a whole book about this and other matters related to the spiritual life), and I'd love to share some of the things I've learned with you. To get started, visit my blog at http://www.stevemcswain.com/blog.