By Dr. Robert Puff
I don’t remember how young I was, but I do remember the first ballet I ever went to. It was called The Nutcracker, and it centered on celebrating Christmas with children. I remember sitting in the audience watching the ballerinas, and thinking that they make that look so easy. They’re so effortless in their movements. How do they do that? (I could tell, I couldn’t do that). But it was truly beautiful watching them expressing their art form. It seemed so effortless, so spontaneous, so beautiful. But if we know anything about the art of ballet dancers, we know that a lot of work goes into getting to the point of being so beautiful in their work. A lot of hours went into getting to a point at which they could be effortless. But when they reach that point, it truly is a magnificent performance. But when they actually do the performance, at that point, they can’t be thinking, “I need to put my right foot here, or my left foot there.” They would trip and fall very quickly if they did that. It reaches a point where their dance becomes truly spontaneous because they don’t consciously think about it anymore. They just set the flow, and it is something worth watching because it’s so beautiful.
Most of us will never be a ballerina, or if we are one, we won’t be one for the rest of our lives. Our bodies just can’t maintain that type of rigorous performance. But we’re here to learn about how to be happy. And I do believe that the principles that are employed in training to be a ballerina are very similar to the principles we should employ in finding happiness, and peace. And the final outcome of training to be a ballerina, again, is very similar to the outcome of the steps that we need to take in order to be happy.
I’m going to argue that happiness, and peace are both spontaneous, and effortless. When we’re born, and we’re young, our happiness is natural. It simply flows from us. We see something beautiful, and we admire it. We see something funny, and we laugh. We see something new, and we explore it. It’s spontaneous, and young children don’t have to expend any effort in order to be happy. Of course, they can be sad too. But even that’s effortless, their emotions just flow. So what happens? Why does that change? The really big thing that catches us, and prevents that spontaneous flow of happiness, is that we are taught very young that in order to be happy, certain things have to happen. Not only do they need to happen, they need to keep happening. So our internal happiness becomes external.
Instead of just relying on and being happy, we look at extremely defined happiness. And because life isn’t permanent, because life changes, we lose that spontaneity. And now, the world has control over our happiness instead of us just naturally finding happiness in being alive, but then, life happens. We’re told that in order to be happy, we need to reach certain goals. We’re told that in order for life to go well, we have to behave in certain ways. We’re told that other people’s opinions of us really matter. We’re told that if we reach certain things, and have certain things, then we’ll be happy. We’re told that there are bad things out there, we need to be afraid, we need to be careful. And then, bad events happen, and they’re scary, and they’re frightening. We start going inside ourselves, putting up walls, and that natural happiness gets deeply buried inside of us.
Going back to my ballerina analogy, I know it’s hard to imagine this, but imagine we’re born as natural ballerinas. We come out, and we can do the ballerina thing really well. We’re really good at it. But as we get a little bit older, people start criticizing us, people start telling us how we can do it better. People say, “Well, I know you’re really good at it, but it’s kind of silly, just do something else, just do this instead.” And people make fun of us, people poke at us, people tell us other things are better.
We have experiences that are pretty cool, and we all want more of that. Instead of simply dancing, we dance for the performance. We dance for the praise, and instead of spontaneously dancing, and for that ballerina performance, we’re doing it for the opinions of others. There are many ways that life affects us, and takes away our spontaneous, effortless flow of being a person; of being a happy, peaceful person. So, what can we do? Is it all hopeless, is it all pointless? Of course not, that’s why you’re reading this post. But the point I’m making is that it requires effort, and I want to discuss the four stages of effort.
When we learn something new, we go through four stages. The first stage is knowing nothing. For example, let’s say you want to learn Japanese, and you don’t know one word of Japanese. You are just ignorant of Japanese at that point.
In the second stage, you become a learner. You’re beginning to learn Japanese. You are a learner, but you’re not yet incompetent. Then you reach a point where you can speak Japanese quite well. It isn’t natural, it doesn’t flow from you, but you’re pretty good at it. And in most situations, you can communicate. You still need to work at it but you can communicate; that’s a big stage.
The final stage is where you don’t even think about it. It just flows from you. You start dreaming in Japanese, and you don’t even pause to think, “what does that mean in Japanese?” You count in Japanese. Everything you do becomes a natural flow, and is effortless, spontaneous. Those are the four stages of learning anything. So let’s apply this knowledge to our happiness, to our peacefulness. Again, right now, we may be very far away from that goal of finding spontaneous happiness in our life.
So, the first thing we have to do is say, “Okay, I get it. I want to learn how to be happy.” Once we start exploring how to be happy, we’re going to learn things, and it’s going to sink in. That would be stage two. And then we’re going to reach a point where we become pretty good at it, and it just kind of flows from us. But it still takes work. We still think about it.
But the final stage we’re looking for is really learning how to be that childlike, spontaneous, happy person, and it just flows from us. It doesn’t take effort. We just respond in ways that truly make our lives flow well. And it is effortless, and it is spontaneous, but it took a lot of work to get here because we had to work at it. At its core, it’s merely reconditioning ourselves into a happy, peaceful person. Of course, any of us can do it, at any time, no matter how old we are. But of course, it can take a lot of work if you’ve taken yourself off the market right now, and you’re a pretty angry upset person. You may have to spend quite a bit of time unlearning things, learning new skills. And that’s great news, you really can get better at this.
But today’s post is about one clear message, our goal should be to be spontaneous, and effortless in our happiness, in our peace. It should just flow from us, it shouldn’t be work, it should be our natural response to almost everything that happens. If we get caught up on the freeway, we very quickly just smile. If we lose a job, we very quickly say, “Oh, I wonder what new adventure is going to come.” If we’re outdoors, and we see a bird singing, we notice it and we just smile. It’s very spontaneous, it’s effortless; we just flow with life, and life becomes beautiful. But the key is that our goal should be to reach a point where we are effortless, and spontaneous in our happiness, realizing that once we get there, like a ballerina, we do need to keep working at maintaining that skill of effortlessness, and we can do that. I will keep saying, to the day we die, it isn’t something that we do for a little while, and then stop. It’s something we work at, we work hard, and once we get there, we maintain it.
But for a moment, imagine with me what it would look like to truly be free. To be free of anxiety, free of worries, free of fears, free of even desires that things have to be different for us in order to be happy. We discover that happiness just spontaneously arises out of nowhere periodically, and there it is. We burst into joy for no reason. We find peace when all around us seems chaotic. We see beauty when others see darkness. It truly is a beautiful way to live life. It’s a worthy goal.
And the other news I keep sharing is that we can all have it. We just have to keep working at it. And remember the Japanese analogy I used earlier? It’s much like that. Initially, it’s going to be tough, because learning a language can be hard, and with time, we’re going to get good at it. It’s going to flow pretty naturally from us. But if we keep working at it, we’re going to reach a point where there is no effort. It’s effortless, it’s spontaneous, we just speak Japanese with no problem. This is exactly the same thing. We reach a point where life is beautiful, and it flows well, and we can do that. We just have to realize it takes work. But if we work at it, we truly can have beautiful lives.