by David Truman

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It's easy to grow, and easy to get happy. There are some things you could do, anytime, that would lift you up, and make you genuinely happy. As a person who knows yourself well, you know what those things are. So why not do them, perhaps even regularly? Everyone wants to be happy, don't they?

Not so fast! We definitely want to be happy, but there's one thing most of us want even more: to stay in the realm of the old and familiar, our "comfort zone." Yes, even if it means being less happy. As often as not, that's exactly what it means.

It's one of the perversities of human nature: when happiness grows in us, we tend to feel uncomfortable. It sometimes feels a little "too good." I'm sure that everyone has felt that way now and again: You felt so good, got so happy, you felt disoriented, antsy. Then what? If you're like most people, you undid the happiness almost compulsively.

When we're extra happy, we want to trim off the "extra" -- almost like a haircut. Before, we were in hot pursuit of happiness -- more, more, we cried. But when we get it, we do an about face: less, less! We turn into Mr. Scissorhands. Trimming off the extra happiness with happiness trimmers. And it works. Soon, we're back in our comfort zone, even if the comfort zone is a bit on the miserable side.

Take a little off the top

"Extra" happiness is the exact portion of happiness that distinguishes our normal status quo level of consciousness from the higher, brighter state of consciousness we prayed for, and probably worked for.

"How do you want it today?"

"Remove the extra hair."

"Okay, but what do you mean, EXTRA? It's ALL extra in the sense that it is unnecessary. Do you want to shave your head bald?"

"No! Just extra compared to my normal hairdo. Take off whatever grew since last time. Take a little off the top. That's what I mean by the extra."

"No problem. Read this magazine, and before you're through, you'll be back to your old appearance."

See, there's always a reference point, a picture one has in mind. An ideal, a memory, a norm. "This is who I am." "This is who I want to be." "This is where I belong." Because we establish those reference points, and cling to them tightly, we can say, "This much is extra. It doesn't belong. Trim it off before it gets out of control."

That sounds funny, but it's no joke. Sometimes we seriously think that if we get any happier, we might just explode, and disappear. So we're keeping our act together. The term "act" is very fitting, because it's all make believe. It's acting as if we need to trim our happiness, and fast, or we'll burst. If you really believe that's likely to happen, I have some swampland in Florida for sale . . .

The happiness trimmers

Obviously, trimming happiness is not the same as trimming hair. Exactly how do we trim happiness?

Easy. It's like adjusting a thermostat. There are things that bring us up, and other things that keep us down. The balance between them determines the level of consciousness we live at -- our "normal" level against which all deviations, both upward and downward, are measured. So we do some of each, as "needed," to stay at the level we want to be at.

Sometimes, to regain our normal level, we'll do something negative right after doing something positive. Like eating a whole box of cookies after two days of killer workouts. Or getting concerned right after feeling extremely joyful. We think of it as "re-stabilizing."

That "re-stabilizing" pattern is so common there are many names for it: The Cancel Dance. Enlightenment backlash. Blowing hot and cold. Cold feet. Sometimes we even call it sabotage, since sabotage does bring things back to "normal." No matter what we name it, the meaning is the same: cutting off the extra happiness.

People say, there's got to be something irritating. Something wrong, something missing, something to complain about. And if we don't have it, we'll have to go find it. We're looking for trouble, in a sense. Otherwise, we'd get too happy for our own good, we think. So we have to switch from one problem to another, from one complaint to the next complaint, one screw-up to a different screw-up. It's about staying in our comfort zone, remember? The comfort of the habitual discomfort level.

Maybe we think ecstasy is "over the top." But that depends on what we define as "the top," doesn't it? One person's top is another person's bottom. -- Did I say that right?

We asked for signs, the signs were sent

People sometimes pray, "God, show me a sign. Give me a sign that You're here, that You're near." Well, when it comes to spiritual growth, many wise ones have said, "Happiness is God's footprint on man." Happiness -- sometimes even ecstasy -- is a sign that a person is nearing God, making real soul progress.

But wait a minute, did we say happiness? That's the part we compulsively trim off! Leonard Cohen describes the trimming function in one of his songs. He says,

"They asked for signs. The signs were sent."

That's about the signs. The next line is about the response to the signs:

"The birth betrayed, the marriage spent."

It's a subtraction reaction. Compulsive sabotage!

For example, a man asks his girlfriend, "Dance for me!" Gamely, she gets up and dances. Then he calls her over and slaps her face. Shocked, she asks, "Why did you do that?" He says, "You danced for me." See?

They were so happy together before he fired his retro-rocket. But you know what they say: "The hard part isn't getting what you want, it's wanting it after you get it." Nowhere is that more true than in the acquisition of happiness.

Isn't it obvious, now, that when we say "the hard part is wanting it after you get it," we're talking about being fickle, being unfaithful to the true and original goal. "The birth betrayed, the marriage spent."

So the question is: Once we get happy, will we keep it? Or will we trim off the "extra" -- take a little off the top -- to get back to the cold and familiar, to stay in the comfort zone, you know: where we're miserable and comfortable, instead of happy and disoriented.

Miserable/comfortable, or happy/disoriented -- which would you choose? No, let me rephrase the question: Which DO you choose? Because it's a choice we get to make daily.

Perpetual imbalance

An essential key to keeping ourselves at lower levels is maintaining a perpetual state of imbalance and incompletion.

For example: Most people are either "spiritual" or "practical." The spiritual ones are weak in practicality, and the practical ones are weak in spirituality. Both extremes have a problem: they lack balance. And that creates problems that help keep people down.

Sometimes we notice we're off-balance, and we adjust. But guess what? Often we don't achieve a true balance; we simply switch from one extreme to the opposite. Our excuse is, "I can't do it all." But you see, even then, it's just another problematical imbalance. The crucial missing piece, whatever it is, prevents the balance -- which is the goose that lays the golden eggs.

There's no true happiness without balance, without wholeness. That's the lesson of experience. But in spite of all we've experienced, we may still be perverse enough to impulsively resist whatever we need more of.

There's a method to the madness of perversity. It comes from a certain internal knowing -- an awareness of the implications of wholeness. The one who trims happiness levels is like a great chess player, always seeing a few moves ahead. Consciously or unconsciously, he moves to stop the impending happiness. Checkmate! The tactic of swapping imbalances does the trick.

A balanced life

A balanced life is a beautiful, amazing, fulfilling life. And that's the best-kept secret in the universe.

The way is for human individuals not to be Johnny or Janet one-note, but to be people of great range and balance. To be interesting and interested, to be amused and amusing. To be renaissance people, whole people, free people. Not working stiffs, or dysfunctional/spiritual nutballs.

Mankind was meant to be honorable, dignified, respectable. And this comes by means of balance, wholeness, breadth. But we avoid true balance, true wholeness, if we believe we have to be less than we are; that we have to suppress many facets of our own being. The truth is, we need our entire self, functioning altogether, in its entirety. That's a balanced life.

In reality, when we cut off parts of ourselves, our own birth is betrayed because, you see, we are creatures of balance. That is, we are broad, and multi-faceted. So the trimming of happiness is closely related to ignoring the facets of one's own reality, what one actually is. After all,

How can we be happy if we won't let
ourselves be who we are -- our whole selves?

Maybe you sit on the side of a dance hall and watch the dancers with envy, and say to yourself: "I could do that, but I don't do that." Perhaps you don't do whatever you've cut off -- not now. But what if you are that? What if that is part of you? Then, that deliberate suppression of oneself, the reduction of oneself, is sad.

No one has to live the stunted life of the wallflower, the armchair quarterback. But anyone can cut off parts of themselves and throw them away deliberately. Your choice was to get rid of parts of yourself, to reduce yourself to a narrow caricature, a shadow of your former self. Take your parts back.

You cut off your own hand, and then you say, "Give me a hand."

Maybe the fitting answer would be: "No! I won't. You have your own damn hand."

"But I cut it off."

"Then put it back on. Otherwise, if I give you a hand, how would you take it?"

Or how about this:

"I'm gonna rent a romance movie."

"Make your own romance movie! Don't you want to be a star? You, too, can be a star!"

Or this:

"Give me your heart."

"It's yours. You have my heart."

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