Is Happiness a Choice? A Book That Challenged All My Notions, and Won.

I think my favorite present to both give and receive is a book. And not an e-book, not a kindle or a tablet thingamajiggy. A real, tangible book with pages to flip through and words that you underline and notes in the margin that you come back to later. There is something necessarily palpable about a book for me. Maybe I just really like turning pages, but I don’t think I’ll ever make the switch to electronic literature. I know it costs us trees, but I kind of feel like a tree would be happy to be a book. If only trees could talk. OK, anyway, I received a book from my mom for my birthday, and I’ve been lost in it for the last 4 days. I kept telling myself I needed to write, but my urge to read was stronger. I had to finish it before I could do anything else. I think it may be one of the most important books I’ve read as of yet.

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“The Untethered Soul” is written by Michael Singer and I’d never heard of it or him until I began reading. The book is 181 pages but is densely written and covers everything from consciousness to identity to happiness to God to death to Christianity to the Tao. I really don’t know how he combined all of these topics so succinctly and covered them with such perfect simplicity, but he did, and it all made perfect sense. Every word. Sometimes I’d read a paragraph over and over, not because I didn’t understand, but because it felt so good to read the words. It was like light would suddenly pour in the room, and with each page (each TANGIBLE page) I felt more clarity, maybe even more happiness. At least more awareness of it. There is such a wide variety of topics he covers and methods associated with them, but he ties them all together seamlessly to teach one huge and vital lesson; to know yourself, and to find bliss. It will be difficult to summarize the whole thing up on just one page..this may need to be a two parter. So I’ll just cover a few topics that really captured me.To begin with, you can’t fix the world. You can’t fix other people, and you shouldn’t try. But you can become the purist and most open version of your Self, and that is your gift to the world. You will be the most successful and biggest help to humanity by knowing yourself truly, and waking up–becoming conscious. So long as you are unconscious, reacting to external factors, hiding behind fears and anxieties, letting that voice in your head dictate important matters, you cannot be of help to the world. You are stuck in your mind, and so you can’t go any further or higher up than that. Not until you wake up.

Like Tolle, Singer writes pretty extensively about how to answer the question “Who am I?” …a question I constantly ponder but feel my answer always comes up short. I am Mary Gelpi. Well no, that’s a label given to me by my parents. Take it away and I’m still here. Who am I? Who is the Self? It was more poignant and enlightening to hear him explain who we are not. Some we’ve been over before. Ready? You are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. You are not the things that happened to you. You are not a gender role. You’re not even your personality. And here’s the big one: You are not that voice in your head. In fact the journey to discovering your self (which is who you are) involves the attempt to eliminate that voice. In other words: telling it to SHUT. UP. And in the meantime if you can’t get it to, DON’T LISTEN TO IT. For the love of GOD don’t listen to it. Think how many times that voice in your head has been wrong…a lot. But we continue to reach out to it for advice and guidance as though it were an intelligent shrink. It’s not, it’s noise. Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about voices plural in your head. That’s another disorder altogether and we don’t have time for it. I’m talking about the voice in your head that is constantly chattering. If you stop reading this right now and look around the room, just wait a few seconds and listen. It will begin talking. About anything. Stupid things. Funny things. Memories. To -Do lists. It’s noise. It’s a lot of noise that isn’t really propelling you in any direction on your mission. This attempt was among the original purposes of things like meditation and yoga. It wasn’t to pray or to exercise–it was to find inner stillness, the center. The center is where “You” reside. Behind the chatter, judgments, and noise is your soul or spirit, or whatever you’re comfortable calling it. It’s quiet there. It’s the part that doesn’t die. It’s the center of your consciousness, or what Zukav called The Seat of the Soul. (Also, another awesome book) So this is how the book begins; with the search for the self and a map of where to go to find it. Once you’re able to pull back the curtains on all the things that don’t define you, you begin to feel and hear the real you. Your higher self. Perhaps he puts it most accurately with this definition: the simple awareness of being aware. Or..You are not the thinking mid; you are aware of the thinking mind. 

“When you contemplate the nature of Self, you are meditating. That is why meditation is the highest state. It is the return to the root of your being, the simple awareness of being aware. Once you become conscious of the consciousness itself, you attain a totally different state. You are now aware of who you are. You have become an awakened being. It’s really just the most natural thing in the world. Here I am. Here I always was. It’s like you have been on the couch watching TV, but you were so totally immersed in the show that you forgot where you were. Someone shook you, and now you’re back to the awareness that you’re sitting on the couch watching TV. Nothing else changed. You simply stopped projecting your sense of self onto that particular object of consciousness. You woke up. That is spirituality. That is the nature of Self. That is who you are.”

 There was one chapter that I re-read a few times, because it really challenged my notion of happiness. It asked this question, which I find myself constantly asking: Is happiness a choice? I have always believed that we are susceptible to our circumstances, therefore happiness isn’t really a choice because we aren’t in control. We can’t help it when bad things happen. But Singer absolutely disagreed with that, and I’m pretty sure he beat me. Just because we aren’t in total control doesn’t mean our happiness isn’t in our hands. If our happiness isn’t up to us, who is it up to? Other people? Circumstance? Conditions? No wonder we’re not happy! You can’t rely on anything or anyone else to cause your experience of happiness. It is entirely up to you. If you make the commitment to be happy, it is to be unconditionally happy. But, that means acceptance of the present. That means erasing your version of what you think your life needs to look like in order for you to be happy. That’s something a lot of people don’t want to give up.

I know what you’re thinking: What if my family dies in a plane crash? What if a bird shits on my head on the way to work? I can’t help that! Of course there will be challenging events in your life, you already know that or may have already experienced them. It doesn’t mean you don’t grieve appropriately and process the hard times. But it also doesn’t mean that you stop, that you can’t be happy again and continue to live a  beautiful life. (Just ask my mom, she was widowed twice, but has once again found happiness.) That’s part of the commitment. You have to accept what happens in the present, deal with it accordingly, and release. Keep going. There’s no hanging on to the past allowed. It will never change by you clinging. There’s no cringing about tomorrow allowed either. You’ll deal with tomorrow when tomorrow comes. And think about it. Does you reacting and getting upset and yelling change the fact that a bird shit on your head? No, it doesn’t. Clearly our reactions are not only silly, they’re unintelligent. They serve no purpose. They’re just noise.

Your definitions of desirable and undesirable, good and bad, all come about because you have defined how things need to be in order for you to be okay. We all know we’re doing this, but nobody questions it. We think we’re supposed to figure out how life should be, and then make it that way. Only someone who looks deeper, and questions why we need the events of life to be a particular way, will question this assumption. How did we come up with the notion that life is not okay just the way it is, or that it won’t be okay the way it will be? Who said that the way life naturally unfolds is not all right?

This is still a challenging notion for me to process, but I know it’s right. This is not to say that making unconditional happiness your mission is easy–it isn’t. It’s probably the hardest work you’ll do. But I’ve decided to take this mission on. I certainly have the time, don’t I? Maybe we all do. But we fill it up with a lot of stuff. A lot of Kardashians and O’Reilly Factor and arguments and anger and work and chaos and noise. I think it’s time to slow down. Time to go IN, not out, and find that little nook where our soul is, and try to please it. What more important work could there be? Chopra says that this is a recreational universe and that we were meant to have fun here. We weren’t meant to suffer! So I think it’s time to play. Today is August 22nd. It’s my dad’s death day. Death birthday? I wonder if they celebrate the day you die in Heaven the way we celebrate birthdays here. Anyway, my dad was one of the happiest people I knew, and that’s what everyone else had to say about him–How positive and kind he was. This book reminded me of him and his constant disposition of joy, happiness, and love. I’m going to start my work toward consciousness and inner peace with him in mind and this book as a guide, or at least a solid starting place. I highly recommend The Untethered Soul if you’ve been searching for a deeper purpose or listening for a higher calling and need a little help getting started. This is a really good road map to begin with.

My favorite line from the book: It is actually possible to never have another problem for the rest of your life. 

Health, Happiness, and Real, Tangible Books.

*My favorite underlined phrases from the book. :)

What it means to live spiritually is to not participate in this struggle. It means that the events that happen in the moment belong to the moment. They don’t belong to you.

The only way to inner freedom is through the one that watches the self. 

It’s bad enough that your happiness is conditional upon your own behavior. When you start making it conditional upon other people’s behavior, you’re in serious trouble. 

It is not life’s events that are causing problems or stress. It is your resistance to life’s events that are causing problems or stress. 

If you want to understand stress, begin by realizing that you carry around with you your own set of preconceived notions of how things should be. 

Imagine if you used relationships to get to know other people, rather than to satisfy what is blocked inside of you. 

When a person is dealing with their own fears, anxieties, and desires, how much energy is left for dealing with what’s actually happening?

The truth is, everything will be okay as soon as you are okay with everything. And that’s the only time everything will be okay. 

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10 thoughts on “Is Happiness a Choice? A Book That Challenged All My Notions, and Won.

  1. I’m currently reading this book, and it has definitely given me a lot to think about! The notion that “I am not the voice in my head” is one that I’m still getting used to, and when I explain this to other people, I usually just get a blank “huh?” stare back (I’m loaning them the book when I’m done). Thanks for sharing!

  2. That book sounds awesome. Another one that you might be interested in is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It pretty much blew my mind!
    I believe happiness is a choice, but I also think that some of the resistance to that is exactly what you referenced. If a bird shits on my head, yeah- not gonna be happy about it, at first. But when I let that frustration define me, or my day, or my life…..well how sad is that?
    Great post! Love your blog!

  3. This reminds me of when my friend was going through cancer and said “I just want my old life back.” i remember thinking, “but this is your life right now–” And then, years later, along came fibromyalgia, and learning to live that thought out: this is my life right now.

    That whole thought is summed up for me in the C.S.Lewis quote: “The great thing is, if one can, to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.”

    It’s a weird thought to learn to look at our lives not as something that was thrown at us but as just another part of this life journey, yunno? And thank you so much for sharing yours.

  4. Hi Mary, thank you for this review, as it reminded me again about all these things and having a closer look at different aspects of life. Because i wanted to know more about this book, I googled it (ofcourse… google IS my friend haha) and found another blog which I loved, and would like to share. I found a specific page which i really liked, because its about acceptance, something that remains quite difficult for me with my fibro and hanging around my house all day long. Here it is: http://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/2008/01/theres-nothing.html

    He reviews a book called ”There is nothing wrong with you” by Cheri Huber and the quotes taken from the book, i really really loved.
    It keeps talking about how life is as it is and there is no right and wrong, there is just the way it is. People often judge others and also themselves, but there is no right way to do things, you just do them. I just wrote a long piece in my journal about acceptance and people bugging you about your life. I kinda like my life, although I cannot work, and stay at home most of the time. At times I can go out with friends to have some dinner or see a movie, and I enjoy that even more so, because I know it’s something special for me, being able to go out at the moment. Still there are people around me telling me to do this or that, to try acupuncture, to do some volunteering, to have friends over. These are all suggestions made out of care for me (at least most of them are) but these people do not seem to understand that the break down the little castle of acceptance I build around myself.

    So to come back to the review about the book ”There is nothing wrong with you”, it seems a great book for people like us, still searching and trying to get a grip of life as it is.

    Btw, I really really love your blog, you make me smile everytime you post something, I love the positivity and ofcourse I recognize a lot of the things you talk about. Because I, and a lot of people with me, read your blog, it seems like I know you, which is strange, because you don’t know me at all. Keep doing what you do, you are an inspiration to me!! Lot of love through the internet universe ;)

  5. I had only heard of this book, but I’m glad you reviewed it for us so I know what to expect because I’m definitely going to read it now! I read the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and it’s a lighter “A.J. Jacobs – sort” of book on responsibility for our own happiness, and practical things we can do (contemplated and tested through a series of experiences by the author) to take control of our own happiness. You might like it, but it’s definitely a lighter read than this book. I read it at a point in my life where I needed Rubin’s bit of humor in the Happiness Project to break up all of the serious material I was reading on happiness and health. Anyway, give it a try if you’d like! And I’m definitely going to read The Untethered Soul for all of the concepts that Rubin talks about, but at their root. Thanks for sharing your recommendation and review!

  6. Wow, that has really got to me, I knew a lot of what you were saying a lifetime ago when I first started down the path of meditation. Somewhere I got lost and forgot about meditating. I know the only person you have any chance of getting to change is yourself so why have I forgotten about me? Answers on a stampeded, undressed elephant please.

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