To be open or happy?

As a recent graduate of college, I’ve been faced with a plethora of decisions that feel like they demand my immediate attention. When I was leaving for college, adults would wink, clap me on the shoulder and say “these are going to be the best years of your life.” When I graduated college, I got the same clap on the shoulder, but this time it was firmer and accompanied with “these are going to be the most important years of your life.” Woof.

So with this nugget of advice in my back pocket, I began to do some heavy thinking. I read books and blog posts offering advice for those in their twenties, and I asked my elders a lot of questions. Some instructed traveling; some recommended saving money and living at home; and others advised jumping on the career ladder ASAP. Many asked me what it was that I wanted. Frustrated that the answer wasn’t in a book, I threw my arms up in the air and thought, “I just want to be happy.

This is a common answer these days. What is happiness? I suppose most people would define it as “feeling good” or “blissfully satisfied.” To some, this is achieved with financial security, and for others, it might be finding and succeeding within a  dream career.

Over the last decade, the happiness craze has been building and budding. There are TED talks on the theory of happiness and long blog posts attempting to define its meaning. There’s even an entire section on Amazon books completely dedicated to finding happiness. It’s a goal we’re all reaching for, and like achieving the “perfect” body, there’s a whole lot of debate on how to get there.

I’ve noticed that, with the exception of ananda balasana, my yoga teachers don’t talk that much about being happy. Instead, they tend to focus more on “opening.” Opening the hips after downward dog, opening the shoulders in child’s pose. When we’re laying on our backs in savasana, our bodies tingle and relish the heightened awareness and openness. I would describe the sensation as a willing vulnerability, or the complete surrender of control. Rather than force ourselves on a mission to feel good, we say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s okay.”

Allowing for more openness helps us to be more adaptable to life’s constantly lapping waves of change. What would make you happy? A specific job or partner? Recognition from someone you admire? While these things may provide temporary stamps of glee, we cannot guarantee their permanency. By saying, “I am open,” we enter the day with a fearless vulnerability.

The 20s are important years of one’s life. If you attended college, or even high school, you spent a great portion of your life focusing on a specific goal and following a syllabus. These syllabi gave us the idea that we were somewhat in control. Do this, get this grade, be happy. In our 20s, we are learning to live without a syllabus. We are learning to open ourselves up.

This isn’t to say that we should sit around and do nothing. Feeling open is not the same as being lazy. Rather, combine an open attitude with awareness, work ethic, and ambition, and you’re likely to notice opportunities that you may have missed in the attempt to secure “happiness.”

To me, happiness is a lofty goal. I can’t make myself happy overnight, but I can feel grateful and open. I can use awareness to look at the opportunities I have and use them to aid the growth of myself and others. I can keep my eyes and ears peeled for the things that ignite my passion. I can allow the world to be surprising and fun.  

There’s a lot going on in this crazy world. Open yourself up, take notice, take action, and enjoy.

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