A few years ago, I had a really incredible and unexplainable experience. For about 8 months, it was like a switch had flipped inside of me and I found myself waking up every day with the most profound sense of joy and gratitude. I would open my eyes in the morning, and the first thought that would pop into my head was, “I am so happy to be alive, to have this life, right now.”
What was funny was that the second thought usually was something along the lines of, “That’s weird. What am I so happy about?” Don’t get me wrong. I had a life that I’m sure many people on this planet would have been happy to have. All of my material needs were being met, I was able-bodied and healthy, I had free time that I got to spend doing things that I loved, and I was loved, by friends and family. But, at the time, the kind of intense joy I was experiencing felt to me like something that was supposed to happen when someone is living their dream life, which I most certainly was not.
I was working a minimum wage job, that was pleasant enough most of the time, but certainly not fulfilling. I was single and wanted deeply to find a partner to share my life with. And, perhaps most frustratingly, I was a bit directionless. A few years earlier, I had left a Master’s program in Clinical Psychology as well as the Bay Area, which had been my home for almost 9 years, because I had become deeply unhappy with my life and knew that I needed a completely fresh start. I moved down to Los Angeles with the hopes of finding a new and inspired life path, but years later, I still felt sort of lost.
And yet, here I was, waking up in my tiny studio apartment every morning with the most giant smile on my face and so much happiness in my heart that I felt like I could almost burst. At first, I just assumed that I must have gotten some super-restorative sleep or maybe it was the extra endorphins from all the cardio I had been doing recently, but as the days and weeks passed and I continued to wake up with this same humbling sense of gratitude every morning, I started to suspect that something else was going on.
A few months into this experience, I started to wonder if this was how I would feel for the rest of my life. If maybe my DNA had spontaneously changed, and suddenly this was my new baseline. I also wondered what would happen if this feeling of buoyancy slipped away, so I made a point of being as present as possible with the experience and I began to notice something really interesting.
The feeling, which I started referring to as “being plugged in” because it felt like I was connected to some kind of powerful energy source, was not a product of anything outside of me. It was also not affected by external events. I would have wonderful days where it seemed like every light turned green as I approached, but I also had days where things were just not going according to plan. And somehow, the positive, uplifting energy that seemed to be coursing through my system didn’t waver. I was able to manage difficult situations with much more ease and grace. I accepted disappointments more readily, and then moved on more quickly with an optimism and a faith that better things were ahead. And most importantly, I saw beauty everywhere. It’s hard to even explain the degree to which my appreciation of the world around me increased, but almost everything, from the reflection of the sky and clouds on the side of a building to the feeling of the breeze on my skin, brought me immense joy.
Eventually, this feeling slipped away. I didn’t disappear entirely the way the things sometimes do and leave you wondering if they ever existed to begin with. Instead, it shifted slowly, and at some point I recognized the familiarity of the experience that I had known before. Good days and bad days, and the feeling of being much more at the mercy of what was happening around me. The moments where I would notice that I hadn’t been noticing much of anything around me, let alone appreciating or drawing joy from it.
But. I haven’t forgotten. I won’t ever forget that feeling and the fact that it came on, seemingly out of nowhere, but it didn’t. I had thought that it would come when everything in my life had fallen into place. When I had the job and the partner, and a feeling of purpose, but none of those things were necessary for me to experience overwhelming joy. It came from inside of me and it had been there all along. And even though I couldn’t quite touch it or put my hands all the way around it the way I had before, I knew it was still there and always would be. That it was mine, my birthright, and that all I had to do was make the choice to connect with it. That feeling of being. The simple joy of existence. The gratitude for the experience of life.
I am not saying that that is always an easy choice to make. No. There are many things in life that stir up the water and make it difficult to see beneath the surface. There will be times where it seems impossible to locate that feeling, but now, when life gets turbulent and painful and I feel myself all tangled up in my own discontent, I remember. I remember that that feeling is there, waiting to be found once more, and simply knowing that gives me hope and strength and the determination to keep pushing through to the other side.