challenge of happinessRecently, I was invited to speak at The Challenge of Happiness Conference. The annual event is sponsored by the Juvenile Justice Board in Tampa Bay and designed to acknowledge and encourage social workers, lawyers and others dedicated to ensuring positive development and well-being of families in the area. As closing speaker, I was to put a proverbial bow on the day’s events.

Before I spoke, a behavioral scientist from Boston provided clinical proof that we only see what we believe.  Apparently, the key to sight is found in the caverns of our subconscious. This PhD reversed Doubting Thomas’ familiar phrase I’ll believe it when I see it to I’ll see it when I believe it. A subconscious mind that doesn’t believe something will literally block images from our life experience and continue to hold us captive. These expert findings resonated with me and provided a great segue for what was to come.

Unlike previous speakers who approached the conference from clinical and academic backgrounds, my approach was personal. Drawing upon experiences which included my most recent travels through Montenegro, Albania, Turkey and Greece, I shared personal stories involving the challenge of happiness.

I’ve always loved stories, whether I played listener or teller. Unlike facts and training which address our conscious mind, stories pass through our predetermined mindsets and prejudices. They draw us to a place where we unwittingly open up to new paradigms and possibilities. Listening to someone else’s story helps us revisit and reassess those of our own. Inspiring tales often ignite hope for what’s languishing in our souls, hidden from our own awareness.

In one story, I told the tale of my learning how to dance, something that didn’t happen till I was nearly 50. While many in the audience would have found dancing natural and perhaps no challenge at all, I invited them to relate to my story as an “I can’t” tale. We all have at least one “I can’t” story in life that challenges our happiness.

In my case, a half century of patterning had created a nearly impossible chasm. My subconscious mind, probably the size of a titanic glacier, was convinced that I could never learn to dance.  My heart wished for this ultimate elixir: communal celebration, joy of movement, and an atmosphere where people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities could celebrate together. My desire called me to freedom, but a lifetime of patterning to the contrary had me totally stuck.

My journey in learning to dance brought me through a seemingly impossible divide. I repeatedly braved failure, fears and deeply embedded mindsets. Often, the trip to dancing proved anything but happy. Yet the desire to experience the joy of dance kept me going. I came to realize that the antidote to the subconscious which thought I couldn’t dance amounted to a long term exercise in un-doing that belief. Over an extended period of time, I took countless and varied dance classes and exercised every opportunity to practice.

I’ve since taken the tale of my dance challenge and turned it into an ebook. Entitled, Exiting the Comfort Zone: Dance or Die, it’s part of my Art of Happiness series which inspires others to unearth and experience their own happiness. I hope you read it.

I am closing out this writing as I take note of my kitchen clock. It’s time to head out to a Tampa Bay Flash Mob practice. Now on the other side of that chasm, I’m part of an inclusive, multigenerational troupe that performs seemingly impromptu dance routines at various public venues. Our most recent routine is an evolution of hip hop that’s totally family friendly. Being part of this jovial mob is total release and celebration for me. The mob also brings unexpected happiness to those who see us in action.

In my case, the challenge of happiness was to eventually see something I truly wanted but deeply questioned. Today, I pick up all kinds of choreography with relative ease and literally see happiness every time I dance!

Do you have a happiness challenge? Remember that to see your happiness, you must believe it first. As with me, overcoming that challenge may take time, practice and plenty of un-doing. But don’t allow a glacier-like subconscious to keep you separated from your own joy.

Wishing you well in your journey to believe – and see – your happiness, too!

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