There is a powerful difference between searching for the answer to a question and pursuing the wisdom in any life challenges.
Consider for a moment that we think of "answers" as one-sentence conclusions to questions: Here's the question and here's the answer. Q&A makes a great partnership, so why shouldn't we apply that method of investigation to probing the deeper concerns of our life? Because sometimes the Q&A method misses the target when that target becomes more complex than a one-sentence response. Sometimes the more pressing matters of life are better served by recognizing that a simple answer will not suffice. Rather, a meaningful quest is better served by the acquisition of wisdom and insight rather than an answer to a question. Consider that wisdom is a game-changing force because in seeking wisdom, you are pursuing a "truth trigger," a hidden mechanism in a situation that, once discovered, initiates a process of transformation that cannot be aborted. Answers can be argued with; wisdom is a final but enlightening truth.
Take the question, "What makes you happy?" Is there really a one-sentence answer to that question? For all the seductive energy that question generates—and it does—listing the ingredients of personal happiness remains among of the most challenging questions for people to actually answer. I know. I have asked countless audiences throughout my workshop career to answer that question, to actually articulate in detail the specific items that equal happiness for them. In the vast majority of cases, people respond with silence or by saying that they are uncertain.
At first, these responses baffled me. Was it stage fright? Were people not interested in happiness? Hardly. I reshaped the question to, "How many of you are searching for happiness in some way?" That question hit the high marks, and most hands flew up. That question then became the precursor to, "What makes you happy?" Logically, if you know what makes you unhappy, surely you must have at least a slight idea—a fantasy—anything, something in your imagination about what would make you happy. Still, when it came to actually articulating the specifics of what they wanted and needed to be happy, most people hesitated—and still do.
I finally realized that beyond the discontentment that often drives us to despair or to think we are unhappy is a deeper wisdom that that tells us that, "You may be unhappy, but that does not mean you are in the wrong place with the wrong person or people." Unhappiness may be a temporary phase, an overload of the current pressures of life or a need to recognize self-neglect. It may be that you need to take a step back and evaluate if and how you have "de-animated" much of your life. Perhaps, over time, you gradually withdrew your enthusiasm, and you never even realized it. We often de-animate relationships, jobs, everything and anything, and because it happens so gradually, we don't discover we are depleted until we are so low on energy that our entire life looks bleak.
Not answering the happiness question can also be an indication that a person is waiting for someone else to change everything and make her world a better place, a place she doesn't really want to leave but just have renovated. So the person is still aware that the fundamental ingredients for happiness are in her life—they just need to be reenergized. But who is supposed to change and do all that work? Ah—that's the deal-breaker.
Discover the wisdom jewels
Part of the reason for the inability to chart a "happiness course" or to actually list the items on your happiness wish list may also be due to the inadequacy of the Q&A model itself, meaning that we associate answers with finality. And we are held to our answers, like flies on flypaper. If we say, "I need more freedom in my life and less responsibilities and a more understanding partner," we have to logically wonder, "Is that just for now or will that always be true?" Answers are dicey things. How we answer today is not how we would answer this same question tomorrow—and there is a wisdom in us that knows this to be the case. Thus, we often prefer to pass on the question, to ponder it a bit longer, to hesitate awhile before we actually commit to an answer.
If you look through the lens of wisdom, you can discern an even more subtle reason that holds people back from giving "direct answers to direct questions": We know that truth changes our life. We hesitate to speak or seek truth too ambitiously precisely because of the power it yields—the power to change our life. Again, an inner wisdom tells us to proceed with caution when we are asked questions that may appear to be socially interesting but that could, in fact, pick at deep scabs beneath the surface. I suspect that many people fear answering life-changing questions—such as matters regarding happiness—too directly because they really do not want to be lifted all that far from the circumstances of their familiar world. Most people really do not want to be jettisoned away from the people both dear and irritating to them because, in spite of the highs and lows, these are "their" people. And our gut wisdom tells us that if we answer too loudly, if we say too much, we just might lose the familiar world we know. So we hold back and say very little. The most common pattern I have experienced is that we feel comfortable admitting that we are seeking happiness, but we hesitate to actually name what is missing—unless we have nothing to lose.
As with all matters in life, we have exceptions. I have met several people who have no fear in speaking up and saying exactly what they are looking for and what they believe will make them happy. Some are prepared to go the distance and initiate all life changes. Others often review their wish lists and compare them with their ambition and then hit a midrange compromise. Most people, however, "dwell in possibilities," as the great poet, Emily Dickinson so aptly put it. Part of the reason for the inability to chart a "happiness course" or to actually list the items on your happiness wish list may well lay in the reality of the Q&A model, meaning that it is.
So what does wisdom tell us about happiness? If we thought about seeking wisdom in the significant matter of life rather than answers, how would that change our approach?
1. Wisdom is the search for truth and insight. Do an evaluation and appraisal of all the ingredients in your life. Is it likely you will walk away from your present situation? If not, then the wise move is to walk back in and give it all you got. Life has cycles of good times and bad, ups and downs, highs and lows. It's the wise person who recognizes where she is in that cycle and whether it's the energy of the cycle that is exhausting or a more personal level of guidance.
2. If you come to the conclusion after your appraisal that these are not the right ingredients for you—then have the wisdom to acknowledge that truth and realize that truth will not change. You have to act on that truth if happiness is of any value to you much less your health.
3. And no matter what you decide, you can't go wrong following these wise policies in all matters, as they can only add to your happiness: Make no judgments; have no expectations; give up the need to know why things happen as they do; and release the words "blame" and "deserve" from your vocabulary forever.
Caroline Myss has been in the field of energy medicine and human consciousness for 20 years. Since 1982, she has worked as a medical intuitive, providing individuals with an evaluation of the health of their energetic anatomy system. She specializes in assisting people in understanding the emotional, psychological and physical reasons their bodies have developed an illness. Myss is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Anatomy of the Spirit, Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, Sacred Contracts and Entering the Castle. Myss' latest book, Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason, was published by Hay House in October 2009. Visit her website at Myss.com.