What Do You Need to be Happy?

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happy friends having fun together

Alcoholics and addicts love to talk about being happy, joyous and free. I just sat through a well attended 12-step meeting where this was the topic. The people most inclined to speak on this topic were primarily younger attendees within their first 60 days… “what do they know?” I silently judged before reflecting on how I register on the joy-o-meter.

What do they have that I didn’t? Oh yeah, they are happy, joyous and free because they ain’t got much.

You see those of us who have been sober for awhile tend to have accumulated a few things and/or made a list of still more things (a certain her or him or pointless stuff) that we still want to acquire. The newly sober have been literally snatched from the jaws of a self-imposed hell. They are basking in the warm, all-encompassing release from addiction. They haven’t had the time to form attachments to things they fear losing or fret about things they may never acquire.

Again, the question is what do you need to be happy? I propose that what we really need is to be free of attachments.

When we are chained down by attachment we cling to what we have and grasp for what we haven’t. Now I have dated a fair amount of people (and two or three age-appropriate mammals) over the decades and never do I recall thinking: “I really enjoyed how clingy that person was.” Clingy is not good. Grasping is weak and pathetic. Yet we love our attachments.

Yes, we are thrilled when we obtain that which we have a strong emotional attachment too. But scarcely do we obtain or attain before we slip into anxiety over possibly losing it. Worse yet, if we lose that to which we are attached we slip down the scale from anxious to outright miserable.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” warbled Ms. Joplin a few decades back. Well I am grateful that I have things I could lose, but when I am at my most healthy minded I don’t have undue attachments.

That is not to say I am careless with what I have. I back up files, keep documents, jewelry and other items in secure places and, most importantly, attend to important relationships. But I strive to not be unduly attached.

I am of the age were friends and loved ones may not inhabit this mortal coil for long. I don’t stress about this. In part, because I believe mortal birth and death are just temporary phases—there will be future opportunities to reconnect. And in part because I have been taught to regularly inventory my behavior and promptly make amends when I have been in the wrong. Twelve-step recovery is a design for living. A design that I was ignorant of for far too many years.

Pause and take stock. What are you too attached to? It may take the form of people, places or things. Think in concrete terms, not the abstract. Are you too caught up in the compulsive drive to obtain and maintain? Isn’t that exhausting?

When I am at my happiest (not a natural state given my defective wiring) I am mindful of freeing myself of attachments. What do I need to be truly happy? Absolutely nothing.

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  1. Julie Folland says:

    Thank you for your writings, very thought invoking.
    Peace in my mind is what I believe I need to be happy, yet it seems the more I strive for it, the more elusive it becomes. I am sober, I’m not an attendee at any regular meetings AA , NA or S.M.A.R.T., perhaps if I did, it would become more visible, more tangible. In any case thank you again for your way with words, for sharing, and for your ability to cut through the bs and tell it like it is. Maybe one day my path will guide me to finally find, that which I so desperately need & seek.
    Stay real & fly straight!

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