THE BLOG
08/31/2015 06:53 am ET | Updated Aug 31, 2016

The Question You Need To Ask Yourself In Order To Be Truly Happy

Here's a good question for you: "What do I have of value that I can offer the world ... which would earn me a consistent living?" Here's an essay that will show you one woman's answer.

What if there's a whole world out there waiting for you to step into it, tapping its fingers and toes in anticipation? What if it's been beckoning you for a very long time, courting you in your dreams, teasing you in snippets of conversation with surprise strangers who say things like take care or have a great day or how are you and really mean it, when some of the main players in your lives don't? What if you are more powerful than you could ever imagine and your ability to be happy is just as vast? What if the thing that is keeping you away from your happiness and your power is something you can shake off and leave in the dust like a broken flip flop, even though it feels more like a cement boot? What happened to your dreams? And why aren't they coming true? Why aren't you happy?

Five years ago, my oldest dream came true. After devoting decades to the writing life in a small mountain town in Montana, tending my little family, I finally had a book published. It had a message that a lot of people wanted to hear, which grew out of my apparently-rare reaction to a marital crisis ... and suddenly I had a career as a writer and a speaker, touring the country, doing big media, and speaking at large conventions. I was scared and excited and deeply happy. I believed in my message: we can create a life that works no matter what hardships we face, by powerfully choosing our emotional reaction to our lives, truly embracing what it is to stay in the present moment, and taking responsibility for our own happiness.

In order to effectively be its messenger, though, I needed an affirmation to repeat in my mind and keep close to my heart. I chose this: I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy. For the most part, it worked. Intentional words have a way of doing that. In that season of my life, I was happier and more grounded than I'd ever been. I was making a difference in the world doing what I loved, my marriage and my family were resuscitated, life was joyful.

A few years later, everything changed. Sadly, my marriage needed to end, and this time even more was at stake: my financial stability and that of my children, my family orientation, my career. It was a mean season of post-divorce with all arrows pointing toward losing my house, public shame, and personal misery. The rug everyone warned me about was indeed ripped out from under me and I spun in the wind of chaos and fear. I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy felt as far away as the rug which once supported me. Who was I exactly without my family intact? What was intact? Where was my power? Where was my joy? My gut told me that more than any time in my entire life, if I was going to find happiness again, I needed to mine the gold inside me. And my fear was quelled by the fact that I'd been such a "miner" for a long time. If I hadn't been, who knows what would have happened.

So I asked myself a powerful question: What do I have of value that I can offer the world ... which would earn me a consistent living? Being a New York Times best-selling author doesn't mean you are guaranteed financial stability. Speaking gigs required me to leave my children and they needed me at home in that time of uncertainty. It was time to get very very real. Or lose so much of what I'd created for myself and my children. What did I possess that people needed, in the same way they seemed to crave my book's message and my speaking topics?

Hell-bent to find my gold, I deconstructed the questions from my speaking events and interviews. And I realized that the number one question I was asked had nothing to do with marriage or crisis. It had to do with Voice. Story. Self-acceptance. I had written my way through a difficult time, and other people wanted to do the same. There were people all over the globe dying to tell their stories, but they felt stuck and even desperate.

Over and over again I heard: "Why does my story matter? How do I find the words to tell it? Or the time? Is my voice even interesting or unique? Who cares anyway ... it's all been told before."

Over and over I said, "Yes, your voice is unique! And so is your story! No one has the same voice or the same story -- it's not possible. And no one can tell it like you. It matters to the world because it matters to you!" But the lifeline that came so easily and naturally to me, was terrifying for most people to grasp ... even though they wanted to, deeply. I longed to swoop up all those seekers, bring them to Montana, and teach them what I'd been practicing for years with all my might. To help them sit at that intuitive intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing. To help them know what I know: The act of writing is a highly transformational and therapeutic tool, regardless if anyone even reads it!

In a moment of totally clarity I saw it: There was a serious hole in our human existence ... and I knew a way to fill it. What if I actually did bring people to Montana, gave them the solace of the mountains, lakes, and rivers, communion with other seekers, and plugged them into a design that would have them find their voice, their stories, and set them free? What if I led retreats? Not just for writers, but for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their self-expression through the written word. There's not a soul who wouldn't benefit from that!

And then the inner critic came in. What cred did I have? I'd never led a retreat. I hadn't really been on many retreats. Montana was far away for most people. Why would they bother? But as I'd instructed so many to do, I remembered that the inner critic is just a scared child who needs a nap, and I cleared my head and came to my senses: I had something that the world needed. And any life-changing service to humanity is worth something in the realm of financial security. Maybe retreats could be my way to re-invention, to have time to write again, to be exactly who I was ... and yes, have it be easy.

So I opened up my computer (and my heart), and a design for a five day retreat gushed out of me, as if it had indeed been waiting for me, tapping its fingers and toes. There was the gold! I mined all the things that made my writing practice work. There would be guided writing prompts that interrupted the inner critic and invited people to play like children in the themes and stories of their lives. There would be one-on-one mentoring with me. The chance to give and receive feedback on projects, at all levels and genres. There would be delicious nourishing group meals, and opportunities to get out of your head and into your bodies -- long walks, yoga, horses -- my three lifelines outside of writing that kept it balanced. There would be time to write in solitude. And lasting community long after the retreat in various forums and consulting opportunities. A workshop, retreat, and community all in one. Heaven. So I called it something very close: Haven. Haven Writing Retreats.

Before my inner critic could wake up from her nap and tell me how delusional I was, I put it on Facebook: "Anyone want to come on a writing retreat with me in Montana?" And in two hours, 24 people signed up.

I had no place to hold Haven, no price point, no experience, and no team. Four months later, I was leading a writing retreat that would soon be ranked in the top three writing retreats in the country. Four years later, I lead eight retreats a year, have worked with almost 400 people, and been featured on many radio shows and media venues for this powerful retreat experience that has changed lives over and over again. It has certainly changed mine. My life is stable. My children are thriving. And in it all, I fell in love with someone who meets me in a way I never knew possible. I am happy.

It came from asking myself a simple question: How can I serve the world by being exactly who I am? By mining what I have to offer? And offering it in the way only I can?

So ... if you are staring down the barrel of a major life shift and the inevitable re-invention that must come from it, why not have your re-invention reflect your deepest truth, and your biggest dreams? Ask yourself: What makes me happy? How do I already show up for it in my life? How can I share that with the world? If you do ... you just might find your way to a world of happiness ... by being exactly who you are. You might find your Next Happy.

Inspired by Tracey Cleantis's powerful book The Next Happy

Earlier on Huff/Post50: