I heard an amazing quote in yoga class last week and it stopped me in my tracks. Well, technically I was already stopped in my tracks because I was lying on my back in Savasana (also known as corpse pose), but the notion certainly stopped my mind in its tracks.
“People are like stained glass windows: they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”
It’s from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. She may not be a household name, but you’re probably familiar with her ideas. She’s the Swiss-American psychiatrist who wrote about the five stages of grief in her 1969 book, Death and Dying.
What a remarkable statement about life. It might even be the secret to a happy life.
For the majority of my life, my stained glass windows looked beautiful because they were basking in the sunlight of the approval and admiration of the people around me. I didn’t have a need for interior lights because the sun was so bright outside.
But when I turned 35 and wanted to make some changes in my life, I had to pull down the shades and look for the light on the inside.
At first there was none. I’d sit in silence and contemplate what I really wanted my future to look like. In my mind, alone with those thoughts, it was dark.
No stars. No moon. No tiny nightlight bulb. Just pitch dark.
The past three years have been a remarkable transformation. I’ve become incredibly clear about what fills my tank and what depletes it. And for the first time in my life, my light—my joy—comes from the inside, not the outside.
I’ve come to believe that this idea of cultivating one’s own glow, of being your own lantern, is the secret to life. Happiness, in other words, is an inside job.
We are all so busy and tired that it’s often easier to rely on light from the outside – sometimes it’s easier to base our own self-worth on the opinions and approval of others.
It’s a blessing to have the sun shining on you from the outside. It feels wonderful, but sometimes that light is blocked by clouds. And other times, the glare is simply blinding. True happiness, true joy, comes from stoking your own flame.
Here’s a little exercise to get you started:
Find a blank piece of paper and divide it down the middle.
- Think about the last two years of your life.
- On the left, write five specific instances when you’ve felt filled with joy and happiness.
- On the right, write five specifc instances when you’ve felt drained and exhausted.
Be specific as possible. And do your best to think about what filled you, personally, with joy—not what impressed other people or what you did to make them happy.
Now, compare the two lists. What patterns do you see? What do your examples reveal about the sources of your own inner radiance?
Maybe your day job is draining the power you need to light up your life. Or perhaps one or two people have the ability to dim your glow with the flip of a switch. Either way, this exercise is a great way to start thinking about which relationships to nurture, which opportunities to pursue and what habits to leave behind so that you can start dialing it up from the inside.
Because being happy from the inside is the best way to be.