Who among us does not yearn to be happy? Philosophy, religion and psychology reveal humanity’s efforts to define the meaning of happiness, how to experience it and sustain it. While traditions and beliefs individuate one culture from another, the desire for happiness is the common denominator uniting all beings. “I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness,” says His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Aristotle put it this way: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
Every individual must give his or her own consent to being happy. Unhappiness is also a choice, evidenced by individuals who are addicted to constant grumbling and complaining. As a simple example of how little it takes to get us hooked, consider pet peeves. Woe unto that person who triggers our pet peeves! Whether it’s someone who gets in front of us in the “10 items or less” grocery checkout line and actually has a minimum of 18 things loaded into his cart, or the individual who dashes into our parking place just as we are getting ready to turn into it, we can make ourselves miserable over our pet peeves. We’ll even devote 15 precious minutes complaining about such events to a friend on the phone. As Gurdjieff, a Russian teacher and mystic observed, “A man will renounce pleasure, but he will not give up his suffering.” Strangely, negative individuals live in a paradox where unhappiness gives them a sense of false happiness. Have you ever had a person affirm your suffering, yet accuse you of being in denial when you indicated you still felt a sense of well-being in the midst of it? Perhaps it is this mindset that gave birth to the saying “misery loves company.”
Sadness is not the opposite of happiness
Sometimes what is required is to re-frame our definition of happiness. Happiness is not the absence of sadness. Sadness is the complement to happiness. It is absolutely possible to remain happy while being aware that sadness is passing through us.
We have somehow bought into the belief that sadness is a synonym for depression. The collective mind of our society has reached a consensus that the slightest onset of sadness requires an immediate remedy, be it a medical prescription or the self-medication of our choice. This is a misunderstanding. Sadness can open our hearts, touch our soft spot and gift us with compassion for our own and the challenges of others. It can open us to our true feelings so that we can begin working with them; it can create space for qualities of mind to manifest such as patience and loving-kindness for ourselves and others. Sadness is a doorway to profound growth and self-awareness. We can simultaneously experience sadness and grieve our losses knowing that we have everything we need within us to see us through, to support us as we use skillful means to navigate the ever-changing terrain of life. In contrast, genuine depression brings impairment in our work, self-care, and social activities, and requires professional attention.
As we begin to consciously choose happiness as a way of life, we are led to the realisation that joy is our natural state of being
That real happiness is not conditioned by outer circumstances is a fact that cannot be overstated. Dostoevsky’s insight reveals how we may actualise this unconditionedness: “In suffering, look for happiness.” Any day of the week we can read or hear about everyday people who have been elevated to heroes and heroines because they maintained their joy and zest for life amidst circumstances that were anything but happy. Did they possess skills superior to the average person? No. They tapped into the inexhaustible deep roots of happiness within the human spirit, roots that transcend life’s external conditions and cannot be destroyed by the dust and grit of the journey. Nothing and no one can remove the fountain of happiness that is our ground of being. Nor can they interrupt its flow. We hold the key to freedom in our hands when we become aware that we alone are responsible for our state of being.
When we are happy our hearts and minds are open, receptive, flexible, creative and teachable—qualities that are prerequisites for success. As we begin to consciously choose happiness as a way of life, we are led to the realisation that joy is our natural state of being. Happiness enriches us. Happiness generates more happiness.
Why material goods can’t bring lasting happiness
Now happiness isn’t simply about decorating the ego, such as adding a new credential after our name, collecting award plaques for our walls, or fame and fortune. As lovely and rewarding as these experiences are, they give only superficial, temporary pleasure. Happiness is not about acquisition, such as when we buy a new car. For weeks after we drive our prized possession off the lot we enjoy that wonderful aroma of “newness” that hits the olfactory nerves each time we enter our vehicle. Soon enough, however, that pleasant fragrance turns into the smell of stale green tea and we must begin looking for a replacement. So let us not confuse happiness with pleasure. Pleasure is temporary, fleeting, whereas happiness is a constant.
When the energy of our thought-forms radiates out into life, universal law responds. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are given constant feedback from the Universe. If your thought-form of happiness is owning a TV screen that is bigger than your overall vision for your life and the TV breaks down, then you have lost the source of your happiness. Certainly we are to enjoy the pleasures of human existence, but grasping at material baubles or being constantly entertained so that we can remain anti-bored until we die cannot substitute for the unconditional happiness that comes from consciously participating in a co-creative relationship with the Spirit, and living in alignment with the harmonic laws governing the universe. So what are the inroads to such a relationship?
The bane of human experience is that human beings think they know how the Universe should answer their prayers
Inroads to a relationship with the Spirit
The first way
First, we tap directly into the root of our inherent joy through time-tested practices such as meditation, affirmative prayer, contemplation, spiritual study, Life Visioning and selfless service. In this way we imbue our egoic, mental, physical, financial, professional, communal, relational, and spiritual life structures with that joy. Harmonious relationships, creativity, prosperity and generosity of heart become the hallmarks of our outer successes.
The second way
A second way is to move through life with an affirmative point of view, a “yes” approach, which maintains an openness and receptivity to the field of infinite possibilities. A person whose life-view is affirmative radiates a glow from within that is highly magnetic and contagious. Luminosity radiates from an authentically happy individual and cannot be extinguished, hijacked or robbed by external circumstances.
The third way
The third way is to realise that we are on the planet to deliver our gifts, talents and skills without attachment to the outcome. When we remain non-attached we go beyond mentally limiting our good to that which, we are convinced, we need to be happy. The bane of human experience is that human beings think they know how the Universe should answer their prayers. As I teach in the Life Visioning Process and in my book Spiritual Liberation, we are here not to make something happen; we are here to let ourselves be available as a distribution centre for that which is possible on a cosmic level. This can be a challenge to goal setting, which always seeks a successful outcome that makes us look and feel good. Our part, however, is to make our delivery with all the passion, creativity, intelligence and non-attachment that we can, to offer it as an unconditional gift that seeks no reward, that has no agenda other than to give of itself.
The fourth way
The fourth way to genuine happiness is to drop our false sense of self-importance, our egoic notions that the world revolves around us. Just as it was believed that the sun revolved around the Earth until modern science proved that it is Earth that revolves around the sun, so is the fallacy that happiness revolves around an egocentric way of life giving way to a new paradigm that happiness is a world-centric way of life. When we slow down our speedy mind we become more present and mindful of how we can reach out to support others right on the spot, which can be as simple as taking the time to open a door for someone to saving a life. Arrogance is replaced by humility; self-absorption is replaced by the realisation of our interconnectedness to our world family. Being of service to others is welcomed as an opportunity to open and expand the heart beyond the narrow confines of living life on the “me plan.”
The fifth way
Gratitude is the fifth way to tap into the wellspring of happiness. It is interesting to observe how often our attention goes to what we don’t have, while gratitude for what we do have is pushed into the background. Gratitude heals the spiritual astigmatism of lack and limitation; it clarifies the mind so that we may see the opportunities and possibilities which abundantly surround us. The saying that “opportunity only knocks once” is the product of a limited understanding of the generosity of the Universe. Gratitude is acceptance of the Good that is ours when we know ourselves to be worthy of receiving it.
The natural urge of the human being is to share. Generosity takes us directly into the heart of happiness because it gives expression to our oneness with every man, woman, and child gracing the planet. When we hear on the news or read about individuals who, on a global scale, share their wealth to uplift the lives of others, it is very moving and inspiring. Equally or even more touching is how everyday people in our local community send donations or items to support a perfect stranger whose plight they just learned about on the news, a person from whom they will receive no public acknowledgment of their givingness. We may think to ourselves, “I’d like to do such a wonderful thing.” The truth is that each of us can. Whether it’s a dollar given with a loving heart, or millions of dollars to an organisation that feeds a nation, the universe rejoices.
The happiness we give to others returns to us multiplied abundantly
Harvard researchers conducted a study that showed how giving—no matter how simple in form—is such a potent immune booster that it can be experienced just by watching someone else in the act of giving. What a powerful statement about our inter-connectedness! In this well-known experiment students watched a film of Mother Teresa as she tended the sick in Calcutta. When tested, even those that insisted they weren’t particularly fans of Mother Teresa had increased their immune function.
A person filled with happiness is one who has captured a vision for his or her life that is beyond living on the me and mine plan. When our purpose in life encompasses more than fulfilling our individual desires and includes the happiness of others, we will know the meaning of true wealth. Through heartfelt acts of generosity we create and sustain a cycle of happiness, and the happiness we give to others returns to us multiplied abundantly.
Is happiness possible in the times we live in?
Considering all the challenges we are currently facing in our world, happiness may seem a frivolous intention. We cannot deny the circumstances and events human beings are grappling with at this time in our history. Any meaningful discussion about happiness cannot ignore the pains of war, genocide, slavery, human trafficking, immigration challenges, AIDS, economic collapse, starvation, poverty, or the depletion of Earth’s resources. And yet, when we examine the lives of individuals who have made and continue to make a tremendous impact in forwarding the causes of justice, peace, and honouring the dignity of all beings—luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama—we see that in spite of their endless challenges they maintained their inner equanimity, their integral happiness. Remaining attuned to their inner core of happiness gave them the perseverance, the compassion, the courage and strength to forge ahead despite seemingly impossible obstacles. They demonstrate for us how inner joy can be experienced in the midst of extraordinarily challenging situations, and that what they have done so may we do, each in our own simple yet impactful way.
Let us all take heart knowing that right on the ground where we now stand, we may anchor happiness on the planet and share it with all those who we come in contact with.
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