Happiness is a choice.
Yet it’s not so simple as to wake up one day and declare “I choose to be happy” and then expect it to happen. It takes real work.
Thankfully, I know what makes me happy.
As should you.
Unfortunately, what most people believe makes them happy is actually what is keeping them unhappy. It’s imperative to know what’s what. You need to harness the power of your mind and unleash it upon your assumptions about where happiness is found.
So my meditation slogan #2 isn’t about waiting around and hoping to be happy. It summarizes three crucial aspects of happiness that need to be present in your life:
1. Love yourself and develop compassion.
2. Know what doesn’t produce happiness
3. Doing what produces a sense of fulfillment and gives you purpose in life.
#1 is clearly the hardest. It takes the most thought and practice. But it results in the biggest gain. #2 and #3 only takes reading and relating it to your own experience to see if they are true or not.
Love Yourself and Develop Compassion
When people are talked about as “hardened by an unforgiving world” this indicates that they are angry and defensive. You can’t be angry and defensive and happy at the same time.
When you develop a certain narrative about yourself, you are choosing to believe it. I believed I was an idiot and unlikable.
My “idiot and unlikable” narrative could be your own personal narrative about your skin color, your height, your body type, your intelligence, your laugh, your income; whatever part of your existence you think is either wholly or partially keeping you from being happy.
When I was younger, all of my changes were based on the belief that if I looked differently, I’d be happy. I don’t think this is an uncommon thought process.
If you could just have bigger breasts, a smaller waist, a bigger house, higher paying job, a tan (me), fuller lips, broader shoulders (me), jump higher, run faster, be better with girls (me)… you’d be happy.
For some reason, you decided not to like something about yourself. Perhaps someone made fun of you or did something cruel. While these events undoubtedly happen, including to me, we choose to believe a certain message about them: there is something wrong with me the way I am.
And you believed it. Perhaps you just weren’t old enough or aware enough to know the reality of the situation.
But if you are old enough to read this, then you are old enough to know that if you still believe there is something wrong with you, that is your choice!
You are choosing to be unhappy.
You simply haven’t accepted some aspect of yourself and it makes you unaware of the truth: there is no one else to be that would necessarily make you happier than you are as yourself.
Surely being rich and famous or beautiful would make you happier? Yet a cursory glance at gossip magazines show the self-destructive behavior that so many famous people engage in. Self-destructive behavior is not a sign of happiness. Read some biographies of famous and powerful people. You’ll see the reality. It’s not pretty.
This doesn’t mean that people aren’t happier than you. They just aren’t happier because they have stuff that you don’t have, or look different than you do.
If they are happier, it’s because their thoughts are different than yours. They spend most of their time cultivating positive mental states.
For most of my life I wanted to change aspects of myself because I believed being different from what I was would make me happier. I was struggling against an image of myself; a false image it turned out.
That which I was struggling against was nothing but an illusion. My narrative was an illusion. I wasn’t an idiot, unattractive, or unlikable.
I wasn’t lacking anything.
Engage a simple thought experiment: Name the thing you’d most like to change about yourself that you think would make you happier.
Whatever that answer is, can you say that all the people who are the way you want to be, or have what you want, are happy? If not, then it can’t possibly be true that you’d definitely be happier if you could change whatever it is about yourself that you don’t like.
It’s imperative that you question your assumptions as to what will make you happy. Once you understand your beliefs are likely false (and it may take some time) you must develop compassion for the suffering you’ve been through during your struggles, otherwise your first impulse will be to criticize the fact that you spent so much time struggling against nothing. That just continues the cycle.
Just remember, whenever there is something that you dislike about yourself, you are disliking yourself as a whole. You can’t partially dislike yourself. It’s either/or.
You’re all in or you’re all out.
It took a long time, but I’m finally all in.
Knowing What Doesn’t Produce Happiness
Most of what is marketed at us as consumers promises to make us happy, but it really just keeps us unhappy. It focuses our attention externally instead of where it should be placed: on ourselves.
Our capitalist economy relies on accumulation and acquisition. Your acquisition of my product or service enables me to accumulate.
So marketing messages are all about acquisition. But you can’t acquire or accumulate your way to any lasting happiness.
You can acquire your way to temporary relief from unhappiness, but that’s not the same as experiencing happiness. Once the temporary excitement of the acquisition wears off, the unhappiness returns. So you go looking for the next acquisition.
All of the world’s wisdom, regardless of what culture is arises from, points to a fundamental human error: we chase happiness in all the wrong places and we think we can avoid pain by doing so.
We attempt to protect ourselves from pain and discomfort. We fear it. We crave security. We become an over-protective parent of ourselves.
We build personal walls to shield ourselves from all the perceived dangers of the world.
But by building the walls, we becomes slaves to fear and we stop truly living. In my mind, fear destroys everything worth living for.
Not only do we try to protect ourselves from pain (a complete impossibility) we actively seek out pleasure to relieve us from whatever it is we don’t want to feel.
The temporary reprieve the pleasure provides is what we then identify as happiness.
But it’s not. It’s just a temporary reprieve. Nothing has changed. So if you weren’t happy before, a new pair of shoes isn’t going to change anything.
Whenever we do anything to escape from what we are feeling right now, anything we identify as uncomfortable, we are moving further away from happiness.
It could be shopping. It could be sex. It could be watching TV. It could be meditation. It could be getting over-involved in your children’s lives. It could even be books (guilty!).
There is no problem with pleasure, mind you. You just have to understand what is going on. Doing pleasurable things is fine. But if you are attached to this pleasure as a way of making you feel better, even if it’s something relatively benign like reading, you are creating more problems for yourself. Sometimes what we do is so habitual that we don’t even realize that it’s an escape.
We see what others do, but don’t realize what we do. It may not be anything extreme like drugs or alcohol, but you likely have some way of habitually reacting in order to avoid certain uncomfortable feelings.
The trick is this: We have to get comfortable with the discomfort in the same way we are comfortable with the comfortable. That is a scary thought in the beginning, but it’s quite doable. And it works.
As I have written before, I used to experience strong feelings of loneliness and feel completely disconnected from people.
These feelings often lasted for extended periods of time. They still occur from time to time, but far less and for a far shorter duration. It’s mostly because I learned how to relate to the experience. Previously, I’d hate on it (aversion) and try to avoid it by keeping busy (seeking relief from uncomfortable feeling).
Even though I know how to more effectively deal with loneliness, does that mean I no longer feel short term desires? No way.
In these times of loneliness, do I have the impulse:
– to seek some sort of comfort to make me feel better? Yes!
– to wish someone will text me? Yes!
– to desire that someone pay me a compliment? Yes!
– to desire attention from a girl I think is attractive? Yes! Double Yes!!
After all, these are perfectly natural male responses to the arrival of uncomfortable, and generally undesirable, feelings. All things being equal, I’d rather feel good than lonely. These are impulses that emanate from somewhere in my unconscious as a method to avoid that feeling of loneliness.
The issue is this: by doing any of the things listed above I would only prolong the feelings of loneliness. That’s why we experience restlessness and anxiety. You think these experiences are negative. So you don’t want to feel them. But negative is just a label. Feelings exist. You can’t pick and choose what you want to feel.
You will not win that battle.
Any action taken to try and alleviate the uncomfortable feeling just makes it last longer and gives it power over you.
On the other hand, sitting with the feeling, and not labeling it as bad, you realize it’s not a big deal. If you don’t fear it, you remove its source of power.
To sum it up, you have to know where happiness is not found, and you have to stop running away from whatever it is that scares you the most.
Doing what produces a sense of fulfillment and gives you purpose in life.
This one doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation. Having a life with a sense of purpose will lead to a more fulfilling life.
I have my own personal training business. I teach salsa. I blog. I read. I have a bit of a social life.
The common denominator is that all these actions satisfy the thing that brings me purpose and fulfillment: helping alleviate the physical and mental struggles of others and hopefully bringing some joy to the people I come in contact with.
Buddhism has a name for these people: Bodhisattva. I had no clue this term even existed, but a Bodhisattva is someone who has learned something, become enlightened in some way, and then goes back into the world to help others. It’s the classic Hero’s Journey.
So that’s #2: May I Be Happy
P.S. If you found this post interesting or helpful, please “like”, “share”, or send to someone who needs another perspective on life. You never know what can change someone’s life for the better.