I hope you all had a nice Christmas, are enjoying time with family, and are finding happiness this holiday season.
The Dalai Lama says the purpose of life is to be happy. In a workshop with Mike Dooley recently, he too says that we should make our choices in this life with the end goal of being happy (versus having specific jobs, or having a specific relationship, or being rich just to be rich). So why do we have such problems being happy? Why is it so elusive for so many people? I have a few thoughts on the subject, I think they’re sound and when I follow them, I am happier for longer. When I forget, it becomes harder to stay in that happiness bubble.
1. Being present – If you look at young children, they are generally happy, and are in the moment more often than not. They aren’t worrying about tomorrow, or thinking about how they should have said something different in the past. Nope. They are on that knife’s edge of living in the The Power of Now. It’s a struggle sometimes, but when we remember to do that and appreciate the smaller things, you can find happiness one minute at a time. Like driving down the highway at night, focusing on just the range of your headlights and not worrying about anything else. This may be the most important rule.
2. Compassion – When we care more about the happiness of others, our own well being increases as well. Being warmhearted, even to our enemies, puts the mind at ease. Think: unconditional positive regard for all. But compassion doesn’t just mean how you act towards others, but who we act towards ourselves. None of us are perfect, cut yourself some slack and forgive yourself for your mess-ups instead of wallowing in them. Which brings me to…
3. Loving ourselves – you can’t be happy if you dislike yourself. I read a book on the Dalai Lama called The Art of Happiness where the Dalai Lama was surprised to hear that western society had an affliction of self-hate. Usually he had seen more that egocentric self was the issue at hand. Self-dislike is not natural, and is born out of advertisement, societal pressures, and impossible expectations with roots in our childhood or adolescence. Body and mind need to be brought into harmony, and understanding that we may not have perfection as defined by media, we can still love who we are. Meditation and positive thoughts as we look in the mirror (i.e. “I love who I am as a person, as a parent, as a husband or wife, as a son or daughter, as a pet parent. I may not be perfect, but I love myself!”) will go a long way towards facilitating this feeling of love.
4. Finding Hope – Hope is a powerful thing. When you have dreams and hopes it buoys the spirit. Today’s society has a tendency to create feelings of hopelessness in people, like the short-term slog you are currently grinding through will never end. When you discover the feeling of hope, it starts to guide our actions to be better than we were yesterday…having hope starts to manifest the very things we are hoping for. Having hope is to imagine a positive outcome, and hoping unconsciously starts to get your brain to think about ways for that hope to happen, through bursts of insights or simply giving focus to our million random thoughts.
5. Relationships – If you can learn from those you most dislike, then I have a lesson. Those people that are most bitter in this world usually have very poor relationships, because you can’t have good relationships when you hate yourself or your life despite all they may have going for them. On the flip side, you can be financially destitute, but like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, with good relationships, you can be the richest and happiest person in the land. Building strong relationships inevitably mean giving freely of yourself, often compromising your own desires, for the betterment of someone else. You can’t have a good relationship without giving selflessly. And in doing so, building a foundation for better health, happiness, and longer life while serving as a protection against depression and elevated blood pressure. True story.
6. Stay busy – Finding fulfilling life hobbies, goals, dreams, and helping others all contribute to an active lifestyle and happiness. Rich people without goals are unhappy. Retired people without goals are unhappy. Why? Because they aren’t working towards anything and are floundering. Wasting away in front of mind-numbing television isn’t happiness, it’s escapism. Hard work towards a goal isn’t work at all, but creates a sense of accomplishment that happiness grows from.
7. Giving for yourself – Giving money, or time, or volunteering towards a greater good should make you feel good. Don’t be so altruistic that you don’t embrace the happiness that giving provides. Let that warm feeling burn inside, and be the catalyst for happiness in other ways. You often see people who are very giving are often the happiest, since doing so makes lots of warm fuzzies.
Just some thoughts for you to consider. I’m doing my best to be happy by doing these things as well against the force of societal pressures to be happy by consuming or being perfect or by escaping through variety of means. I know this upcoming year will be interesting, and I hope to keep happiness in my heart to the fullest extent possible despite life’s challenges. Peace.