On Happiness

This piece is a followup to the previous one, so you might want to read that first for context.

There was a point in my life when I wondered if it was possible to be happy all of the time. I didn’t think so, but I was wrong. By the way, being happy doesn’t have to mean to keep smiling or laughing gleefully all (or even some) of the time. It’s much deeper than that. It’s a state of being rather than a physical expression of an outward emotion. Many of us seek this internal happiness by way of external things or experiences, but that feeling is fleeting at best, but we never learn. Anyway, I’ve come to realize its the exact opposite that is more difficult, which is to live with forms of unhappiness — tension, stress, burnout, etc. Not only is it possible to be happy, it seems surprising to me now how/why most of us are not.

I couldn’t agree more with Confucius:

Life is simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

I’ve found it’s easier to live our lives when we experience it the way it is without questioning or trying to make it go in a certain direction. It’s easier to be happy than to be not. It’s easier to love others than to not (and carry it within our hearts). It’s easier to stand for something rather than against. It’s easier to go with the (natural) flow of life than to resist and try to make things go our way (and which doesn’t feel right anyway). It’s easier to stay open than to close. It’s easier to stay open to all than to (implicitly) pick and choose who/what we will be open to (people, place, things). We can live joyfully and get along with each other. And, it’s way easier than we think.

I’m reminded of a quote by Rumi, who said:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

Contrary to what most believe, we don’t have to look for love, happiness, peace, joy, or harmony. We are all of those things simply by the virtue of our divinity. We can’t see them within us because we (inadvertently) insist on getting in the way by storing preferences (desires, which is the root of suffering) that we have collected in our personal mind through our past experiences. We have clung to and resisted parts of our past experiences and in doing so, we have lost out on being fully in the here and now. Here’s a crude example that comes to mind. Seeking internal happiness is no different than knowing we all have abs. We can’t see them because we have allowed our body fat to accumulate over time to cover it up, but its there.

Come to think of it, it seems absurd to not be happy given that we are on this planet spinning in the middle of nowhere, that its taken us billions of years to get to this very moment, and that we are here only for a short period of time. When we find ourselves complaining (over trivial things or anything really), we ought to take a step back and put things in perspective.

Charles Bukowski once said:

We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by life’s trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing.

The fact that we woke up this morning should be reason alone to rejoice (given that many of us didn’t make it). That we are given another day to experience all that life has to offer is nothing short of amazing, given that it only takes one second for our breath to go away. Let’s not forget that everyone at some point in their lives have died when they did things that were no different from what you and I are doing this very moment. And so, we have much to be grateful for and to take nothing for granted. Every moment is a gift and a reason for celebration. This reminds me of a quote by Laozi:

Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.

When there is no expectation or judgement about the future (with respect to people, place, things), we are content with each moment without clinging to or resisting, because we experience each moment for what it is and let it pass through us, so we can experience the next one. This isn’t unlike the experience of watching a film where we absorb each scene and watch the next. Likewise, we may pass the trees (and the surrounding landscape) in our daily commute to work, but we don’t keep thinking about it, because we have experienced it by letting it pass through us fully.

The other thing I’ve learned is it’s easier to love everyone than to pick and choose selectively. It’s easier to be open to everyone rather than pick and choose who to open/close our heart to. When we close our heart to others (because something outside has hit our past preferences), we feel this shift in energy inside and it feels less than great. Yet we use our mind and heart to keep it inside, even as the energy within wants to release. This is why we keep thinking about the same things over. And, all we do is shove it back down (if only to make ourselves feel somewhat better for a short while), lest we forget this isn’t a long-term solution by any means.

Every moment is a teacher. That which disturbs, instructs, and that’s good news. There are things that have bothered us in the past. We need to let it pass through us fully and the only way to do that is to let it all go when they surface in the future (and they will). That’s the time to not resist and give it room to pass through without expressing or suppressing it.

One way I’ve clung to the past is by thinking of my nephew’s early childhood years (now a teenager). Never ever have I loved someone as much I’ve loved him (apart from loving my mother, of course). A part of me wished he’d never grown old. I would often talk to my mother reminiscing about his younger days and try to relive some of those moments, but its only now that I’ve come to learn that I was clinging. And it’s not what I want, because not only did it leave an impression (preference) in my heart by which I (unintentionally) judged other children I’ve (been fortunate enough to) come to know in my life, but it also set up an unreasonable expectation in my mind for them, which they knew little about, but it was unfair to them, nonetheless. In short, this clinging was neither useful to me nor to others. It’s easier to be open with everyone than to pick and choose, because then you let it all pass through you.

To me, living our lives by way of surrender is reminiscent of that scene in Indiana Jones, where Indy tries to cross the wide chasm via an invisible path. In order to move forward, he has to trust that the path will appear below him, but it only does when he takes a leap of faith and puts one step ahead of the other. What if we lived our lives the same way? What if we trusted the flow of our life by not trying to make things happen, but by accepting that everything that was unfolding was exactly the way it was supposed to happen? This approach would help us embrace our past and be grateful for all of the experiences we have had from birth until this moment (no matter how challenging).

By the way, accepting life as it unfolds does not preclude not doing our best by making the most of our circumstances, but it does mean we stop trying to make things happen, experience whatever comes our way, and learn from life through the consequences of our actions, because it’s always telling us something, but only if we are prepared to listen.

Come to think of it, it’s actually freeing to surrender to our lives, because then we get to choose simply by way of our response and make the most of it. It is liberating to not have to think about choosing the direction of our life “correctly”, but trusting it enough to align our will with it. It’s easier to live that way.

I’ve come to learn the journey (of our life) is more important than the destination. When the destination drives the journey, we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If journey drives destination, we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

It’s easier to love than to hate. It’s easier to be happy than to live with (self-inflicted) stress. It’s easier to stay open than to close. It’s easier to go with the flow of life than to control our experience. We can take a leap of faith and trust that we’ll be okay no matter how life turns out. We cannot choose the journey or the destination (and that’s great), because then we get to go along willingly with wherever our path takes us. We only have to decide once and then align our will with how life unfolds. It’s the only decision we’ll ever make that will be of any lasting significance.

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