Happiness: What it is and How to Find It

happinessI came across this still proverbial Tibetan saying in my pre-meditation reading the other day that I wanted to share with you:

“Seeking happiness outside is like waiting for sunshine in a cave facing north.” In short, our happiness must be found within ourselves and not in events, goods, or even among those we love, for life often doesn’t reciprocate what we want, love, or even deserve.

Happiness can’t be imposed from the outside, since it derives from making peace within ourselves, free from the demons of self-doubt, jealousy, and anger and a critical spirit that can spill over into our daily lives, eroding relationships.

But if happiness is an inner thing, how do we go about having it? The Buddha tells us that our suffering, or unhappiness, derives from our craving. Modern psychologists like Freud and Skinner appear to confirm this, finding that we are creatures of Ego, perpetually seeking gratification.

We find happiness specifically in recognizing the temporality of everything, both of ourselves and of the world to which we belong. When we find it, we no longer react to life’s volatility of event and circumstance.

Accepting change and ourselves as a part of it, we are anchored even in duress.  What happens is that our egos dissolve when we discover the ability to let go through focusing on what really matters in a cosmos of entropy.

Such contentment derives from living mindfully in the moment, celebrating the treasure of being alive, or as Hellen Keller expressed it so wonderfully:

Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind. Hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, the mighty strains of an orchestra, as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object you want to touch as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never smell and taste again.

We develop this capacity through practice, or meditation, being kind, not judgmental, about ourselves when our minds wander, as they always do.

Mindfulness meditation, which we can apply to every sphere of experience, disciplines us ultimately into intimate awareness and, with it, a rippling comprehension of not only ourselves, but of others in a wider empathy.

Mindful people find peace not only within themselves, but its enhancement in the outer world through service to others, which psychologists increasingly tell us yields that kind of gratification money, position and power cannot equal.


Postscript: A book I highly recommend as an amplification of my post is David Michie’s Buddhism for Busy People. I promise that you’ll find it difficult to put down. (While I’m not a Buddhist, I’ve found Buddhism, more a way of life than a religion, offers a redolent wisdom that modern psychotherapy has found worthy of implementation on a universal scale, and validated through empirical research.)

You Aren’t Who You Think You Are!


Have you ever found yourself so angry, say in an argument, that you’ve yelled, or said mean things, or left the room, or slammed a door, only to feel ashamed later?

Have you ever panicked, ready to pull your hair out, because your fear seemed overwhelming, demanding a quick fix that seemed elusive?

Perhaps it was in getting bad news such as being fired, or being told you have a serious illness, or finding out your spouse wants out.

It’s been said many times you are what you think about. If you’re having happy thoughts, then chances are they’ll carry you through the day, making it a good one.

Conversely, when you’re upset–who knows about what?–you’re apt to put in motion unhappy scenarios throughout your day. Not only that, you may be spreading your viral malcontent to others.

But it’s your unconscious thoughts that may influence you even more, and with greater fall out, since you’re unwitting of the sources behind what you say and do. In short, it goes a lot deeper than just what you think about.

It’s as though you’re living with a stranger usurping your identity. There he is, randomly, unexpectedly, projecting himself upon your conscious world.

Your thoughts, then, seldom come close to mirroring who you really are, though they may try to tell you that you’re either lacking or even very special.

And this is the good news, since your thoughts most likely come short of who you really are.

Your mistake is identifying with them.

This becomes clearer when we resort to linguistics.

In English, we always say things like “I’m angry” or “I’m lucky” or I’m afraid,” when logically this can never be so.

This gets corrected in languages like Spanish, French and German in which we say we have anger, or luck or fear.

Now try this little exercise in predicate adjectives to catch my drift. To

I am, add an adjective that describes you:

I am …

I am happy.

I am sad.

Et cetera.

I call it the name tag game and we all play it.

As such, these tags can never summarize in any moment the totality of who you are in your uniqueness, and thus you err when you identify with them.

Name tags reach back into your childhood as you strive for validation, or self-worth, often by comparing yourself to others.

My mother likes my sister more than me.

I’m smarter than Bill.

I’m not popular.

Unfortunately, such scripts program us; that is, unless you learn to identify the falsity of their self limitations.

By doing so, you free yourself from their tyranny.

You don’t replay them anymore.

Self-acceptance prospers in an environment saturated with love. Too many of us we’re raised, however, by parents who themselves were never accepted for who they were, and thus never fully loved.

Accordingly, their love was, in turn, conditional, or a projection of themselves.

The truth is you’re far more than the stories you’ve come to believe about yourself.

You don’t need to keep modeling yourself on what you think or have been told you are or should be.

You’re worthy now.

Too often you try to compensate for life having dealt you a bad hand:

A broken home replete with violence.

An alcoholic parent.

Bullying at school.

A physical or mental handicap.

Sexual abuse.

A friend’s betrayal.

An insensitive teacher.

And while measured by status and/or accumulation, you may even seem successful to others, you find you’re still battling feelings of inferiority or unworthiness daily.

In a kind of guerrilla war, your anxiety pushes you to flush out the enemy by doing still more.

You hunger for approval, but it’s never enough.

Afraid of disapproval, you retreat from doing new things because you might do it wrong or even fail.

Freeing yourself by identifying the stories you’ve come to falsely believe about yourself is your passport to loving yourself, and with it, finding confidence and joy.

Anxiety about yourself, unfortunately, is an acquired practice.

It follows you must undo the habit.

When you think negatively or act out destructively, catch yourself at it.

This isn’t my true self.

This isn’t me.

And you’re right.

You can help yourself by retrieving your thoughts in a strainer, as it were, by practicing mindfulness,

Breathe deeply through your nose for a count of six seconds, your hand on your belly

Feel your stomach inflate.

Now breathe out for a count of four. feeling your stomach contract.

Visualize happy scenes.

Let your body relax, beginning with your toes, then your feet, legs, back, arms and neck, each in its turn.

Now listen to your thoughts,

Do this without judging them.

If you stray, as we always do, return to deep breathing.

By listening to ourselves, detached from censure, we see objectively, freeing ourselves from anxiety’s tyranny.

We don’t allow our emotions to boss us around anymore.

To this end, I find restorative yoga the most peace-rendering exercise of any I’ve come upon.

Unfortunately, most yoga practice in the West confines itself to bodily exercise, or fitness,

True yoga is much more, or holistic, the “yoking” of mind and body, for they are ultimately one. Yoga mean “to yoke.”

This is where Western medicine so often fails, treating symptoms, not causes.

We are not mere physical creatures.

We possess a spiritual component.

We are sentient beings.

In traditional parlance, we have a Soul.

In modern life, however, we’ve disconnected Body and Soul.

The consequence is that we find ourselves out-of-balance, resulting in stress, fatigue and, ultimately, illness.

Yoga reverses this, restoring health, both physical and mental.

Yoga helps you let go.

Yoga enables you to love yourself and, with it, forgive yourself and others.

I’m sadly limited to a blog, when there’s so much else I’d like to say.

But let me recommend a book that will jump start your reconnecting mind and body. I promise you’ll not want to set it down:

Brad Willis. Warrior Pose:  How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life.

We listen too much to our head, when we should be living life with our heart.

If you follow my suggestions, hand over my heart, you’ll increasingly gain power over that stranger who’s usurped the premises.

You’ll dislike him so much, you’ll ask him to leave.

The good news is that he will!



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