Quick: Are you happy?
No, its not a trick question.
What is interesting: the million different connotations of the word the question brings up. We each have our own definition and interpretation of what happiness means.
Whether you’re close to or far away from your ideal, teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers Buddhist practice as a clever way to enjoy life a.k.a. one way to realize happiness, which is apparently freely available.
But before we discuss that, lets get a bit of clarity around the definition itself.
The lowest common denominator – the most immediate, visible, and certainly most advertised kind of happiness. Associated with a surge in good feeling endorphins in your brain and brought on by everything from food, exercise, laughter to yachts, diamonds and a winning lottery ticket.
The result of a task well done; bringing your skills to a challenge and nailing it – whether that’s writing a blog post, preparing a delicious meal or navigating a rocket into space.
When Mahatma Gandhi was asked by a reporter what message he would like to give the people, he simply replied “My life is my message”. Meaning comes from the message your life is relaying. In other words, what is your vision or mission for being and is it showing up in your daily activities?
This is where it gets tricky for most of us. Pleasure, Satisfaction and Meaning are the end result of something external to us – a thing, person, outcome. They stem from a degree of control, big or small, on our outer circumstances. Contentment on the other hand is a choice – a choice to be happy first, then go out and do whatever it is we want to.
Often we confuse “feeling bad” or “sad” or “angry” or whatever negative emotion we might be experiencing as a prerequisite to taking action or being productive. If we’re content all the time, after all, won’t we turn into slackers? Far from it. As Michael says: “Whatever you can do with unhappiness, you can do easier and better with happiness”.
Coming back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s comment on Buddhist practice, all Bodhisattvas recognize that we can only live our life, not control it. To help us on our journey, we can ride the highway of the six Paramitas (transcendent laws or actions).
Again, rather than clouding the meaning of these words with conditioned responses, the practice is to approach them as our basic capabilities, our true nature, and strengthen them via daily use:
Each Paramita deserves lengthy discussion, but for now, contemplate them within the context of this beautiful paragraph taken from “How Not to be Afraid of your own Life” by Susan Piver:
When you trust your own happiness, you can allow the entire scope of experience to touch your heart. This is the mark of the spiritual warrior.
She can hold sweetness, sorrow, rage, and delight equally and fully. She can watch as emotions rise and fall, notice how she reaches out to some and recoils from others, and know that somehow she’ll find a way to make whatever she experiences a part of the path.Whether her world is friendly or inhospitable, smooth or rocky, she can abide in it wholeheartedly.
A joyful mind is as infinite as the sky and, like the sky, can contain sunshine and storms, snowflakes and hail. Conditions are continously shifting, but the sky is always the sky. It never gives up. From within it, the great sun rises in the east, the moon meets the tide, and the circle is always complete.
Quick: Are you happy?
This time, score yourself on the four faces of happiness outlined above.
Pick one that you scored lowest on and make it the focus of your coming week. e.g. if you’ve been feeling lost/aimless, put your thoughts down on paper and come up with the message or mission that you would love your life to represent. Then take one action step that is aligned with that mission.