There is so much confusion about happiness: what it means; how to achieve it; how important it is; what it looks like; the causes of unhappiness.
I have written about this before, but it is always good to remind ourselves. As time goes by and my views develop with repeated contemplation, many things become clearer above and hopefully wisdom increases. So what are the most common mistakes we make about happiness?
1. Why are so many people unhappy? Because they believe that they ought to be happy. They seek it out, treating happiness as a problem to be solved. Happiness is not a problem to be solved; it is a state to be experienced. Rather like butterflies or dragonflies, so difficult to capture, but if you sit still, you will experience that moment of magic when they come and land on you.
2. Having a “good time” is not the same as being happy. Having a “good time” usually means taking some sort of psychoactive substance (usually addictive), the most common substance being alcohol. The essence of having a “good time” is escape; escaping difficult feelings, escaping difficult thoughts, escaping our lives. Being happy is very different to having a good time. Being happy has everything to do with being fully present in and connecting with your life. The problem we have in our society is that most of us learn to drink or consume drugs during adolescence. The consequence of this is that most adults do not know what it feels like to live without alcohol in their bodies. Many, if not all potentially “happy” situations (as well as most others) have been distorted by alcohol or some other drug.
Many people do not understand this, especially in our consumerist society in which the attitude towards difficult emotions could accurately be described as “take something” or “buy something”.
3. Happiness is not euphoria or bliss. Bliss and euphoria are peak experiences which come and go. We should enjoy such moments but understand and accept them as something fleeting and impermanent. We must not grasp greedily at these experiences. Instead, we should hold them gently, with open curiosity, in order to fully experience their coming and their going. Spiritual seekers often confuse the experience of bliss or euphoria with happiness and fall into the bliss/euphoria trap: constantly seeking, grasping at bliss and euphoria. This attitude turns these experiences into just another drug. Some “gurus” and “evangelical” speakers exploit this.
4. You cannot create happiness, but only create the conditions which favour the manifestation of happiness in your life. In the same way as the vegetable gardner has no power over tomatoes, the tomato seed has its own program, its own desire; the gardner simply provides the conditions for the tomato seed to realise its desire to become the best tomato plant it can be.
5. Happiness is in fact with you all the time; it does not and cannot come from outside. Usually, we are so distracted by our non-stop mental chatter, dragged from one moment to the next by our emotions, our thoughts, our unconscious reactions, that we forget who we are. We believe that we are separate, that we are our thoughts, our feelings.
6. So what is happiness? Happiness is a state of contentment in knowing that you are on a path of growth and development. It is not about being right! Being right is all about pumping up the ego. The truth is that the smaller your ego the happier you are. There are ups and downs on this path: euphoria, sadness, pain, but you are resilient because you have the intuitive confidence that your course is the correct one, that any and all events, all relationships carry some gem of learning. It is embodied in the attitude, “Let everything be my teacher”. It is an attitude of open curiosity, of kindness to yourself and the ability to be able to laugh at yourself. When you adopt this attitude and practice daily, then it is impossible not to feel gratitude, wonder, a sense of oneness and deep connection.