Human beings are in large part just bundles of assorted desires, likes and dislikes.
At some point in life, we’ll all probably come to the inevitable conclusion that our life-long pursuit of happiness is pretty much a waste of time. There’s no happiness out there—at least not lasting happiness.
As long as our basic survival needs are met, we spend inordinate amounts of time chasing after the objects of our desires—the things we want—the things we think will make us happy. These objects of happiness are wide and varied, ranging from our notion of the perfect romantic relationship, our dream job, money, a BMW, a holiday in the Maldives, a 200 inch plasma screen TV or wanting to be on The X Factor.
Certainly, if and when we acquire any of these objects of our desires, we’re guaranteed a certain degree of happiness. We’ve achieved one of our dreams, and it feels good!
But this feeling of happiness doesn’t sustain itself indefinitely, or even necessarily for very long. In our dogged pursuit of our dreams, we often fail to realize that everything in life has a downside as well as an upside. As our nagging sense of dissatisfaction once again rears its ugly head, we reason that maybe that wasn’t quite what we were after.
And so the search begins again.
We’re back to running on the hamster wheel of samsara—driven by a basic sense of unsatisfactoriness and lack, motivated by an endless array of tangled desires and compulsions.
The problem is quite simple.
Happiness isn’t to be found out there. Happiness doesn’t exist in things.
It’s not to be found in other people, in situations or in large quantities of money.
If happiness did come from things, then the same things would make everyone happy, but this is clearly not the case. An adrenaline junkie teenager might have the time of his life bungee jumping, but his elderly grandmother derives her joy from sitting in an armchair knitting. Bungee jumping would certainly not make granny happy, and a pair of knitting needles and a ball of wool would hardly be the teenager’s idea of a good time.
Happiness is independent of objects.
We confuse our happiness with objects because when we acquire or attain them, we feel a sense of satisfaction and relief. This isn’t because of the objects themselves—because let’s face it, we might become bored of that same thing in a week’s time, or it may even begin to cause dissatisfaction—the morning after a night of overindulgence, for example.
It’s because once we acquire the object, there’s a release of tension because the energy that went into wanting, desiring and craving that object has abated and you’re now experiencing your natural state of well being.
This is a revolutionary understanding.
Happiness and well being are natural to us.
We were born okay, we’ve always been okay and we always will be okay. We came into this world in a state of harmony and balance. Long before we internalized the notion that we were a limited little ego encased in a mound of flesh, we were radiant expressions of our essential nature—open-hearted, fresh, inquisitive, spontaneous, free and innately joyful.
As long as our basic needs were being met, we had no need to chase after stuff in order to make ourselves feel happy. We just were happy—no effort needed! Every situation was new and fresh to us, filled with wonder and opportunities to play and laugh.
As we grow up, we lose touch with our innate self; that fresh, free and spontaneous expression of pure consciousness. We come to believe that we’re not all right as we are, that we’re somehow inadequate and lacking. We begin crafting a social self, the mask we present to the world in the hope we can favourably manipulate others and the environment around us.
Having trained ourselves to curtail and repress our natural impulses, we lose touch with our innate self and lose ourselves in a largely conceptual representation of ourselves, others and the world around us. We buy into the materialistic, consumer-driven ethos of our culture—a social conditioning that begins at a very young age.
We actually believe that we need certain things—lovely, shiny, expensive things—in order to be happy.
Because we’re now operating on the unspoken assumption that we’re somehow lacking, inadequate and incomplete, we also feel the need to have other people like and validate us in order to feel good, so most of our behaviour is now directed in a way that will hopefully elicit favourable responses from other people.
But this is clearly not authentic living. And it never leads to lasting happiness, because even when we get the things we want, the nature of life is in constant flux. So the thing that brings you joy today—finally marrying the man/woman of your dreams—will often bring you misery tomorrow—I can’t wait to sign those divorce papers.
Sometimes temporary happiness can be worse than no happiness, because the suffering that comes when the object of your happiness turns sour can be truly soul-crushing, particularly where there’s been a significant emotional investment.
So what’s the solution then? I believe we have two options.
We can either fully accept that we’re on a hamster wheel, chasing after things that may bring us temporary satisfaction, but which will ultimately leave us still yearning for happiness elsewhere.
We can begin to see through the conditioning we’ve acquired over the years—the notions that we aren’t complete or whole in ourselves, that who we are somehow isn’t enough and that we need external props in order to be happy.
And we can realize that happiness and well being are not things we have to chase after or add to ourselves—that they are actually the essence of who we are. It was something we were born with and something that, beneath the turbulent agitations of the grasping mind, is still there.
We waste so much time and energy pursuing things that we think will make us happy. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have goals, desires and ambitions. By all means have and pursue such things!
But here’s a suggestion—first allow yourself to access that innate, natural happiness that lies at the core of your being. Peel back the layers of mental conditioning and anything that you’ve internalized that tells you you’re not already all right as you are.
Get back in touch with your essential nature.
Hang out as much as you can in this simple, natural sense of well being and allow it to infuse you. And then do the things that you want—not to bring happiness, but simply as an expression of your existing, inbuilt happiness.
I know this sounds simple, but for a lot of people, it may be an immense challenge, particularly if they’ve deeply internalized a lot of harmful conditioning and almost completely buried every last trace of their innate self beneath the battlements of a heavily fortified social self.
The stressful, disconnected, dysfunctional society we’re a part of does not make the reclaiming of our essential nature a particularly easy task.
Sometimes what is called for is an extreme discontinuity—a resolute stopping.
Which is probably why our greatest traumas in life—a bereavement, loss of a job or significant ill health often present a tremendous opportunity for breaking free of our conditioned mindsets and punching in a CTRL+ALT+DEL reset.
A sense of happiness, peace and well being does not come from what you do, what you achieve, acquire or chase after. It doesn’t come from situations, from tattered little bank notes, or from other people. It comes from you, from your essential nature. If you are unaware of this, then chasing after the things of this world will bring only temporary satisfaction for the reasons discussed above.
Try stripping away the layers of conditioning and beliefs that serve as a barrier between you and your essential nature; the essential nature that shone so brightly when you were a young child, before it became obscured by the developing masks of the ego and social self.
Instead of doing things in order to make yourself happy, get back in touch with the innate happiness that exists in all of us and then do them because you’re happy!
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Assistant Ed: Tawny Sanabria/Ed: Bryonie Wise