Some have it and some don’t—but everyone wants it.
Happiness. That thing we wish was available for purchase—that we absolutely know isn’t.
I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot lately. I was recently in India, practicing yoga and meditation in this most strange, intoxicating place. I observed a lot of happiness around me, to the point where it seemed downright logical to have a happy disposition.
Did you know that in Tibetan culture, there’s no word for self-hatred? It’s a completely foreign concept. Can you imagine not understanding how to hate yourself? But for some, self-love is as logical as assuming the sun will rise every morning.
This struck a chord, especially since I love logic. I’ve just never thought about applying it to being happy before.
In the West, we seem to regard happiness as something we have to work hard to acquire, like it’s outside of us. And if it’s out there, it must be something grand and mysterious, an alien phenomenon. So the effort to get some of it becomes too monumental.
It’s only logical that we’ll start believing we can never have something so hard to attain that millions of books are written promising they can teach us how to have it.
Maybe we should start at the beginning. What is happiness? Looking back, when have you been most happy?
I remember sharing laughs with friends, spending time with my family, really connecting with people. These moments stick with me the most. Distilled through memory, my life is a happy one, filled with sharing.
Then what were all the spaces between, where I felt bored, dissatisfied, angry, hurt, betrayed and worried that life would drag on interminably without meaning?
In short, times of over-thinking too much. Every single negative aspect of life is attached to thought, whereas the happy moments fill the spaces between. Thoughts, the exclusive domain of our mind, concoct problems that we then worry we can never solve.
It’s like taking an apple, smashing it, and asking how we can possibly un-smash the apple. It’s not logically possible. We can just not smash the apple in the first place.
Our minds create smashed apples all the time, and make new ones trying solve the Un-Smashing the Apple problem. Our minds spin in this vicious circle, so happiness cannot be stashed away there.
What does a world without smashed apples look like? Can we find the logic of our inherent happiness?
We already mentioned sharing. In India, I made the basic but profound observation that people share. Food, space, laughter, vacations, gossip, public toilets, just about everything. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
We’ve all heard giving is receiving but we often don’t believe, deep down, that it can make us happier. Logic says otherwise.
Take the expression, “I have this.” You think you’re being positive and optimistic here: you’ve collected things, worked hard for and earned them. Sure, but what’s implied is: there are also things out there that are not yours, which you lack. Inevitably, you will feel deprived for not having them.
Now imagine giving something away. It might feel like a loss, but you’ve just expanded the space in which that thing exists. A shared object can’t belong to any one person. If you have it, you can lose it. If you share it, it can easily come back, in one form or another. It’s logic.
When you give, you are also expressing the belief that someone should receive, that they are as worthy a possessor as you. This acknowledgement of the equality of beings is the biggest gift you can give yourself. How can happiness not follow?
You have cut the cords of separation, and feeling separate from others is the most logical way to induce unhappiness.
For Buddhist practitioners, the purpose of life is to benefit all sentient beings. Life revolves around serving others, so that everyone may be free from separation and suffering.
They don’t do this with a heavy heart, but with joy. Have you ever seen His Holiness the Dalai Lama frown?
Buddhism is a very logical system of belief. The most selfish thing you can do, the saying goes, is help people from your heart, because creating happiness in others creates a stream of happiness that inevitably flows back to you.
One evening, in Rishikesh, I came upon a nightly puja, or ceremony of offering to the gods, in a serene ashram. I was mesmerized by how the Brahman chanter’s voice emanated into the rain-soaked space around him. I closed my eyes and imagined a universe filled with nothing but soul-searing song.
My heart belonged completely to this moment. There was no space for thought or worry, yesterday or tomorrow.
That’s when it hit me. The Brahman’s devotion—his surrender to forces larger than himself—did not only belong to him. It came to him from a world full of abundance. And the moment he started singing, he was spilling this devotion back into a world which can spread it readily.
The world is filled with devotion, which is love, whether we know it or not. This time I knew it. Other times I have no idea how the world contains the possibility for such unbounded joy.
But it’s key to believe that happiness can be shared, that sharing generates happiness. If you don’t, how can it actualize? This is the hard work, starting to believe from the very deepest places inside of you that good things are possible.
This does not happen overnight. Not even close, in my humble experience.
But it’s logical. If something wasn’t possible, you wouldn’t even be able to have a concept of it. The minute you express an impossibility, you are actually acknowledging the opposite.
“I can never be happy.” But you have the idea of happiness, so a reality in which you are happy already exists. You just have to claim it. Mind-bending, but true.
How can we believe from the heart that we can be happy?
Well, that’s the trick. But what a great start, seeing that being happy is not about chasing dreams, but about discovering yourself and your connection to this magical world.
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Assistant Editor: Tifany Lee/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Wiki Commons