September 26, 2012

5 Steps to Finding Sustainable Happiness.

flickr user: PHOTO ♥ BOOTH

Step One: Recognize Unsustainable Happiness for What It Is.

Unsustainable happiness is fueled by our vices, addictions and unskillful behaviors (e.g. alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, sex, TV, dysfunctional relationships and so on). Unsustainable happiness is a by-product of clinging. It is a situation in which spurts of happiness are accompanied by frequent episodes of agitation and misery.

Clinging is unsustainable. You can’t cling all the time. So, clinging leads to aversion, or forcefully pushing things and people away. Bouncing between these extremes leads us to be perpetually, negatively controlled by our thoughts, feelings, fears, desires, and patterns. Mindfulness practice enables us to see how we are controlled by our own minds, and offers the path to freeing ourselves from these self-imposed traps.

Step Two: Let Go.

Once you’ve recognized the vices, addictions, bad habits or unskillful behaviors that are offering nothing more than unsustainable, erratic, random bits of bliss, let them go. One of my original titles of this article was “How to Achieve Sustainable Happiness.” Step one: let go of achievement. Let go of striving.

Everything you need is already within you. The first time I heard a yoga teacher say that in guided meditation, it touched me deeply. Your Buddha nature, your compassionate heart, your loving kindness – these are within and just waiting to come out in each present moment.

So let go of self-improvement. Let go of seeking. Let go of complacency. Let go of your attachment to ego’s storylines. Let go, but…

Step Three: Still Practice.

Sitting meditation is essential. Start easy. Ten minutes is too much? Do five, but do five every day and soon you’ll be sitting for ten, fifteen minutes, maybe half an hour. Practice is the foundation for being a positive, productive, compassionate, kind person when you’re out in the world.

Get your body moving. There are dozens of styles of yoga. Do a little research. Try out some classes, which are now offered everywhere, including online in the comfort of your own home. There are a plethora of resources on beginning a meditation or yoga practice. Find them. Use them. Revolutionize your life.

Step Four: Blissfully Disconnect.

Do whatever works to get offline however and whenever possible. But, unless your technological devices get taken by thieves (as mine were last month), it’s hard to break an internet addiction. I understand… I’d been privileged with a personal computer and near constant internet connection for 15 years.

We have become so accustomed to constant connectivity that gluttonous consumption is a given. We are spending hours every day social networking, shopping, reading, emailing and otherwise being online. It’s ruining our attention spans and eroding our ability to live in and enjoy the present moment…especially today’s teenagers and children who have never known another reality.

The internet is obviously an amazing tool for research and communication. But do you really need or benefit from 24/7 connectivity? See if you can spend more quality time offline. (Does this seem daunting? Try starting slow; take a ten-day challenge.)

Step Five: Mindfully Reconnect.

What drives you? What feeds you? Do what you want; don’t waste your life.

Feed your mind good food: fresh air, good books, stimulating conversation, ideas, films, poems, essays, songs.

Feed your body good food: local, fresh, natural, homemade food.

Fall in love with each moment of this precious human life, because it is a gift and an opportunity.

If you’re not already, get yourself into a healthy, meaningful relationship. First with yourself, and then with someone else.

I could fill a book with my bizarre dates and relationships from circa 1999 to 2011. (But I won’t.) For the first time in my life, I am in a healthy, meaningful romantic relationship. Maybe it’s because—and not in spite—of all that shit that I can now be so grateful for love. Finally, love! Not lust, not any other thing masquerading as love, but real-live love and commitment.

If you’re already in a relationship, but don’t feel that it is healthy and meaningful, either change it or get out. Trust me, I know all too well that finding a compatible partner is much easier said than done, and relationships are complicated and can be damaging. But it is possible, so don’t give up if it hasn’t happened yet!

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