December 27, 2013

Happiness is a Skill: 3 Ways to Master It.

Like the wings of a bird, self-acceptance and action—working together—allow us to soar gracefully and happily.

I’m currently reading a book by Buddhist teacher Mathieu Ricard called Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, which has got me thinking about happiness—what it is, what it isn’t and how I’ve got more of it than I used to.

It is an inner state that can be cultivated even in the most difficult of circumstances. (Life is the most difficult of circumstances!) It is not pleasure-fueled and dependent on outside sources.

I wonder if I am happier now because of the luxuries of my life—love, professional success, companionship, living close to nature, being with my daughter? If they were taken away, would my happiness evaporate just as quickly?

I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that I am developing the skill of happiness and working toward its mastery.

I know the two ingredients are acceptance and achievement. The trick is finding balance between the two: being happy and present while simultaneously striving to improve.

Step One: Cultivate Self-Awareness & Self-Acceptance.

One of the great things about age is that we get to know ourselves better. Self-awareness is the first ingredient needed to mix into the happiness dough.

Once we are reasonably self-aware, we can focus on self-acceptance—feeling contentment, ease and an overall sense of trust in life.

Self-love is underrated in our culture. To practice acceptance, forgiveness, kindness and compassion—to practice happiness—we must start where we are, with our own life, our own self.

You are unique and valuable and worthy. You are beautiful and exquisitely human. If you don’t believe that, stick with step one until you do.

Step Two: Take Action & Achieve.

We “Type A” Americans admire and aspire to: ambition, achievement, accomplishment. These “yang,” masculine values are often criticized in spiritual circles because they are seen as ego driven.

But we need action! Without action, nothing ever actually gets done.

Practicing mindfulness is a way of shaping our actions and attuning our mind to the present. Mindless action is worse than no action at all.

Step Three: Balance Acceptance & Action.

Without acceptance, action is just an empty game in which our goals are never met and our desires always hungry for more. Without action, our contentment turns to complacency. We plateau.

For example, as a writer, I value my creativity and use it to express myself through the written word. Even while publishing regularly, I am striving to improve my skills through reading great authors and practicing the craft of writing.

In yoga, I appreciate my body and enjoy the sensation of practicing asana and pranayama. Yet I need to act—hold the pose longer, go deeper, to shift my alignment ever so slightly—in order to progress in my physical practice (which is, of course, inextricably connected to my sense of inner happiness and spiritual fulfillment).

Acceptance and action. Balancing these two wings is a process ever evolving through experience and error. Practice makes perfect!

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: liquidnight/Flickr

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