Discovering Happiness

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the highway to heaven is littered with suicide, addiction, anxiety and fear. Why is it so hard for us to find our heaven, nirvana, happiness, and serenity? Why do so many people fall by the wayside while trying so hard to find it?

“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”

Eric Hoffer

We don’t find heaven, we don’t find nirvana, we don’t find happiness or serenity. They are not places that we can travel to, nor destinations or goals. How many of us seek a goal with the idea that happiness will come at a certain moment in the future. When I graduate I will be happy.’ ‘When I find the love of my life, I will be happy.’ ‘When I get the promotion, I will be happy.’ We look forward to a magical, mystical moment when, I don’t know, we think that the sky will open up and the bluebird of happiness will land on our shoulder. But that doesn’t happen. We graduate, get married and get the promotion and we do feel momentary happiness but then, it’s fleeting pause is over and we work for the next moment of happiness.

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There is also, of course, the obverse. Not everyone graduates, finds their soul mate or ever gets more than an entry level job. Are we living in a society where people will never attain a true feeling of Heaven on Earth? Is the seeking of that feeling of happiness the source of our own despair? When we reach a goal, we do feel that momentary jolt of ‘Yes, I did it’, which fades quickly. Like the wonder of Christmas fading before the week is out, we push toward the next ephemeral moment.

Perhaps our challenge is not to seek happiness. Perhaps what we need to do is to define what actually causes us to feel the emotion of happiness? What would give you not a momentary but a continued sense of wellbeing, contentment and serenity? Few people can answer that question. Sure, they can tell us that a party makes them happy, or a wedding or a birth; events and goals. They can tell us that being with other people and making them happy leads to happiness, but even this is an interim fix; what if they can’t make others happy? I don’t think happiness is a temporary state of excited emotional bliss, a goal or destination. Then what is it?

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Happiness is not something that we can seek. It is not something that we can do. We can’t pursue it. We can’t buy it. We can’t attain it. Nothing ‘makes’ us happy.

Happiness comes from within. I think that discovering our own happiness is the true purpose in life and our true measure of success. The recipe for happiness varies from person to person. It results from our choice to live a life that is congruent with one’s principles and beliefs. People who are happy focus on the people that they care about, the things that they value, a conducive environment and activities they enjoy. It requires self-discipline and effort to create it and maintain it within oneself. I don’t find happiness when I get my diploma or promotion; I feel it as a result of doing what I need to do to achieve those goals. I don’t find happiness when I make a certain amount of money or win the lottery; I experience happiness knowing that I am being true to myself and my the things that are important to me. I don’t find happiness by trying to control all of the variable that have a part in my life; I find it by focusing only on those things I have control over, and those things are within me. My attitude, my judgement, my actions, my choices and my perspective are all within my circle of control.

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Happiness is within my control as well, it follows. If I feel happiness, perhaps I can analyze why at this particular moment I feel it. I can pay attention to those things that result in feeling unhappy and maintain my distance in the future. If I know that I feel happiness when I take a walk by the ocean or through the woods, then why not do that more often? If sharing a deep conversation with a friend invigorates me and brings a smile to my face, then I should seek out times to have those conversations. I have to do the work. My answers won’t magically appear. But with time and practice I can make the right choices for me and my happiness.

Finding Nirvana, Shangri-La, or Heaven, as well as their opposites is a very Earthly proposition. Despite of all I do, I will sometimes feel fear, anxiety and suffering. But I don’t have to stay in that misery any longer than I wish to. I have a choice. I choose to be happy.

The Facts

Acceptance is a theme that comes up over and over again for me. I know enough to realize that what I haven’t learned and incorporated into my life will repeat over and over until I do. In this morning’s reading from The Daily Stoic, I read how Marcus Aurelius told himself not to give circumstances the power to incite his anger because the circumstances really don’t care at all how he reacted. Acceptance of what is, regardless of whether I like the reality before me or not, is imperative if I am going to move forward in this life.

I can easily balk against what is going on around me. There is always someone, or something, to blame. I can always pin my emotions and feelings to the first scapegoat I see and rail against the injustice, the unfairness, the cruelty and the pain that this is causing me. But in the end. It is a fact; it happened. All of the expressed or unexpressed emotion in the world is not going to turn back history to change what has occurred. That ship has sailed. It happened and I have to accept it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you agree with what happened. It doesn’t mean that you wanted it to occur on some level. It doesn’t mean that you caused this to happen. It is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that something occurred.

I remember almost ten years ago now, as I was lying on the grass beside my motorcycle, me facing uptown and my foot facing downtown, knowing that things were about to change, a lot. Ignoring my broken leg, railing against the driver who had not signaled and cut me off, wishing I had left the house five minutes earlier or later would not have changed the situation. My leg was broken and I would have to allow this fact to carry me forward to the next set of circumstances: ambulance, hospital, cast and recovery. It also meant surrendering my obsessive control over my business to others who could run it in my stead. No denial, no anger, no deal with the devil was going to turn back time and change the present fact of my circumstances. I still carry a plate and ten screws in my leg to remind me of this lesson.

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Change is the inescapable part of being alive. The birth of a child, the death of a pet, a slip on the ice or new technologies can toss us into the sea of resistance. It doesn’t mean I sit idly by and watch a fire consume my home, it means I call the fire department. The sooner I can get to acceptance, the sooner I can respond and incorporate change into my life.

When I am in acceptance, I am in the present moment. I am not in the past of woe or regret. I am not in the future of fear and worry. I am present in this moment. And when I am here, I can make wiser, saner choices for the next steps that I need to take.

Meditation shows you again and again a very simple yet powerful reality –

whatever you resist disturbs you, and whatever you accept cannot disturb you.

Seeing this simple truth at work in an almost infinite variety of ways in your life

can evoke a deeper letting go. We cannot always, or even often, control events or what happens to us.

We can, however, choose whether or not we obsessively resist and react to them.

And therein lies our freedom.

Letting go of resistance is an act of heartfelt surrender.

It is devotion to WHAT IS.

~Sacred Inquiry by Adyashanti

In this life, change is inevitable. Suffering, however, is a choice. It all depends upon my attitude.

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My Owner’s Manual

I bought a new car last year, well, new to me anyway. One of the first things I did with it was look online for an owner’s manual. Yes, it is 2002 model and way past any warranties. But it’s helpful to know what all the buttons do and where to locate things like interior air filters, which would have been impossible to find or even know about, or discovering what that white button on the side of the gear shift does. I have better knowledge of how to maintain and service the car because of this manual. And yes, I am one of those folks who usually does read the manual when I buy a new vehicle, appliance or gadget because, well, there are so many features on things these days that it’s hard to know all the things they can do.

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I discovered some years ago that it would have been very nice if I had been born with an owner’s manual. It would have been so much easier when I was 10 or 11 to read something like: “Tim is a gay male model and will feel an attraction to men.” Or later when I was in my 20’s: “Tim has a tendency toward addiction so it would be best to keep his consumption of mind altering substances completely controlled.” As well it would include some of the basic things about life I never learned in school and had to pick up as I went along. It would have made life much easier to read, “You must learn to live life on life’s terms, not your own.” That would have saved me a lot of heartache, self recrimination and resentments. How about something that said, “You are free to do whatever you want in life as long as you are willing to pay the consequences.” Or, “You can only control things that are within your circle of control which does not extend to other persons, places or things.” Had I read these things somewhere in my Owner’s Manual, how different my life would have been.

My Owner’s Manual would have told me that anger would not solve anything, regrets and resentments cannot change the past. Ninety-nine percent of my fears would not be realized. And that I would survive the other 1%, whatever they were. It would have been nice to know that just because a thought popped into my head I didn’t have to act upon it. That while there would be lots of bad days, they would be tempered by many, many more great days. As well, that whole days aren’t really all that bad; they’re just a few moments that don’t go as expected and I need not label the whole day, sometimes weeks, as a ‘bad’ time.

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And like a vehicle or appliance, I might have found a maintenance schedule that would have included regular rest, proper nutrition, exercise of the body as well as rest, nourishment and exercise of the mind and the soul. It might suggest that every couple of years I go on a retreat, take a course or create an incredible experience for myself to help rejuvenate and restore me to an acceptable level of sanity.

I’m sure that near the front of the manual I would find the words that I have the ability to change. Perspectives can be changed, new skills learned and great people can be invited into my life. It might have included a list of classics that I could read and movies I could watch, classes that I could take that would help me understand the things in life that were happening around me.

The manual would have been several pages under the title: CAUTION. Things like, “This model is equipped with a introvert personality that tends toward aloofness.” And another caution might read, “This model has a self destructive mode which once activated is not guaranteed to turn off.”

Finally, my Owner’s Manual would end with some notes that might say there is no reset button or a factory restore option anywhere on my body. It only continue in a forward direction regardless of how much I might wish to start over. And that it has a variable life expectancy based upon how it is used and maintained over the course of said life.

No. I didn’t arrive with an owner’s manual. I had to find my own way with the guidance of parents, family, friends and teachers who did their best to show me how I and life might function. For those things not covered, it was up to me to discover them; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I am still figuring thing out and I suspect that it will be so until my final breath. Actually, I am enjoying this journey of discovery. Everyday heralds new possibilities that are full of promise, as long as I look for them.

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What’s written in your Owner’s Manual?