I have written several blogs on defining your happiness, one which elicited the following comment:
“Don’t impose your bourgeois view of happiness on us.”
The comment went on to say that “their” generation doesn’t care about being happy. Rather, they said, “We need to live with passion. We like the ups and downs of life. We like our suffering because it’s so good when it ceases for a while.” Quite stoic, don’t you think?
I didn’t post it. I didn’t reply to it individually, but I decided to address it here. I just spent a week in France, a place where I could clear my mind of the daily grind of gaining and serving clients, but mostly a place to think and consider things like that interesting yet ugly comment. Despite that comment, it has been my experience in life, in spite of what some famous French have written, and reinforced by my work as a coach, that no one wakes up in the morning thinking,
“Please, sir, may I suffer more…perhaps the entire day?”
Somehow, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, in both the short and/or long term, what we do, what we plan and whatever we dream—somehow, someway—is connected to a deep and overpowering yearning for well-being, a yearning for happiness. As the French theologian, mathematician, and philosopher, Blaise Pascal once said, more or less:
Even the one who hangs himself, somehow, is looking for cessation of suffering. He simply finds no other way.
My friend and mentor Dan Dougherty teaches that the organism is always looking to survive and thrive.
If you study both eastern and western literature, you will find an amazing assortment of definitions of happiness. Some of my clients have said, “I only believe in remembering the past, imagining the future, I never see the present.” Some clients have said happiness is right now; it’s the quality and the freshness of the present moment that makes the difference. I suspect it is that variety of feelings that inspired the French philosopher Henri Bergson, to say:
“All the great thinkers of humanity have left happiness in the vague so that each of them could define their own terms.”
That would be all well and good if happiness was just one of your secondary worries in life. If happiness is going to determine the quality of every instant of your life, then don’t you think it prudent to know what it is, to at least have some kind of idea? That we don’t know what it is, is why so often that although most of us seek happiness, it seems we all quite often turn our backs on it. Although we do want to avoid suffering, it seems we are running towards it.
This comes from some kind of confusion. Simple, yes, but confusion all the same.
Happiness vs. Pleasure
One of the most common feelings people confuse are happiness and pleasure. If you look at the features of both, you see some significant differences. Pleasure is dependent upon time, upon what it is, and upon place. It is something that can actually change in nature. Take a fabulous homemade clafouti. The first serving is sublime, the second serving a bit much, and with the third, the very sight can cause a feeling of disgust.
One of the most
are happiness and pleasure.
That’s just the nature of things. We get tired of things when we have them too often or too much. I used to be a fan of Deep Purple. I used to play their music on the stereo in college, a lot. I can still listen to them two or three times. If I had to hear it 24 hours, non-stop, it would drive me crazy. I used to work outside in the winter, and when you are feeling very cold and wet from the snow, you run into the house and get really close to the fireplace, it’s wonderful. After a few minutes though, you back up a little, and then it starts burning and you back up even more. This is something that you can enjoy singly. The warmth isn’t radiating like the sun for all. You can feel the intense pleasure of the warmth while others are still suffering outside in the cold.
So, what is happiness?
Happiness, of course, is a really vague word. We all know the word, but for now, let’s call it well-being for the sake of clarity. As a coach, I really do believe the best definition is that well-being is not just an ordinary pleasurable sensation. It is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment. I have found it to be a feeling that actually permeates and inspires all the other emotional states. It includes all the joys and sorrows that can come one’s way. Sort of like “The Force” in the Star Wars movies.
Happiness, of course,
is a really vague word.
For some people, it can be surprising. They question whether or not they can have this kind of well-being while being sad? Think about it. Why not? Because really, we are talking on a different level. I grew up near the water and spent many of my vacations by the ocean. Have you ever looked at the waves breaking near the shore? When you look at the bottom of the wave, you find, of course, the bottom. When you’re swimming, you hit the solid rocks or the hard sand and it hurts. When you are floating on the top, you are elated. So, you could say that you go from elation to depression as you swim in the waves; there’s no depth to it…you are in the shallows. Say you go out to sea; you now see a beautiful, calm ocean, calm as a mirror.
Yes, there indeed will be storms out there at sea; but the depth of the ocean is still there, unchanged. Do you see it yet? You only see it as a state of being, not just a fleeting emotion or sensation. Even joy can be fleeting. It can evolve from happiness and yet it is different than well-being. Keep in mind that there’s also ugly, bitter joy.
There are people who rejoice in the suffering of those around them.
Searching for Happiness
Where do you go in your search for happiness? Usually people look outside of themselves. We think that if we could get this and that, all the conditions, something or some place in particular, we’ll be happy. “Everything we need to be happy, to have everything you need to be happy.” That very sentence reveals the rub; it shows the destruction of happiness. The imagined “need” to have everything. If you miss or lose something, it is lost to you. Happiness, by that definition, ends.
When things don’t go the way we want, we try to fix the outside, right? But our control over the outer world is limited, temporary, and often, illusory. So, you ask, what about the inside? Isn’t it stronger? Isn’t it simply the mind that translates your outer condition into happiness and suffering? And isn’t that stronger part?
How many of you have been at some fabulous place, some “little paradise,” and yet, been completely miserable inside?
You can live in the penthouse of a fabulous building, yet if you are unhappy inside, all you are going to look for is a window to jump out of. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we all know people who, while living in very difficult situations, manage to maintain their serenity, their inner strength, their freedom, and their confidence. Indeed, our outer conditions do influence our lives, and yep, it’s wonderful to live longer, be healthier, and to have access to information, education, to be able to travel, and be free. It’s all good; really good. Nevertheless, this is not enough. Those are just secondary, they are” helping” conditions. The experiences that translate everything is in your mind.
I am always asked first, how do you cultivate the conditions for happiness, the inner conditions, and second, what are the things that undermine happiness? My answer is usually unsatisfactory. It is that you need to have some experience.
Without experience, you won’t know yourself. There are certain states of mind that are conducive to thriving, to creating well-being, what the Greeks called eudaimonia, or “human flourishing.” There are some states of mind that are in opposition to this kind of well-being. If we look at our own negative experiences or feelings, including:
- obsessive desire
- intense greed
We find that none of those things leave us in a very good state of mind after we have experienced them. And also, they are indeed detrimental to others’ happiness. The more of those feelings you find taking up space in your head, like a growing cancer, the more you feel miserable, the more you feel tormented.
On the other hand, we all know, deep inside, that an act of selfless generosity, even made from a distance without anyone knowing anything about it, could possibly save someone’s life, or make someone happy. We really don’t need the recognition, do we? We don’t need any gratitude from the recipient at all. Just doing this thing can provide a deep of satisfaction deep within our soul. And who wouldn’t like to feel that way all the time? Think about the people who have temporarily set aside opportunities, suspended their lives to help others in the flood in Texas this week. That is what I mean.
Just doing something kind can
provide a sense of
satisfaction deep within our soul.
Is it possible to change your way of being, to transform your mind? Aren’t all those negative emotions, or the destructive emotions intrinsic to the nature of the human mind? You might ask if change is possible in our emotions, in our behaviors, in our very moods?
The Nature of The Mind
What is the nature of the mind itself? From a pragmatic point of view, you know that there is a primary quality of consciousness, the mere fact that you are a reasoning being, that you are aware. Consciousness is like a mirror that allows all images to be reflected. You can have ugly faces or beautiful faces reflected in a mirror. The mirror allows both, but the mirror is not changed, is not modified, is not transformed by the images it reflects. Likewise, behind every thought, there is a consciousness, a pure awareness.
This pure awareness, it is in the nature of things and can’t be tainted with hatred or jealousy because if it could be forever tainted, or stained—like a dye stains cloth—it would permeate the entire cloth. It would be permanent. In our real life, we know we’re not always angry, always jealous, or unfortunately, always generous.
Because consciousness is the purest of cognitive qualities that distinguishes it and us from, say, a rock, there is always the possibility for change. Keep this in mind; all emotions are transitory. What this means is that you have the opportunity to train your mind. Mind training is based on the core idea that two opposite emotions cannot exist at the same moment. You can go from love to hate. But you cannot, at the same time, move towards the same person or the same thing. You can’t want to harm them and want to do something good for them. You cannot, in the same gesture, shake hands and strike a blow.
All emotions are transitory,
meaning you have the
opportunity for training your mind.
There are natural antidotes to the emotions that are destructive to our well-being. Rejoicing compared to jealousy. A sense of inner freedom as opposed to intense greed and obsession. Benevolence and loving kindness fights against hatred. But, of course, each emotion then would need a particular antidote, right?
There are other ways too…there can be found a general antidote. It’s a general antidote to all emotions. You do that by looking at the very nature of the emotion. Usually, when we feel annoyed, feel hatred, or feel upset with someone, or obsessed with something, your mind goes again back to that same thing. Each time your mind goes to that person or thing, you reinforce your obsession or your annoyance. What you have created is a self-perpetuating process. Each time you think of this person or object, you reinforce this new neural pathway, which soon becomes a habitual way of thinking and feeling. Where you need to look is, inward instead of looking outward.
Usually, when we feel annoyed,
feel hatred, or feel upset with
someone, or obsessed with
mind goes again back to that same thing.
Look at your anger itself. Odds are it looks very frightening, maybe like a terrible hurricane or wild tornado. Sometimes it can be so strong it feels like it will be solid, touchable, but if you try, it’s just mist. Likewise, if you look directly at the thought of anger, it will vanish like frost under a warm spring sun. If you do this over and over again, the tendency, the inclination for anger to jump up will grow less and less, each time you melt it. And, in the end, although it might always arise, it will just cross your mind, like a bird crossing the sky without leaving any path as it passes.
This is the principal of training your mind.
Training Your Mind
Don’t make the mistake of thinking it is an easy thing to undertake. It requires time; because it took time for all those pathways to develop in your mind, all of those tendencies that you reinforced daily. It will take time to change or undo them as well. But that’s the only way to go. Mind transformation, transforming your life. Isn’t that is the very meaning of prayer and meditation? It means learning a new way of being, new way of perceiving things. You learn a way that is more in alignment with reality, with the interdependence in life, with the stream of life and continuous transformation, which is what our being and our consciousness is all about.
For the neuroscientists out there who think all of this is just a bit too far from normal, here is another way to look at it. “Brain plasticity” is the correct term for this kind of mind transformation. Twenty years ago, people thought that the adult brain was more or less fixed. All of the connections in both number and quantity set. Recently is has been found that mental connections can indeed change. Think of the professional that has 10,000 hours of experience, a musician perhaps. The parts of the brain that control the movements of their fingers have changed a lot over the 10,000 hours. The synaptic connections have been created and been reinforced. What I am saying is that you can do this with human qualities. You can do it with kindness, with patience, with openness.
Training your mind matters.
Why It Matters
That this kind of training is not just a luxury. It is not just for the guys with the orange and yellow robes. This is not a supplementary vitamin for your soul. It is actually something that can determine the quality of every instant of your life.
We are all ready to spend at least 15+ years in school. Many of us love jogging and fitness. People engage in all types of activities to gain and retain beauty. Yet, we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most, i.e., the way our mind works, which, as I have said, is the ultimate activity that determines the quality of our life experiences.
Compassion is supposed to be put into action. Into action in all kinds of different places. Just this one example is worth a lot of work, don’t you think? This is from the flood in Texas this week….
And now, in the midst of all the disaster, consider the beauty of what is happening. It tells more about compassion than I could ever describe, and by the way, if this is bourgeois, count me in.
So, what do you think? Do you want to talk about what matters to you?
If you are, give me a call so we can talk about it… schedule a time for a free call and tell me about it.
Did You Enjoy This? Become a Subscriber and Learn More
As an independent coach and writer, I manage my own marketing, my own press, and all of my own content. I develop my content responsive to your requests
…and some things that just stick in my craw.
Download your Mini-Ebook today and become a member of my community.
By becoming a member of my site, you can gain access to articles, audio versions, and commentaries relevant to my articles. You will also find interactive online courses. We have quite a bit more to come; I hope to hold your interest for quite a long time as we all grow and learn.