The Pursuit of Happiness
Happiness! That ephemeral thing we all seek, but so few of us can explain what it really is.
A Mother is happy caring for her children. A man is happy doing his work, going for a walk, being with friends, eating good food, practicing yoga or embracing his beloved… It could be anything. Whatever makes us happy and enlivens our hearts is a path worth pursuing. Happiness may be derived from the small pleasures of life and when we can embrace that we feel elated, in greater harmony all around, and simply at peace with life in general.
However, life being as unpredictable as it is, there are always unforeseen circumstances being thrown at us. When we are happy, centered and steady, it takes a lot to overwhelm us and throw us off balance. When we feel miserable, weak and dejected on the other hand, the slightest incidents may cause us to blow things out of proportion and so easily conclude; "Life sucks!" The irony of it is of course that life always is the way it is. It is the way our mind relates to it that makes all the difference.
In the midst of distress and challenges, if our mind is steady and strong we get less disturbed, we continue our daily activities and relate to the unfolding of events with a sense of detachment. A mind that gets too caught up in the pursuit of pleasures, thrills and satisfactions through external stimuli will naturally sooner or later be disappointed. After all, the very nature of life is change, and when we seek for happiness in the transient places, sooner or later we will get disappointed.
When disappointment finally catches up with us, what do we do about it? Do we fall into a sea of misery and blame our external environment for treating us so bad? Do we take up arms to vanquish all our perpetrators? Do we scream and shout and hope for things to get better? Hmm, lets see, a healthy balanced mind would probably take a good look at ones behavioral patterns and examine the inner 'pure view' that shines out. Can we rest with clarity and peace there or are we pulled in a million directions trying to prove ourselves, seeking appraisals and confirmations from life, stimuli and support in world that is constantly changing, together with our fleeting sense-impressions?
When we realize what really matters in life, our priorities become easy. When we don't we will always be pulled in a million directions. To actually discover what really matters may be different to each individual, however seeking a genuine non-transient happiness is probably the best thing we can do to heal our scattered mind and find a support from within, that by its very nature - according to the definitions of yoga - is joy and genuine happiness.
In some intellectual circles there is a tendency to sneer at happiness and reject it as sentimental rubbish. We may ask what happened to that innate sense of joy many of us experienced in our youth for no particular reason. The simplicity of being, the joy of playful activity, not taking oneself so seriously and immersing oneself completely in whatever one is doing. Did we suddenly just grow out of it? Have people given up on happiness and resigned to the idea that 'life is miserable and then you die' and renounced all the heartfelt joy that comes from spontaneous interactions with the simple things of life like, walking, riding a bicycle, breathing deeply, or simply being present to whatever arises in the moment in a less judgmental manner? The villain of our own mind unfortunately tends to complicate things and when we loose the simple enjoyments of life, there is a tendency to be imprisoned by ones own interpretations of life, how other people view us, becoming a victim of circumstances, rather than living our lives with the infinite joy that we deserves.
How do we develop the skill to see things more clearly for what they are rather than how we want them to be? How can we make our mind healthier to perceive this inert state of joy within us rather than be caught in the external flux of changing events?
Let there be no doubt that great thinkers of philosophy, religion, politics and humanitarianism has grappled with this problem from the beginning of time. For Saint Augustine, happiness is 'a rejoicing in the truth.' For Immanuel Kant, happiness must be rational and devoid of any personal taint, while for Marx it is about growth through work. Aristotle, the founder of the Academy in Athens wrote: 'What constitute happiness is a matter of dispute,' and then added, 'and the popular account of it is not the same as that given by the philosophers.'
In our search for 'happiness' let us not delude ourselves thinking it to be a particular state, belief or definition. Let us rather assume is it something we create space for in the small activities of our lives. When we create space to that and find harmony within our own mind, as well as our external environment, we will experience that genuine happiness does not come from external sources, but rather how we develop the skill to see more clearly through the prism of our own mind. To see ourselves more clearly as we are and leave behind that which obstructs us and clutters our pure view. Then we can hopefully rejoice in what really matters and embrace happiness in the simplicity of being rather than in the expectations of what we would like to become or the possessions we think we need in order to be happy and content.
There is probably a little work for us all to become clear with what really matters. Happiness is a skill that needs to be developed like anything else. Give it time, put your mind to it and discriminate between what you feel is important, then before long you'll feel happy for no particular reason. Just happy for life and happy to be who you are.
R. Alexander Medin
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