We all want to be happy. We all strive for it, reaching out and find it constantly evading our grasp. Happiness is not resignation. It is not about success or getting 'stuff'. It is not even the same as contentment or satisfaction. So what is this happiness we are seeking, at its core?
The Dalai Lama has famously said that the purpose of our lives is to be happy. With characteristic simplicity and profound depth, how do these words fall with the almost-happy western individualist mind-set? How do we begin to fulfil this purpose and is it even possible?
It took me years to understand that the landmark book by the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, is about opening a way inward in the here and now. This could be because I was diverted by beautiful gems such as the cultivation of compassion as an antidote to anxiety, but years went by. Also, in those years, layers of belief in inherent loneliness, depressed layers of feeling and grief that froze the heart, and preoccupation with mental self-justification, meant there was healing work to be done before the way inwards – the way of happiness – could be cleared enough for an intimate light of being here and now to shine through.
Yet, looking back, I can ponder on a strange secret. The happiness was always there in the background, whether there was suffering or boredom, hardship or luxury, this living happiness was there at the core. It was there independently, the way between that and the outer self was simply not open.
So perhaps now, I can talk to my younger self, found expressed in selves across the planet, with some gentle guidelines that could speed up the opening of the way to becoming truly human and free in the here and now.
1. Happiness is always here and now.
Actually everything that is anything is in the here and now. Even our memories take place in the now. Our future dreams are happening in the now. Also, happiness is here, at the core of ourselves, if we are ready to open the connection.
It can be enough to evoke the feeling of happiness from some time when we were unconditionally happy. Just reliving the feeling in the present moment (without making the feeling dependent on a story or situation) helps to reopen the way to the natural happiness that is always there at the core of you.
2. Happiness is not the opposite of suffering.
Somehow in the formation of our belief systems, we fell for the idea that it is impossible to be happy and to experience pain or suffering at the same time. In this, we made our happiness dependent on “stuff” – whether the stuff of personal circumstance or the stuff of our hearts. It is not like that.
On inquiry, you might notice that happiness is there, even when we face some of our most challenging times. It is there, even when we are cut to the core in sorrow. We can be happy and suffer at the same time. Although suffering might awaken us to practise the art of opening the way to the happiness which is always there, it can never negate it. On the other hand, the gentle allowance of a fine depth of inner happiness, irrespective of situations, does have a direct impact on our experience of hardship.
3. Opening the way of happiness is an art.
When we begin to open the way between our surface selves and the innate happiness which is always there, we could experience an increase in sorrow or pain. This is because we are becoming increasingly more authentic and true to ourselves. This allows frozen areas in our being to begin to defrost and tell us their story. It could be they have been frozen for decades. Hold fast, and allow the way of happiness, recognizing that this happiness is here, regardless of whatever feelings and emotions are surfacing. We never did actually leave the home of happiness. We just forgot it was there.
4. Happiness is truly our purpose.
For those of us troubled by feelings of guilt or perhaps shame, it can seem almost criminal to allow happiness within ourselves when we are surrounded by the suffering of others. We misguidedly believe that if others suffer, then we should also suffer, or at least repress our happiness – to do otherwise would be selfish. This is not the case. An open way to inner happiness is liberating to those who are in pain. It shows them a light of being which exists despite their trials. It is uplifting and a signpost to the well-being which is still there deeply hidden within themselves.
In fact, compassion for others is most authentic when it arises out of unconditional happiness of being. Happiness is so closely connected with purpose that when we are attuned and manifesting purpose, we manifest happiness into the world. Whatever the shape of our individual passion, this happiness is what connects us in service to all others, whoever they are.