June 1, 2011
Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. – Aristotle
If you want to be happy, be. – Leo Tolstoy
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. – C.S. Lewis
The answer to the question, “What is happiness?” can perhaps never be answered in a simple way that fits all people, all situations, all world views, all levels of consciousness. Nonetheless, there seem to be some common ingredients of the state we call happiness.
- Happiness is contentment, being satisfied with our lives, our situations, and our surroundings.
- Happiness is a state we feel, many levels of feelings that are “good” rather than “bad”: bliss, joy, excitement, ecstasy, to name a few.
- Happiness is a sense of fulfillment and purpose, a knowing that we're in the right place, doing the right things.
- Happiness increases when shared. Serving others tends to increase the level of happiness of both giver and recipient.
- Happiness is harmonious, involving resonance of body, mind, spirit, and emotion.
- Happiness is both cause and effect of thoughts, words, and actions, in accord with our ideals and beliefs.
- Happiness is freedom, freeing, and free.
- Happiness remains in an inviting home, regardless of outer happenings.
- Happiness is a gift of obedience, of following our highest promptings and urgings.
- Happiness is chemical, the release of chemicals in our brains which creates in us a feeling that is pleasurable.
- Happiness is the intersection of ideals, beliefs, and preferences, with thoughts and actions in accord with these virtues.
From the foregoing list, we can see that happiness is a complex and complicated mix of chemical, biochemical, emotional, intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual attributes.
Or... perhaps it's a bit simpler...
In the song, the dance, of now
Free to live and be
Embracing happiness, at a sustained and sustainable level, from a deep and true place, is the choice, the practice, and the result of embracing happiness, of living in accordance and accord with our highest selves. At its very essence, happiness is quite simple. The road to happiness, however, is, for most of us, less simple.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” said Lao Tzu. And so, we begin precisely where we are, here and now, emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually, in our choice and quest to be happy. With an acceptance of this precise moment, we're ready to begin the journey. As the quest begins, so does happiness. As we release more of our attachments, whether to thoughts, beliefs, belongings, or to our current state, we are ready to mindfully begin the “thousand mile walk” of happiness.
To begin then, we begin where we are. Here and now. Being in the now is a popular idea among those of us that are waking to higher truths. Time is, according to some, pure illusion, a creation of immature and separated minds. In this view, only the present exists, and it is the direct creation of some super-conscious part of us. The crux of this belief is that all existence, all perception, and thus, all happiness, exists only in this construct of “now.”
Being in the now is both a new and an old idea. Many wise, perhaps even enlightened people, have written about the concept of mindfulness, being fully present in the reality that is the fully present moment of now. The value of this way of thinking, being, and living, should not be underestimated. There is much truth in the mindset that we are most happy when holding our thoughts on only what we can perceive to be occurring in each instant, each slice of time.
Freed from thoughts of past and future, we can be emotionally and spiritually connected to our higher selves. Conversely, when our thoughts are on the past, there is the tendency to dwell on the mistakes we believe we've made. Dwelling on mistakes and missteps invites feelings of regret, shame, and unforgiveness. Likewise, when our thoughts are focused on the future, there is a tendency to invite fear – fear of not accomplishing what we wish to accomplish, or not receiving what we would like to receive. Mindfully being present in the present allows us to more fully experience life.
The limitation though, with this line of thinking, that we need focus only on the truth that is now, is that it can sometimes create an atmosphere of denial. We pretend as if the past doesn't affect us and live with unresolved feelings. We push the feelings (shame, regret, unforgiveness) aside and try and try again to remain fully present in the now. This approach does have some benefit in that it raises the “frequency” of our thoughts and we tend to attract other people with this higher frequency of thought. We attract those we resonate with.
Still though, the unresolved and unaccepted feelings we had in the past linger. Some of them fade away, with the passage of time, but others grow – hibernating demons locked in the cage of our denied consciousness. While the demons sleep, they grow stronger. Those feelings we don't allow to be released, because we insist on not facing the past, tend to come out, whether we're conscious of them or not, at inopportune moments. Whether the past is real or illusion matters little as the effect we feel is indeed real to us in our experience of the present moment.
We are complex beings – a mix of spirit, thought, feeling, belief, perception, imagination, sensation, and creation. Attempting to control or even to fully understand all these parts of us is a significant source of our lack of happiness. Simply “being” in the present moment allows us to begin to release our needs to understand and control, opening us to experience the magic and wonder of life. Being freed of the blocks to happiness – control, focus on past or future, overemphasis on our cognitive nature, and seeking happiness from external sources – we allow happiness to make a home in us.
Happiness lives also in our hopes. To believe there is no room for thoughts of a better future closes the door to that same better future. Without imaginings of a better tomorrow, we do not create the dreams and wishes that make a better tomorrow our destiny. This is the second limitation of living only and exclusively in the present moment. We create the reality we choose to see and be. We become the creation of the thoughts we have thought, the choices we have made, the vibrations we have wrought.
If all is indeed perfect in this present moment (and it is) and if we have thoughts that stretch beyond now to past memories and future possibilities, are those thoughts not as perfect as the thoughts focusing only on here and now? Why do we choose to judge some thoughts as good and others as bad? Do our good thoughts create our happiness? Or does the acceptance of all thoughts, good or bad, determine our level of happiness?
The answers to these questions are not simple as, in some measure, the answers which bring us the highest level of happiness vary depending on our present situation, our moods, our level of growth and awareness, and other factors. A happy life is a balance of acceptance and growth, of peace and passion, of mind, body, and spirit. As we grow in understanding, we create and invite more happiness. To focus only on growth and understanding however, tends to preclude the pure and simple enjoyment of the present moment.
A happy life then, while lived in the present, does not seek to deny the past or the future. In a place of balanced acceptance of all our thoughts, there is peace. And peace brings with it the gift of happiness. Happiness is accepting the past, dreaming of the future, and living in the present. Happiness is peace and passion, rest and creation, giving and receiving. Happiness is living in the Divine Flow of Life.