I believe that everyone in this world is striving to, in their own unique way, find their own happiness. People have vastly different personalities, beliefs, religions, values, and ideals but in the end, no matter which path we take through life we all just want to end up in a place where we can simply be happy.
Words are just symbols so when I use the word happy I’m referring to a lasting joy that permeates your being on a daily bases. My use of the term happiness can refer to a sense of inner peace, joy, bliss and fulfillment. When I talk about the secret of happiness I’m mean reaching a state in your life where your default state is happiness, and that happiness is present in your being for the vast majority of the time.
As I’ve travelled I’ve met a good number of people all with different life situations and levels of happiness. I’ve met people with very easy lives surrounded by loving friends who wake up every day bored, discontent or even annoyed with their situation. I’ve met financially wealthy people who in a fit of anger about their unhappiness scream “I can buy or do anything I want! Shouldn’t that be enough!?” and I’ve also met financially poorer people, with busy more difficult lives who can’t keep a beautiful smile off their face due to their everyday lasting happiness. This definitely posed the question in me, what’s the difference? What is the secret to happiness?
In order to find the secret of happiness we have to ask and answer a very important question. What is it exactly that makes a person happy? People have many ideals for what they want in their lives to make them happy. For some its financial abundance, for others its loving relationships, some want a sense of fulfillment from helping others, others want to feel successful in the career they pursue, and some simply want to be free from oppression or persecution. A more balanced person will decide happiness comes from achieving a degree of success and harmony in all of the important areas of his life, something that is far easier said than done. Now while pursuing these things these things can create varying degrees of outward happiness, are they really the secret to happiness? Let’s look deeper.
Filling the hole is not going to make you happy
If I could only just get that new high paying job, then I’d be happy. If I could only just escape my small home town, then I’d be happy. If I could only just find the perfect lover, then I’d be happy. Many people have the single ideal goal that they believe once achieved will allow them to finally have the happiness they’ve been pursuing. They feel a certain lack in their lives and until that emptiness is filled they will live in a less than happy state. The feeling of lack in this area they carry with them also helps to prevent them from fulfilling it. The truth is however, even after accomplishing that one thing that you’re sure will finally make you happy for the rest of your life, in reality… is not going to change things all that much. Sure you will find temporary joy and pride at finally accomplishing the thing you set out to do, but as fast as a fancy new car loses its once exciting appeal, the happiness you got from accomplishing the goal will slowly fade, or be replaced by new goals and desires that you will again be sure, that once you accomplish them will finally make you happy.
One of the reasons you can’t find lasting happiness at the accomplishment of a certain something comes from our amazing ability to adapt to our life situations. When there is something missing in our lives we feel that filling the void will give us that extra ‘thing’ we need but once the void is filled we adapt to our new situation and the extra thing becomes the new normal. Our problems or things that make us unhappy are always relative to our current situation. A homeless person who is handed a sandwich by a stranger can feel the same or more joy than a business man who is taken out to a fancy 5 course lobster dinner. Because happiness is relative it’s very hard to achieve lasting happiness by adding things, people or accomplishments to your life.
What if for some reason the above doesn’t apply to you. Maybe you practice feeling gratitude for the things in your life and you have found a way to constantly feel grateful for all the things you have without becoming too ‘used to them’ that they lose their appeal. There is still another underlying problem that threatens your lasting happiness, and that is the impermanence of life.
The impermanence of life
The world is in a constant state of change, and the fact is that nothing is permanent and nothing lasts forever. If your happiness comes from your money there is always a fear of losing it. If your happiness comes from your beauty you will someday become old and wrinkled. If your happiness comes from your friends, family or lover, they will someday leave this world or we may be separated from them. There is always a way to lose that which makes you happy, or have it taken from you. The more we deny this and the more desperately we try to hold onto the things we need, the more unhappy we will be when they are gone. This fact may seem, grim and depressing but that is only the case if you falsely believe that happiness needs to come from all of these outside impermanent things. There is one permanent thing and it is the only true source of lasting happiness. It can take a little effort to find, but it is free and always available to us.
Happiness comes from within
Can you be completely happy just taking a walk through nature? Can you feel peace sitting alone in silence? If you were stranded on a deserted island could you still be joyful?
In the core of everyone is their default emotional state. When there is no outside forces distracting you, and your mind is free from thinking of the past or future what do you feel? Is your default state one of peace or is it something negative like boredom, depression or mild annoyance?
I believe that deep within all of us at our cores is a feeling of deep peace and joy but often times in life we become so disconnected from within that we lose sight of it and the inner peace almost seems to fade away. We become so distracted by everything on the outside that we don’t have time to focus on what’s deep within us. For many people our minds never give us a chance to rest. The nearly constant chatter in our heads keeps us preoccupied from experiencing anything internal.
Learning to quiet our minds, look inside and feel this deep joy within us, then to bring that out as a part of our daily lives is the secret to lasting happiness. The ever present joy deep within is the only type of happiness that cannot be lost or taken. People who have learnt to feel good for no reason tap into this source and it is the reason they are happy while others with better life situations may not be.
How to cultivate inner happiness
An important step to cultivating inner peace is to make the voice in your head align with the happiness you want to experience. If your inner thoughts about the outside world are frequently negative the negativity you create by thinking in this way will cut you off from your own inner happiness. Learn to control your mind and cut your thoughts off when you notice you begin to think overly negatively. Your mind is merely a tool for your own use and learning to control it so it doesn’t control you is an important step. Practice thinking positively. It does take practice… like anything you have to repeat something over and over before it becomes a habit, but if you already have a habit of thinking negatively breaking this habit will absolutely enhance your life. Practice seeing the good in people, the lighter side of things and be grateful for everything you can, in time thinking positively will be all there is. Learning to have positive thoughts is most important when thinking about yourself. If the voice in your head is putting yourself down, saying you’re not good enough or that you can’t accomplish something or simply that you are not a good person you will create negativity within that blocks the positivity at your core. Learning to love yourself for who you are is the most important step to creating inner happiness. Become the type of person you would love to hang out with. Ensure you are comfortable spending time in your own company, and it will be easy to feel good for no outside reason.
I think it’s important to know for a fact you can feel intense inner happiness without anything external playing a part. Chances are you may have experienced this from time to time. You may have just felt like you were in a really good mood for no reason. A great way to experience inner joy without outer influence is through meditation. Meditation is an amazing way to take control of your emotions and to help you experience things that only come from inside. It also has an amazing number of health and mental benefits with extending beyond mere stress relief. If you’re new to meditation try out some guided ones like this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zh-klfBJlHc and see how powerful it can be. If you have real player I found these to be really good too: http://www.learningmeditation.com/room.htm. Doing basic meditation like this for only 20 minutes a day can completely change your life. The more you practice feeling awesome on the inside the easier it becomes to recreate those emotions. Take time during your day to just stop whatever your doing, clear your mind and just feel really good. Don’t attach any reasons or meaning to your feelings, just feel the inner joy and peace that’s inside. Feel good for no reason even if only for a few seconds at a time. If you’re having difficulty feeling good try putting on an awesome piece of music then visualize yourself having a blast doing something you find incredibly joyful. You won’t be able to help feeling happy about it. You’re not fooling yourself by pretending to feel good when it’s really not true, the truth is you do contain these default feelings at the core of your being they just get clouded and hidden by all the other distractions in your life. Doing this simply reconnects you to what has always been there underneath.
But what about all the stuff?
Since its true we don’t need anything in this world to cultivate inner happiness does that mean we should forget about going for all the stuff we want? Some schools of thought would teach that since happiness comes from within its best to deprive ourselves of all outwardly possessions, desires, attachments, even to deprive the body and fast. This is totally foolish! Depriving yourself of things will force you to put in more effort merely to survive and all this effort detracts from the amount of time you can focus on being happy. Just because we don’t need these things to be happy doesn’t mean they will have a negative effect on us. When you learn to be happy with nothing, everything thing you add to your life simply feels like a nice bonus. Go for the financial abundance, the perfect health, the fun experience, the ideal lover, just don’t depend on them for your happiness. When these things are just a small bonus to your core happiness you aren’t desperately attached to them and if they are lost or taken your deep inner peace will still remain intact. Now I’m not saying that if something really upsetting happens such as losing a child or lover that you won’t be deeply upset… you will still be devastated and need time to grieve… but the difference between someone with their own inner peace compared with someone who had all their happiness invested in the other person will be a matter of how soon they can eventually recover.
The more time you spend learning to get your happiness from the inside rather than the outside the easier it will become and feeling good will seem as effortless as breathing. When you are already feeling good inside any little joyful thing you encounter on the outside will add even more to your happiness than it normally would have. Happiness carries momentum with it and holding an inner happiness will make it easy to ignore the smaller negative things that inevitably happen. The inner happiness emanating from you will also affect everyone you meet and the positive energy shared in the interactions will make it easier for the happiness to continue and grow. Drawing your happiness from inside will give you a sense of freedom from the forces of this world, and give you true mastery over your own happiness.
As a fellow traveler once said to me “Be happy, it’s all beautiful man!”