Want to be happy? Give up on Happiness.
“If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under a radiator.” ~ Bernan Wolfe
When our minds are given the task of figuring out how to find happiness, the enterprise is doomed to failure from the get-go. The concept of happiness is rooted deep in our conditioning, in various states of distortion from person to person, and is the concept which carries perhaps the clearest indicator of our delusion of seeking for fulfillment in the world of form.
The conditioned concept of happiness is always connected with something that happens, and is characterized by images of positive events and good fortune. It is at its core an externally derived sense of wellbeing; of feeling happy because of something that happens.
But this externally derived happiness is not really what we are looking for. There is always tension in it, because what happens is impermanent and so we always know deep down inside that the feeling is not going to last. We try to capture it on video, squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of it — think weddings and holidays — and if we look deeper, this kind of happiness is really just the other side of the coin of suffering. A temporary high, during which you already know that there is a low waiting for you at the other end.
When we recognize this, we see that happiness and unhappiness are not all that different from each other. And then we discover that what we are really looking for is not happiness, but rather a sense of calm, aliveness, and relaxation. A peace that is beyond happiness and unhappiness, and yet can contain both, in which happiness and unhappiness become mere surface movements that you can experience without losing the sense of deep inner peace that envelops it.
In this state of peace, you don’t become happy when good things happen and unhappy when bad things happen. I’m fairly sure I’ve written about this before, even using the exact same words, but this cannot be repeated too often. It is such an important thing to recognize that happiness, as the world defines it, is not what we want.
When good things happen we certainly honor them and enjoy, but aware at the same time that the sense of joy always arises from within and ultimately does not depend on whatever is happening outside. We don’t allow them to give us a too much of a high, because we recognize that the high is really a disguised form of suffering.
In chapter 26 of the Tao Te Ching it says:
The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.
Thus the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.
Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.
(Chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
However splendid the views, he stays serenely in himself. Which is to say, no matter how great things are on the external level, he doesn’t abandon his place of peace to go chase after externally derived happiness.
When you are rooted within, the movement of highs and lows will still happen but they will be gentle and never stray far from neutrality. There are then no highs when things are going well, or lows when everything goes wrong, but a deep sense of peace and contentment, whatever happens.
But, the mind may ask, isn’t this a negative rejection of the good things in life? Initially it would seem like a sacrifice not to allow anything in the world to make you happy, but once you realize happiness for what it is you will start to see it in a different light.
Sensing the infinite depth of peace, you see that the happiness of the world is nothing more than an aspect of suffering. The other side of the coin as we talked about earlier. When you believe that giving up happiness for peace is a sacrifice, you fail to see that what you are really seeking in the pursuit of happiness is peace. What you are really looking for in fun is joy, which is never caused by anything that happens.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows by itself. ~ Zen Proverb Click To Tweet
Happiness and peace are only words, of course, and may mean different things to different people. In the way I’m using them here, the main difference is that happiness is derived from an external source, from something that happens, while peace arises from within and is independent of external circumstances.
It is perfectly valid to use the word ‘happiness’ to describe the state of peace, and in fact that word is often used to describe exactly that. But for the sake of differentiating between the two, and as a practical tool in your everyday practice, it is helpful to be clear about what these words are meant to signify. In order to be able to recognize the conditioned movement of seeking happiness, as it arises in your mind, it will be helpful to remember that peace is all you really want.
A particularly beautiful part of the verse quoted above is where it talks about how “the master travels all day, without leaving home.” Because a large part of our conditioned thinking manifests in a continuous feeling of not being at home anywhere, and constantly being on the lookout for a place to arrive at. To be able to feel that we are finally home, where we can finally relax and start living.
When you have let go of the polarity of happiness and unhappiness, you find that the home you were looking for in the world is only to be found within, in the peace that is free of external conditions. And having found it, you become the master who can travel all day, without leaving home.
Source: ‘Abandoning The Pursuit of Happiness’ from the now defunct website the now defunct Everyday Wonderland, a “weblog on the subject of spiritual awakening, creativity, enthusiasm, inspiration, and generally everything having to do with the higher levels of human consciousness”, as expressed there by an anonymous author. It has been preserved here for your pleasure.