Happiness: What does it mean? A Zen perspective
“We are happy if we get or do what we want” Where is the problem? “If “ is the problem: it creates a condition.
The dictionary describes happiness as an emotional state of joy, pleasure and delight, a feeling that life is good. One of my students told me that, after searching on Google, he want to learn meditation to be happy. “ If I can meditate few min. every days I will be happy within 2 weeks”. he said.
“ IF, IF is expectation, expectation is a mental state of not having yet, not having yet is a source of unhappiness” I replied. Happiness is always associated with “IF” and our outside world: getting what we want, not getting what we don’t want, pleasure either physical (food, sex, exercise), relational, intellectual, emotional, money, a new stuff all the time. Seeking happiness and its sources from outside self is the norm for all of us. It is very important to realize that all of these aspects of happiness that I call extrinsic and emotional happiness are based on our external life and its circumstances. Unfortunately it will not create permanent happiness since our outside sources are happiness re endless, always transient and most of them without our control. Expecting ongoing happiness from outside is a recipe to ongoing unhappiness, frustration and …suffering for not having what we want or expect.
We have to realize that relying mostly on external sources for lasting happiness is not a sound foundation for true contentment but rather a source of emotional ups and downs. It will take years of disappointments and frustration to realize that we cannot achieve true, genuine and long lasting happiness only on external factors because, and I repeat again, they are endless, transient and out of our control for most of them. Another point here: If we make happiness a fundamental goal in our life, it will, most likely, elude us. Happiness is not a by-product of life. Life is not a person with emotion. Life is what it is and not designed to make us sad or happy but to live. “Life is not fair or unfair with me” is a pure ego-centered delusion.
There are three distinct myths about extrinsic happiness or happiness coming from outside sources:
First: “Happiness is getting what I want whatever the object”:
Our materialistic society is telling us that we will be happy if we get what we want: right mate, right job, right car, right body, right wine, right vacation, right friends, and so on. These things may be enjoyable for a short term but they will not survived indefinitely and most of them are not under our control.
Second: If I don’t get what I want I cannot be happy because it will bring me frustration, unease, impatience unhappiness, discomfort, and dissatisfaction”.
Third: “Happiness is achieved by making people happy thru love, generosity and compassion”:
This is wonderful but, as for myth #1, we are equating our happiness with the happiness of others. People come and go without our control including our loved ones.
As long as we believe in these 3 basic myths, we will continue to trap ourselves in the up-and-down cycle of happiness ( for having and unhappiness, expectation and disappointment.
Genuine happiness or inner serenity.
This is our inner self-created more fundamental happiness. A permanent state of mind that we create rather than a transient emotion like the extrinsic happiness.
Being serene means to accept and be at ease with life as it is, even when adversity and suffering occur. To avoid the downs ride of life does not mean we must achieve this or that, have always fun or always get what we want. It means we are curious about what our life is, willing to live and accept its moments as they are and not too much as we want it. Unfortunately, this includes not only the good moments but also the most difficult and unpleasant ones which should be used as opportunity. Please not here: It does not mean to be coward in avoiding fixing problems , nor to be fatalist, defeatist or masochistic. Accepting is the first step in controlling our emotional mind. Fixing issues or not may follow.
Beside accepting our reactive negative emotions from bad times, serenity can so be achieved by:
Controlling our ego-driven mind main source of suffering such as desires, attachments ( I want) ,
hatred ( I don’t want) and illusions/delusions ( having poor and wrong understandings ) .
Being awake and mindful to the present moment and its components such as our body, what we are doing, our streaming thoughts, and surroundings. Mindfulness is paying attention without letting the mind taking over.
Having an open mind rather than a mindset full of preconceived ideas and judgments.
Not trusting all our thoughts even if coming from us!
Realizing that happiness is not being exited, merry and feeling-good in the Hollywood sense.
Being willing to acknowledge that life is what it is with its good and bad stuff regardless our effort to avoid the later. Looking for fun and pleasure is perfectly OK. Expecting that life should be just that all the time is wrong and deceptive, source of dissatisfaction and resentment. Being inside and self generated serenity is steady. Coming from outside, happiness comes and go. without our control.