The art of happiness

We are all human beings. There are obviously many differences in many aspects, but essentially we are all the same: the same physical structure, mind and emotions. It is easier to communicate with each other at this level. If we emphasize specific characteristics, there are differences. But these are secondary. If we leave these differences, we can easily communicate, exchange ideas and share experiences.

Sometimes it is difficult to explain why people do the things they do…there are no simple explanations. Everything cannot be accounted for. If we try to account for everything, we get into a sort of conditioning, a sort of rigidity where we will take great efforts to account for something. And the mind being resourceful, will conjure up a cause for almost anything. Does that mean that is true?

Attaining genuine and lasting happiness is not easy, it nevertheless is possible

The very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Happiness is a reasonable goal. It is achieved through training the mind. The mind means the “psyche” or “spirit”. By bringing about a certain inner discipline, we can transform our attitude, outlook and approach to living. This inner discipline basically consists of identifying and cultivating factors that lead to happiness, and identifying and avoiding factors that lead to suffering.

Whether we live a day or a century, a central question remains: What is the purpose of our life? What makes our lives meaningful?

The purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Seeking happiness does not lead to selfishness or self-absorption, rather it leads to selflessness and love.

Happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by external events. Success may result in temporary elation and tragedy into a period of depression but sooner or later we come back to a baseline level of happiness. This is called adaptation. Genetic factors may play a role in determining this baseline, but most agree that this baseline is determined and enhanced by our outlook. Our moment-to-moment happiness is determined by how we perceive our situation, how satisfied we are with what we have.Our perception and level of satisfaction are strongly influenced by our tendency to compare. We compare our situation with the past, with others. By simply shifting our perspective by contemplating what we have and how things could be worse, we can increase our life satisfaction.

However happiness is not a simple thing. According to Buddhism, the totality of an individual’s quest for happiness consists of: wealth, worldly satisfaction, spirituality and enlightenment. Forget spirituality and enlightenment. In an everyday or worldly sense, there are certain things we all can agree that is necessary for joy and happiness-health, wealth, friendship or companions. In order to use these things for happiness our state of mind is key. Its crucial. If we do not have a calm mind and peace of mind, these things have no value and you will definitely not be happy. A calm and peaceful mind doesn’t mean insensitiveness, apathy, spacing out or being empty. It is rooted in affection and compassion. There is a very high level of sensitivity and feeling there. If we have a calm and peaceful mind, we can happy even if we lack the health, wealth or friendship.

We live in a world based on material acquisition. We want a lot of things. Certain desires are positive – a wish for happiness, peace, a harmonious world. Others are  negative: the demarcation between a positive and negative wish is not whether it gives you an immediate feeling of satisfaction but whether it ultimately results in positive or negative consequences. The true antidote of negative desires is contentment. If you have a strong sense of contentment, it does not matter whether you meet the object or not; either way you are still content.

We can get inner contentment by-
obtaining everything we want and wish( this is impossible because sooner or later we will run up against something we want but can’t have)
not to have what we want but rather to want and appreciate what we have
A sense of self-worth is another internal source of happiness. The fact that you are human being and can relate to others because you share this bond of being human is enough to give rise to a sense of worth and dignity. This bond can become a source of consolation if you lose everything else.

People often confuse happiness with pleasure. True happiness relates more to the mind and the heart. Happiness that depends mainly on physical pleasure is unstable; today it is there, tomorrow it may not be. Very often the right “choice” is often the difficult one- one that involves some sacrifice of our pleasure. How to differentiate? We have a place to begin: the simple reminder that what we are seeking in life is happiness. Approaching our daily decisions and choices based on whether it will bring us happiness( stable and persistent, that remains despite life’s ups and downs and normal fluctuations of mood, as the very matrix of our being) shifts the focus from denying ourselves a momentary pleasure to moving towards genuine happiness.

Our basic needs for food, clothing and shelter must be met. But once these basic needs are met we don’t need more money, success, fame, perfect body or perfect mate- now, at this very moment we have a mind, which is the only basic equipment we need for happiness.

The first step is learning. Learning to seek that which leads to happiness and avoid that which leads to unhappiness. Avoid hatred, jealousy and anger. Be compassionate, warm and kindhearted. This requires a transformation in your outlook. It requires practice daily. It is possible because our brains have the inherent capacity to change- called “plasticity”.

We also need ethical discipline, avoiding unwholesome behaviours. This will not usually come naturally, we have to train towards it, like education. And there are many levels to it, similar to levels in education. We should take the first step.

In many cases people expect the other person to respond to them in a positive way. However, if we initiate responding to everyone in a positive and compassionate way, you will find you create an atmosphere of openness and friendship. You will then not feel lonely.

We often want to be considered as independent and self-reliant. However if you analyse your life, you will find you are dependent on others for almost everything. Everything in this world is inter-dependent and inter-connected. You then realise that everyone is indispensable. You become compassionate.

Intimacy is very important, and we often limit ourselves to a person or to our family, which is no doubt good and useful. We often think that a passionate romantic relationship is the summum bonum of intimacy. But it need not be. The whole gamut of people who we meet daily can be cultivated into genuine and deeply satisfying human relationships. All that is required is a willingness to open ourselves to others and a willingness to look compassionately.

The basic nature of humans is gentleness. Anger, violence and aggression do exist, but these are secondary. They are due to human intelligence developed in an unbalanced way. They are not programmed genetically. When we conclude that the basic nature of humans is compassion, the way we look at the world changes.
The purpose of life is happiness. The turning-toward happiness as a valid goal and the conscious decision to seek happiness in a systematic way can profoundly change the rest of our lives.

We are alive today. We do not know whether we will be alive tomorrow. Still we are working for that purely on the basis of hope. So we need to make the best use of time: if you can, serve other people, serve other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them.

There are certain guidelines which can be useful in improving our relationships with others. The basic thing is to approach everybody with compassion. Compassion can be developed if we empathise with others. If we approach others with the basic things that we have in common it would help a lot. We all have a physical structure, mind and emotions. We are all born in the same way, and we die. All of us want to be happy and not suffer. If we look at things from this viewpoint, relating to others becomes more easier. It is also helpful to understand the background of the people who you interact with and be open-minded and honest.

Marriage can be a beautiful relationship. But sometimes it turns sour. The first stage in dealing with relationship conflicts involves deliberately reflecting on the underlying nature and basis of that relationship. In order to build a truly satisfying relationship, the best way of bringing this about is to get to know the deeper nature of the person and relate to them on that level, instead of merely on the basis of superficial characteristics. Romantic love is not true love. It can be a beginning to true love. Caring and genuine affection are more important. That along with compassion and mutual respect will turn love into a lasting bond.

Compassion is a state of mind that is nonviolent, nonharming and nonagressive. You wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility and respect towards others. It is free of attachment and does not require anything in return. You voluntarily accept others’ suffering for a higher person, similar to how an athlete undergoes gruelling training because he wants to progress. The real value of human life is to be compassionate because this will ultimately lead to our happiness as well as others happiness. Being compassionate is in everybody’s self-interest if they want to be truly happy.

If you meditate on a person who is suffering and say ” This person also needs to be happy. May his suffering disappear”, you will find compassion wells from within your heart.

Suffering is a natural fact of human existence. Death, disease and old age are problems we inevitably have to face. Trying to avoid suffering or simply not thinking about it may give temporary relief, but there is a better approach. familiarizing yourself with the kinds of suffering you might encounter is useful. It will help us deal with it better. However if we accept the fact that we will have to suffer, it gives peace. However we can be free from suffering if we eliminate the causes of suffering-ignorance, craving and hatred. This is the solution.

Suffering is inevitable. However we actively contribute to our own suffering by reinforcement of our mental and emotional afflictions. We also often add to our pain  by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. Unhappiness comes to each of us because we think ourselves at the center of the world, because we have the miserable conviction that we alone suffer to the point of unbearable intensity. Unhappiness is always to feel oneself imprisoned in one’s own skin, in one’s own brain.

We can get rid of the “unfairness” attitude by karmic process thinking, as a part of God’s creation or plan. If we don’t believe in these things, we should then objectively view the situation and see what factors are contributing to it, and then try to solve the factors to the best of your ability. If you cannot solve, then accept it.

If we have done something wrong, we should regret it, but not be filled with a sense of guilt. And try not to repeat it.

Life is change. Even if we have done something that is wrong, if we regret it and carry on, we will be OK.

Instead of being fixed in our own view-point about anything it is useful to view the same thing from different perspective-whether it is an argument, a failure, or an enemy. Our mind then becomes flexible, supple, broader and we find balance. We can then be peaceful and happy.

Man is willing to shoulder any suffering as soon and as long as he can see a meaning in it. Where can be find such a meaning? We can begin with religious tradition. In the Buddhist and Hindu model, suffering is a result of our own past negative actions and is seen as a catalyst for seeking spiritual liberation. As the Talmud says, “Everything God does, He does for the best.” Even if we do not believe in religion, we can see that suffering can deepen, test and strengthen our life as well as soften us and make us more sensitive and gentle. We convert pain into suffering in the mind. Accepting that everything has a purpose can definitely help us.

How do you overcome negative behaviours and make positive change in one’s life. The first step involves learning. Then the next thing is developing the conviction to change. This then needs to develop into determination. Next, one transforms determination into action. This last factor of effort is critical. We should develop the sense of urgency. We must use every precious moment of time. If we meet obstacles or problems, we will find it helpful to stand back and take the long-term view and not the short-term view. We should also have a realistic attitude. We should have in our mind, a clear difference between ideals and standard. Standard is the greatest thing we want( say enlightenment or peace or whatever, even 1 million dollars). If you say to yourself that you should meet your standard now itself, then that creates a lot of stress. On the other hand if u say, I will live for the now and let everything in the future take care of itself; if I have to make peace or happiness or money I will along the way-although this seems romantic, it is another extreme. We need to find an approach that is somewhere between.

We also have a capacity to adopt different perspectives within ourselves. So positive states of mind can act as antidotes to negative states of mind. And this can lead us to peace.

When somebody is pierced with an arrow, there is no point in analysing the whys and the wherefores. The thing to do immediately is to pull the arrow. Similarly when there is anger and hatred, we should remove it. Not by suppressing but by actively cultivating patience and tolerance.

If the solution or problem is correctable , then there is no need to worry about it. Alternatively, if there is no way out, no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you can’t do anything about it anyway.

We can also transform what motivates us. Instead of being carried away by motives for worldly success, if we motivate ourselves by the ideal of doing others’ good and no harm, an altruistic, compassionate and kind behaviour to everything, then we will be happy no matter what.

Being honest with oneself and others about what you are or are not capable of doing can counteract that feeling of a lack of self-confidence.

True love is a genuine wish for the happiness of others, with no expectation of any return. We all love ourselves, if we think about it in this way.

We should aim to transform our inner selves. This is spirituality. It means goodness, kindness, caring and compassion for everything. Religion is an aid. True spirituality is possible every moment of our life. It is a mental attitude to be practiced every moment of our life.



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