“There is no way to happiness–happiness is the way.”–Zen Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh
The above quote is written on the refrigerator in whiteboard ink near the door handle so I can see it frequently. This helps to remind me that true happiness is in the moment we’re in. Authentic happiness cannot be forced or planned; only cultivated moment by moment. We don’t need to chase after mind-blowing moments. Happiness is already present if I’m paying attention and feeling gratitude for living. After all, life is full of struggle, tears, and happiness.
Happiness is not the Pollyannaish façade of cheery denial about life’s trials and tribulations. It’s the acceptance of the process of life and our small place in the overall magnitude of the Universe. Even though I’m just a dust-mote in the overall scheme of things, I’m a living, kicking dust-mote on this Planet in the midst of the huge home galaxy our Solar System exists. The marvel and wonder of this fact is something that brings me great joy. The mathematical chances of me being born and living through so many years seem incalculable. It really feels like a privilage to experience life, first hand, right now. This is true, even though it is Monday and I feel a bit cranky as I tap these words into my laptop. It’s OK to be curmudgeonly sometimes. There’s a backhanded sort of joy about being able to be grumpy about Monday mornings.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”–Ancient Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius
It should be remembered that the philosopher/ruler Aurelius did not write his papers for public consumption. His writing habit was akin to the modern practice of journaling. He wrote his thoughts and ponderings so as to contemplate them and figure out ways that he could become a more effective, wise human being and leader. His life was largely a balance between contemplation and reason. He had a lot on his plate, so to speak. Aurelius had to command armies to battle barbarian invaders of the Empire. He also had to watch millions of his peopple perish from a smallpox plague. His “Meditations” that were gleaned from his jottings resonates with modern seekers due to his conclusions about being a human being: how to deal with adversity, how to rein in his emotions, how to maintain focus on important matters, and how to be a good person. His writings were not intended for scholars and others to study. His ponderings were meant as a “living philosophy” as a way to help him rule the Roman Empire in the most effective manner he could. As it turns out, his thinking can be utilized by modern people who don’t rule an empire. The “good” Emperor could rest with a good conscience that he acted out of the best of intentions to the best of his ability. This satisfaction brought him some measure of happiness about his life.
This little post does not aim to proselytize about Marcus Aurelius nor Stoicism. In mentioning the “good” Emperor, I do hope to convey the thought that a person can cultivate a fair amount of satisfaction and happiness in life by having one’s own, practical, personal philosophy. Such a philosphy can be a blend of the thinking from ancient times and modern psychological findings. Such a philosophy is a highly personal distillation that can be arrived at during quiet moments of contemplation and real world experiences.
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”–Albert Camus
We have long understood that worry is the bane of happiness. Feeling anxious remorse about past failings and fearful anticipation of the future are mental constructs that can easily take control of our attention and muddy our focus. While it’s good to learn from past mistakes and to make wise plans for the future, it is unhelpful to become obsessed with these thoughts. Some aspects of life are beyond our personal control. All we can do is live in the present as best as we can and pay attention.
It’s important to remember that one cannot hoard happiness by keeping it all to oneself. Happy people tend to spread their happiness around to others. One way is to share happiness and cheerful compassion with others. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture although it could be that, too. Throughout the ages, people have discovered that giving back to society is a good way to cultivate personal happiness. Such acts derive from truth and love.
What is surprisingly delightful about happiness is not trying to capture happiness, yet allow it to somehow capture us. One of the big secrets of life is to not strive for happiness, just allow it to happen, and to spread uninhibited.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the legendary comedian, Groucho Marx. “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”