“There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way”. I was reminded of this quote while listening to a talk given by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in August 2013. All beings are looking to be happy regardless of their circumstances. I often hear people talk about how unhappy they are and feel trapped in their life choices. While I have written previously about happiness, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit this topic to be reminded of those things that make us truly happy.
So, what is happiness? Does money provide happiness, as many people believe? There are a lot of unhappy people who are very wealthy. In my observation, the amount of money one has does not increase one’s happiness. Is being in a relationship the key to happiness? All of us can speak about relationships we have had in the past which were unhappy. Divorce rates remain quite high in the western world, which clearly shows people are unhappy. This does not take away from the fact that we need companionship and love in our lives but rather speaks to the point that a relationship does not provide everything to make us happy. Are people able to find happiness in their work? There seems to be euphoria when one gets a job and then things change over time. We go through periods of time when our work is less fulfilling. Many of those things we think will provide us with happiness, such as money, relationships or careers; provide periods of joy but not sustained happiness. However, happiness isn’t something you get. It’s comes from within.
We all experience moments of happiness. Seeing the face of a small child. Walking quietly through the forest. Listening to your favorite piece of music. For each of us there will be different things that create a sense of happiness. If we are paying close attention at these times, we notice these happy moments tend to be when we are slowing down and being present in the moment. We have to pause and look into the face of child to feel happiness rising in our being. While walking through the woods, we are less focused upon the outer world and more focused upon the touch, feel, smell and sounds of the forest. When you hear your favorite piece of music, your heart soars and your being is filled with happiness.
The feeling of happiness surfaces when we slow down and become more focused in the present moment. There is fewer distractions in our life. We notice our breathing and there is a prevalent sense of bliss within us. Anytime we slow down, we become more focused in the here and now. Our sense of happiness increases and we feel less stressed, more blissful. This experience is not through the acquisition of something but rather through our increased sense of being present. Happiness is the way versus there is a way to happiness. We are more focused upon being rather than doing.
What we also notice about happiness, like everything else, is its impermanence. We have moments of happiness in our lives and then there are times we are feeling unhappy. Feelings come and go like the changing weather. While we seek ways to prolong our happiness it eventually subsides only to resurface again in another moment. Impermanence is a key mark of everything in life. We are born and one day we will die, nothing lasts forever. When we feel happy, we should be grateful knowing it will not last. When we feel unhappy, we should be grateful knowing it too will not last. However, noticing what makes us happy and then increasing those things in our life points us in the direction of maximizing upon our happiness. Meditation for me is one of those things that increases my degree of happiness. During meditation I am able to be more present to each and every moment. I am aware of the impermanence of life as thoughts arise and subside like the inhalation and exhalation of my breathing. I experience greater sustained euphoria in my life and I live in the awareness that happiness is the way.
Notice for yourself this week when you are experiencing happiness and unhappiness. What things, events and people bring you joy? What causes you to feel unhappy? Become aware of the impermanence of all feelings and simply watch them come and go like the clouds passing overhead. Celebrate each and every moment, for it is truly all we have.