Sunday, 11 September 2016

Happiness

What is success to me?

Happiness.

It sounds simple and vague, or perhaps too complex to really mean anything.  I don't know which of those things it is and isn't, and I'm not sure there is any virtue to trying to examine the concept without...well, examining the concept.
I used to think happiness and success were the same thing, and that success meant power, money, people liking me, position, possessions.  The sort of thing a lot of us equate to success, I suppose.  But all of this is ephemeral.  I cannot control any of these things, just as King Canute couldn't control the tide.  The moment I pinned my happiness on being successful in these particular respects, I was already onto a loser.  I can't control any of these things and yet, here I was trying desperately to do just that.  Even if I attained any one of those, or many of those, wouldn't my life just be spent trying to maintain these standards?  How can that make me happy?
I think this is where I first started.  I stopped thinking that to be happy I had to be successful.  I'd seen enough successful people who were stressed, angry and miserable.  This isn't to say everyone is like that, but I guarantee you that their happiness isn't entirely based in any of the things I listed above.  So I began to wonder what happiness was, as it seemed to be illusive.  That's when I realised that learning to be happy is a huge success in itself.

To quote Matthieu Ricard:
Authentic happiness is not linked to an activity; it is a state of being, a profound emotional balance struck by a subtle understanding of how the mind functions.

Stuff can't really make you happy.  It can give you joy, sure, same as a lovely compliment or, I don't know, a tasty latte with a muffin for breakfast.  But it's not going to make me feel much for long, no matter how big the muffin.  Happiness isn't living in a state of perpetual joy.  That's different emotion.  Equally, happiness isn't about not being unhappy.  This is where a lot of people get confused, I think.  Happiness is letting go of trying to be anything, really.  It's about letting go of trying not to be depressed, for example.  I get depressed.  Usually it's because I'm trying to control things outside of myself.  Or judging myself based upon how I've read the world that day.  But I've learnt to attribute my feelings to that and to be introspective, without wallowing in self-pity.  When I'm there, thinking about it, I remember to greet the negative emotions as a visitor at the door.  I acknowledge them without being distant or trying to push them away, and then, when I'm ready, close the door again.  I'm not going to force the visitor to leave, however unpleasant they may be.  They can stay if they need to.  And I don't judge myself for that (most of the time).

Anyway, happiness is not trying to stop being other things.

Something that went a long way to helping me understand how to adopt this way of thinking is about learning how important the ego is to day-to-day life.  It dictates a lot.  It tells us that we LIKE this or we ARE that and suchlike...but why must it push us around that much?  When it does, it's practically bossing us around and telling us to be upset, angry, joyful, elated...etc. etc.  So to let it go is to help free oneself of misreading the world around us, to stop attributing values to things that essentially have none, other than what we give them.


To quote Matthieu Ricard, who described this process as (and I paraphrase poorly here) not trapping myself as water in a glass.  Those boundaries are self-imposed.  Why must I be one thing or another?  Why can't I be an ocean that just undulates?  Anyone who knows me knows that I dislike labels.  I wouldn't want to limit myself to being any one thing or another, and then to feel bad or embarrassed or apologetic if/when that were to change.  I am not static, and neither is the universe.  Every moment my body is shedding particles of numerous types of matter.  I am not the same person physically year to year.  Even my braincells alter, die and are replaced.  So why would I ever want to trap myself, my personality, in time like an insect in amber?  It goes against the very nature of existence.  So I try not to.  I try to just...be.

And I suppose this is what happiness is to me.  And what I see success as.  But the latter doesn't matter to me so much, as it changes day to day and a lot of the time doesn't come into my thinking about myself at all.  I know to some people this might sound arrogant, but, again, I can't control that and that's okay.  Think what you will - that's the joy of being your own person.  I'm just me and some days that's hard, I get upset, I get manic, I can be rude and I can be awful, but that's okay because at the very centre, I am not trying to be anything to anyone else.  I am not trying to make someone else feel bad.  I am not trying to make someone else hurt.  Why would I want to do any of those things?  It doesn't feed into my own sense of wellbeing and happiness - even the little thrill of bringing someone down a peg or two doesn't last.  It's transitory and unsatisfactory.  Why do it?  So most of the time I don't.  It's a waste of energy, of time and of me.  In fact, if I were to invest in an emotion, why not try some generosity?  Some friendliness?  What does that bring me?  It's a good feeling.  It's nice to help.  It feels good - and yes, I know, that sounds very selfish.  Charity for my own purposes.  Not really charity then, is it?  It's a really complex subject, and I would say it comes after the first bit about achieving your own happiness.  When you are okay in yourself, you extend that to others and not for your own benefit, because you aren't interested in benefiting yourself at all anymore.  Just as you aren't interested in hurting other people to benefit yourself, you aren't interested in feeling good because you are being nice.  You are just happy regardless of the reaction.  I think I'll write separately on this.  Otherwise you'll be here all night.

Regardless of what I've written here, I don't have it yet.  I don't know what "it" is, to be honest.  Maybe "it" is enlightenment?  Who knows.  Either way, this is something that I've understood on a level deep enough to make my life better.  I want to be happy, being happy isn't an emotion, a response to stimuli, it is a state of wellbeing.  And it isn't always pretty, and it is often hard, but I hope that whatever happens in my life, I will always be working to exist in a state that cultivates it.

So, in answer to your question: success to me is learning about happiness and cultivating it.  But I'm not looking to be successful...so I have no idea where that leaves me, or this post.

Thanks for reading.

***

Okay so I went through my favourite book on the matter (Happiness by Matthieu Ricard) and grabbed a few choice quotes that I like.

Rabindranath Tagore - "We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us."

We take for permanent things that are ephemeral and for happiness that which is but a source of suffering: the desire for wealth, for power, for fame, and for nagging pleasures.


Our desires are boundless and our control over the world is limited, temporary and, more often than not, illusory.


Happiness is not given to us, nor is misery imposed.  At every moment we are at a crossroads and must choose the direction we will take.


These are only passing, sometimes morbid states of elation that, like moments of positive euphoria, have nothing to do with happiness.


Authentic happiness is not linked to an activity; it is a state of being, a profound emotional balance struck by a subtle understanding of how the mind functions.


Suffering and unhappiness are different.  Suffering can be triggered by numerous causes over which we sometimes have power, and sometimes none.  Unhappiness is altogether different, being the way in which we experience our suffering.


Understanding that we are neither perfect nor completely happy is not a weakness.  It is a very healthy acknowledgement that has nothing to do with self-pity, pessimism, or a lack of self-confidence.


No comments:

Post a comment