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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

How to Find Happiness


Many years ago, I came across a book by Anthony de Mello called Awareness. De Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest whose writing was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. To me, he is a great source of inspiration, and he has much to say about happiness and pain.

Life is easy, life is delightful. It’s only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings.

One of De Mello’s key messages is that, by nature, life is not a struggle. 

Attachment – greed, craving, ambition – is the cause of all misery, and so to be detached is to be happy.

Does this mean we should have no preferences? Should we not want to achieve more? Should we not desire and seek out the good things in life? I think it would be absurd to say that we should have no preference between different experiences and conditions, but a distinction needs to be made between preference and attachment.

We are surrounded by contrast, and one can choose – and enjoy – different experiences, without being attached to them. To enjoy someone’s company without being clingy, to feel great pleasure when watching the sunset on a cool summer evening without mourning the coming of the night – we can have preferences and make choices about what we experience without craving them.

We are free to choose – and to prefer – some conditions over others. But when our preferences become cravings, then life becomes a struggle to achieve these conditions, and once we have achieved them, we start to worry about losing them.

An analogy might be going for a long walk in the country – there will be various different scenes, and each one can be enjoyed. Perhaps you have some preference for a certain view or a particular spot on the walk, and you might linger in one place for a while, but all of the different parts of the walk can be enjoyed along the way.

Happiness, it seems, is to accept the world as it is, enjoying the journey as we pass through and being appreciative of each stage on the way.

If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth

Trying to change the world in a forceful way is a foolish endeavor. Changing yourself may, in time, change things around you, but to ‘take on’ the world will probably not achieve much. Force may result in change, but it will be temporary and easily reversed. Real change is the result of quiet, patient working with the natural flow of things, just as water can cut a deep valley in a landscape.

Lao Tze, the semi-mythical Taoist sage, is said to have written in the Tao Te Ching, ‘By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning.‘

The only thing you can truly change is yourself. In his book Choice Theory, William Glasser writes that we cannot force anyone to do anything. We are often brought up to think that we can change other people by our own efforts, but this ‘external control psychology’ is deeply misguided and leads to untold pain and misery.

We are responsible for our own happiness, and cannot derive happiness from the outside. Many (perhaps most) people, seem to think that happiness is caused by the outside world – including other people – conforming to certain conditions. People think things like, ‘I’ll be happy when I have my degree,’ or ‘I’ll be content when I’ve got a certain level of income,’ or ‘I’d be happy if my husband/wife/son/brother started behaving better.’ 

But relying on something outside to bring happiness is a mistake. It abdicates responsibility for our happiness and takes away our power. The truth is that we can only change ourselves, our attitudes, our thoughts, and our own level of happiness.

There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head.

If we can change only ourselves and not the world around us, it follows that we can be happier by changing our thoughts. Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman emperor-philosopher, observed this when he wrote ‘Our life is what our thoughts make it,’ and this is a sentiment which has been echoed by countless writers. 

From Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent-Peale to Dale Carnegie, the vital importance of our thoughts in determining our experience of life has been emphasized again and again.

In summary, life should be easy and things can be achieved without a great deal of effort, and we can experience this ease by working with the natural grain of things, and not trying to use force. The way we think about things is the most important factor in our happiness and our achievement.
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