Lately I have been reflecting on this theme of “individual happiness” and how it relates to “other people’s happiness.”
We all want to be happy (and healthy). Just look at any bookstore and you’ll see shelves of books about happiness. There is an inner ache, a longing, for a sustained type of happiness.
When asked the purpose to life, even Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, said, “to be happy.”
The question becomes, how can we be happy?
Do we “get happy” by being so focused on self?
I sense an over-abundance of focusing on ourselves in this culture– in the ways that don’t offer a sustained sense of contentment, that take us back into ourselves, so we fold in on ourselves, and our world becomes all about making ME happy.
I’m not talking about denying our needs. But I see how our culture defines happiness as getting what we want when we want it. It bases happiness on the events of our day. It’s about how others act or don’t act. And most importantly, it’s defined as a feeling.
That kind of happiness is always fleeting. It inevitably eludes us.
I get caught up in defining happiness like this. (I often wonder how Buddha would’ve acted if he was a parent! I wonder how Jesus would’ve handled trying to perform the miracle of getting food on the table while holding a crying infant, with a toddler pouring a mound of parmasan cheese on his pasta – and floor, and chair and shirt, a pot boiling over….you get the idea! Surely they would’ve lost it, occasionally.)
But what if we define happiness as a choice rather than a feeling?
a dose of compassion
What if we can accept the presence of whatever shows up – grief, sadness, confusion, boredom, excitement, joy – and allow it to rise into our consciousness, experiencing it fully, allowing it to be, noticing the shifts happening within us without any efforting, and then seeing it move through us to transform the lives around us?
The times, the moments, that this happens, I find myself resting in a sense of peace and contentment. And I find that this sense of contentment organically flows out of me and is offered to those around me (I can laugh at the cheese on the ground and stop to hold little C. instead of rushing to make dinner).
Instead of clinging to, getting caught up in, denying, or pushing away any emotion or thought, if we allow it all to rise and fall on its own, a sustained sense of contentment rises from within us…even just for a moment! AND THEN WE MOVE OUT OF OURSELVES and into the world. What just nourished and sustained us – again, even for a moment – becomes offered and shared with others.
True happiness is a decision, an ability, a skill, and a choice. It is not a feeling. It is not something that happens to us. And it is not something outside of our reach.
It is a decision we make within ourselves to align our actions, thoughts, plans, and words with our true nature. It is an ability we cultivate and skill we hone the more and more we make such a decision.
True happiness is choosing Love, it is choosing compassion – one little decision at a time, one word at a time, one action at a time, one breath at a time, one moment at a time.
When asked how to be happy, the Dalai Lama said, “if you want to be happy, have compassion. If you want others to be happy, have compassion.”
The answer to happiness: compassion.
Choose compassion. When we are frustrated or things aren’t going our way – pause. Take a breath. Let’s give ourselves a dose of kindness. Let’s practice gentleness. A happiness will rise from within us that empowers us, holds us, sustains us, centers us.
As we embrace and are transformed by such a happiness, what organically arises from within us is the desire to move “outside of ourselves” and into the lives of others. As we listen to and act from our seat of compassion by tending to ourselves, a sweetness and lightness softens and fills our hearts. With a full heart, the heart reaches out to share such sweetness. It is as though it cannot and will not be contained within our own selves. It flows out of us as an offering to others.
True happiness – we drink it in and we then share it with others. There is no other way. Self-compassion transforms us, taking us out of our myopic ways of searching for individual happiness. It sustains us. It then flows through us – our smile, hands, tender words – as gift of compassion to others. Just by our presence! I do believe that this is how we transform our planet.