Happiness-- what is it?
So this is going to sound a bit silly, but I am actually serious about the question. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about my life and myself and the way I go about things that seem to be based (at least partially) on how I was raised.
My life has been fairly chaotic, fairly unstable (for the most part) and fairly insecure. From a young age we moved a lot, I was the new kid in school on a yearly/biyearly basis and my mother's relationship with my dad and stepdad(s) were problematic. My mom was very loving, so I had a securely bonded relationship with her, but the rest of my life was crazy.
We sometimes moved with a day's notice, I had issues making new friends (between having to start over so much and being very shy and introverted), I could never really get attached to too much because it might be gone at any second. This past year I moved to the house I'm in now, which was the 40th move in my 40 years. :eek:
What I'm seeing lately is that I have created this part of me that believes (believed) that if I could just improve myself enough, become a good enough person, be a good enough partner-- that I'd somehow find happiness and security and safety. I'm starting to try and see that behavior and knock it off because honestly I'm just so tired of trying to fix myself and things and make things work. :rolleyes:
But... in doing this thinking I have been thinking about what I want in life, what I need-- what is realistic-- and I realized that I don't even really know what "happiness" looks like. What is it really? Maybe there really is no such thing. Maybe there are just happy moments, sad moments, angry moments, fearful moments-- you know, life?
A lot of the shit I read talks about mindfulness-- which I think is awesome but I suck at it. But trying to get to some imaginary future where everything is smooth is not realistic, and having that goal for so long I think has kept me from accepting how things are right now.
Things right now might not be perfect. I have sad moments, I have angry moments, but there are also happy moments. Maybe that's all I can really ask for.
In the entire history of human lives no one has ever been happy in the future or in the past. All happiness has occurred in the present.
Still, it is possible to cultivate future happiness. That is, one can live one's present moments in such a way as to increase one's happiness in "future" moments (which will be present moments when they are happening).
But first, what is happiness? I think happiness is pleasure. That is, the state of heightened (or at least acceptable) well-being which people call "happy" is a pleasurable state. A state of pleasure. Joy is also pleasure. Ecstasy and bliss are pleasure. Unhappiness is displeasure--which is often simply insufficient pleasure.
Pleasure is a bodily experience, so if you want more pleasure, and thus more happiness, take really good care of your/the body. Nurture it with good nutrition, excercise regularly, don't over-consume caffein or alcohol (or other drugs). Stretch regularly or do yoga.... And yes, practice mindfulness of the body. Notice in a mindful way (Google it if you're clueless, folks) what sensations are present, including emotional sensations -- which are all bodily sensations. And notice the associated thoughts, mindfully. In due time the body itself will teach you how to be more and more happy in the present--if you commit to that as a journey and practice. (One can no more learn this without commitment than one could learn Olympic level diving or ice scating without commitment and practice.)
Chronic unhappiness, like enduring happiness, is learned activity supported by a skill set (or unskillfulness). Skills are developed with practice.
Notice that some parts of your body are "happy" while others are not, sometimes. Some parts are contracted and tight; others are loose and open and ... well, happy (pleasurable). Notice that the tight and unhappy places are attempting to deliver messages to your conscious self/mind. Ask these places, as you would ask a dear friend whom you love and to whom you are compassionate, "Darling, why so unhappy?" and be prepared to listen. And be prepared to take much time to learn what your whole body is trying to say to you about how to be happier.
Sad and angry (etc.) moments come and go, but it is possible to welcome these within a growing internal field of happiness. And as this happens the sad and angry (lonely and shame-filled..., etc.) energies are transformed. They blow over more quickly in the welcoming of more and more everchanging moments. We get unstuck. Old patterns break up and dissolve, revealing ever new experiences and awarenesses.
Since ancient times myriad philosophers, psychologists and spiritual teachers/guides have
warned against the notion that happiness is pleasure, and most of them have good points, but they aren't arguing against what I'm arguing for. They generally argue along lines which abstract from bodily sensation in the present. So they'll say "Seeking after pleasure won't make one happy". This has a valid truth in it. One seeks happiness because one has not got it, and so long as one is seeking one is sort of "elsewhere," and thus not present and thus not happy (because all happiness is in the present). They will also say that one can, say, have lots of passionate sex and eat really delicious foods, etc., and still be quite unhappy. This can be due to an addictive kind of attachment to these pleasures which transform pleasure into displeasure. Dope fiends are rarely happy for long!
A basically happy person doesn't depend on a certain defined and narrow set of experiences in order to have the pleasure of enduring happiness. Rather, the basically happy person takes pleasure wherever it is available, which it usually is -- provided the skills of--and commitment to--happiness are present.
Crucially, the basically happy person has generally learned how not to make him/her
-self unhappy, and chosen to do so with commitment and gentle determination. This is done by making a study of one's habits of making one's self unhappy. When we see (and eventually see through) our happiness-killing habits, without identifying with these, they naturally fall away all on their own.
When we treat ourselves with kindness, compassion, friendliness, tenderness, self-loving..., we're always with a dear friend who provides us with what we really need. And from this place of happiness we have so much more to give to others, which arises naturally from this state.
For a convincing description of happiness as pleasure, see:
A warm puppy.
Seriously, some of the best times in my life have centered on my dogs. Probably because dogs are almost always in the now.
I'm also trying to be more mindful and present. I find this almost impossible. I take comfort in the fact that the Buddha and other spiritual geniuses also found this extremely hard.
Is it extremely hard (difficult)?
I'd say Yes and No. (How Zen is that?!)
It is extremely difficult to be in mindfulness about everything all of the time.
Yet it is very easy to be aware of some things pretty continuously. Example: breathing. One can be aware of one's breathing without losing track of one's awareness of breathing fairly readily, especially with a little practice. Even when thoughts arise in sitting meditation on mindfulness on breathing, one can simply notice that this is so and still maintain awareness of breathing.
The hard part is often treating our arising thoughts, habits of perception and reaction, etc., with metta (lovingkindness), which is a part of mindfulness practice as many teach it. Some will insist that the metta part is absolutely crucial. And that's difficult to practice ... usually because most of us are really pretty hard on ourselves--which is to say, unkind toward ourselves. We are habitually harsh on ourselves. (And some of the harshest toward themselves will deny this completely!, saying they're not yet hard enough on themselves!)
Early on, I thought of mindfulness practice as a practice of neutral noticing of the arising sensations, thoughts, habits, etc. But some of the best teachers (I'll name them if asked) insist that we bring metta to ourselves in our mindfulness practices, rather than neutrality -- probably because they know and understand their audience--, a bunch of neurotics!:D:p:eek:
I think the key to finding happiness is becoming a happy person. Consider Anne Frank, who was able to find joy in life while hiding from the Nazis. Consider rich people who hate their lives. You can be joyful or sorrowful no matter what your circumstances are, so it's not about finding the right relationship or the right house or the right job. Happiness isn't a goal that you reach when you finally hit the jackpot, because any shiny new thing will lose its sheen in time. Happiness has to be a quality you carry with you and a way you live your life.
So, how to become a happy person? Well, I could give you lots of self-help type advice about journaling, yoga, etcetc, but I'm not really an expert on any of that stuff and I'm sure you could find out more about it from others.
I think that knowing yourself is of great importance to this whole question. Once you know enough about yourself to know what makes you sing and what doesn't, you can figure out how to build fulfillment into your life. Working on challenging and fulfilling things will absorb you and grow you and show you where your joy lies. You'll find yourself shedding the things that don't enhance your life because you simply need to make room for the positive stuff you've brought in. Example, if you take up woodworking as a hobby and fall in love with it you may find you no longer have time for soap operas, even if you once thought watching soaps made you happy... if you're actively working towards enriching yourself the best activities will float to the top and the others will sink.
Ultimately, some people just have a baseline. They're naturally optimistic or naturally cantankerous and might not ever change. But a naturally optimistic person can live a surprisingly unhappy life even though they have a more "happy" outlook if they don't assess their life realistically and find ways to be challenged and productive. And a naturally cantankerous person can have a surprisingly fulfilling and satisfying life if they work on things they love, even if they may not seem like they're "happy" most of the time to the casual observer.
That's my take on it.
some of your early story has some similarities to my wife's history. During our couples therapy sessions it was suggested that the early chaos had become such a pattern that it became the norm ....or baseline. Calm and smooth feels funny ...unnatural...boring, etc... At the time they were going to work on that in private....we never had anymore joint sessions so I don't know the out come of that work.
The different emotional sides of these moments provide the contrast and a compass direction ....move toward happiness.
Do the choices you make have a high probability for happiness. That's all you can do.
My sister likes being the victim...or something ...she seems to always make the worst possible choice or decision....I can't tell how many times I've ask "what were you thinking" actually I think in most cases I added a " fuck" in there as well ... but we're a pretty direct family.
Good luck I hope you find what you need to be happy. D
Interesting. It's not like I find calm boring, I actually LIKE calm, but I don't trust it. :eek:
I think more what I want in my life is just calm and contentment in general life stuff. The rest-- the happy and sad and angry moments are always going to be there, but I'd like the underlying part of my life to be content.
I really do know that a lot of that is up to me-- in that I need to be content with MYSELF first. And I never have had that. I've faked it a lot-- but it never translated into ACTUAL contentment so it would always fall apart at some point.
So I guess that's where my efforts need to be for now...
So when things are goes smooth are you looking over your head to see when the anvil will drop? The universe will always provide you with the anvil...that your looking for.
I'm curious ...how did you fake contentment?
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