The ‘Secret’ to Happiness

Have you ever found yourself saying “I just want to be happy” as if it were some elusive objective you were always in search of? Happiness is the pinnacle of the good life; the ultimate destination in the minds of those who feel that ultimate satisfaction and bliss are just out of reach. Books have been written about it and seminars have been given all in the name of happiness. And there are lots of people willing to shell out hard earned money and time to find it. 

Most never do and those who think they are probably just fooling themselves. 

Woah! Before you accuse me of being a Debbie Downer, hear me out. (or read me out, since this is a blog post).

Real happiness, and the feeling we associate with happiness, comes and goes. It would be insane to desire a life of constant elation. After all, if everything went great and you experienced total joy every single minute, what would you have to contrast that joy with enabling you to really be grateful for it? Your joy would be meaningless.

No one is immune to sadness, anxiety, worry and suffering. At some point, we all encounter these crushing emotions. What’s most important is maintaining the knowledge that these, like their polar opposite feelings of joy, will come and go.

The sailor knows that still waters and fair breezes can become raging seas. We weather these changing conditions by becoming buoyant; by floating on life’s current and not becoming victims of our own desire to resist. If we survive the storm – which we will – we can expect the calm respite to follow. 

Ironically, chasing happiness may be the one thing keeping you from it. Instead of pursuing it, let it be. Keep your calm, your focus and your center. Inhabit the moment and allow the tide to roll in….and out.

The secret to happiness is that there is no secret.

It’s not WHO you are…

The ego requires that we conceptualize the person we are; the totality of what constitutes ourselves. We embark on these strenuous adventures of self-discovery in some attempt to awaken to our selves. And often these journeys are fruitless, reveal something we don’t like or only last a short time. Soon, we become disillusioned and either give up the search or begin again.

I often tell people that I am not the person I was when I was 20. This is true. Truer still, I’m not the person I was last week. We are dynamic beings, constantly changing. We respond to external stimulus and internal reality. Our ideas and concepts shift. Our tastes and interests may vary broadly, as they should. We are not static but in motion. When we stop moving and evolving, this existence loses all meaning. We experience a kind of subconscious death.

As I have pondered this, it has occurred to me that, instead of who we are, what really matters is that we are; that we exist in the first place.

Nothing would exist without our innate ability to conceive of reality and existence. There would be no need to self-conceptualize if we were not materialized. So, imagine if we stopped concerning ourselves so much with whether or not we have purpose to realize and instead acknowledge that simply being is the only real purpose we can think of. Consider: without being, no purpose would matter. Gone would be the need to measure up to others or ourselves. We would only be concerned with existing and the kind of comfort or purpose we derived from our lives would be as a direct result of what we need to secure that purpose.

Could it be that self actualization is the real delusion?

The Power of Doing Nothing

We’ve all heard the phrase from Star Trek: resistance is futile. Little may we know that this quote could be the key to our ultimate happiness. Resistance against something that can be moved by your resistant force is one thing. You resist a closed door by applying force to open it. But it’s completely different when we begin to resist things that can’t be changed. Then we discover the problem.

If you push against a brick wall with your bare hands, the wall probably won’t fall or even budge a tiny bit. What’s most likely to happen is that you’ll end up with sore hands, aching back and exhausted. What had been accomplished? Nothing.

When we resist things we cannot change, the only thing that happens is that we hurt ourselves more. Because aspects of existence cannot be altered; it is what it is. I realize this sounds like giving up, but it’s far, far from it. The ability to accept and surrender to what is requires of us a supreme amount of strength. The difference between acceptance and ambivalence is that coming to terms with that which we cannot change means coming to terms with ourselves and the limits to the amount of struggle and suffering we will allow ourselves to experience.

And acceptance also involves removing ourselves from potentially harmful or actually harmful situations or from toxic people and relationships. The opposite would be to resist them by remaining subject to their toxicity by thinking we can affect change in them when we can’t.

The misconception of strength is that strength is often associated with doing something. Imagine if we truly embraced the power of doing nothing. It is a different kind of strength; the kind that keeps us upright and stable as the storms rage around us. It is the strength of remaining silent when our ego is threatened and we desire to express the thoughts that will only create more pain within us – the words that accomplish nothing.

Qualifying Gratitude

A popular archetype in western culture is that of the poor little rich kid – someone who was raised in such abundant wealth and opulence that we actually pity their existence since their concept of reality is so stunted that they’ll never grasp what it is to face life as a regular person. The PLRK creates crises out of seemingly insignificant and trivial things because they’ve never had to face actual problems and their idea of difficulty is skewed.

You don’t have to descend from moneyed elites to have elements of this personality. Today, perhaps more than ever, our problems are quite insignificant. Our grandparents and great-grandparents faced down actual existential threats like famines, wars and pestilence. We complain when the next version of our favorite mobile device isn’t available and we have to drive 10 extra miles to the only shop that has one.  Or moan about having to sit in the middle seat on a flight from Miami to New York when the same trip would’ve taken our grandparents days to make. 

Gratitude can change your life, but not just being grateful on its own. After all, someone who is used to luxury might have a much higher standard of gratitude than you or I. The kind of gratitude that makes life beautiful is the kind that is based on recognizing the basic abundance inherent in our lives. Things like having friends, being healthy, having a roof over our heads, being able to live in relative safety, etc. These are the things that go completely unnoticed by some, or even most, people. And yet they are powerful examples of things for which we can be thankful on a daily basis. 

Expressing gratitude for what we have or openly toward others is a kind of exercise in taking note. Literally, some people take notes in gratitude journals of five (or more) things each day that made their life worth living. What’s interesting is that, when you get past the initial stuff, you’re left with the simple things that are so seemingly insignificant that they would otherwise go unrecorded. Pro Tip: these are things things that actually matter.

When you grow aware of the simple things in life and how extraordinarily blessed you are by them, it becomes more and more obvious that we never really had to endure and emerge from abject suffering in order to be thankful. And when you become aware of those things for which to be grateful, your life takes on a blessed state; you begin to open your heart to the nature of natural and effortless abundance.

Wish Them Well, but Back Away

There’s a common misconception when it comes to compassion that we should tolerate toxic people; that, in order to truly embody the spirit of love and peace, we must put up with others when they bring us down. Well, there’s no rule stating that we must continually subject ourselves to difficult people.

At the crux of my point are two words: acceptance and tolerance

To tolerate someone means that you’ve decided to condone their behavior even though it’s something you might not like. We tolerate things instead of actively resisting them, usually because it’s too hard or too futile to do so. Furthermore, tolerating can almost mean willfully exposing ourselves to the way they treat us because we’ve made ourselves immune. (even though we’re never really immune) 

On the other hand, to accept means that we fully acknowledge and embrace that the person is the way they are or that something is the way it is. Acceptance is finality; it’s saying “this is what this is.” Not only can acceptance be more spiritually liberating, but it releases us from the side-effects of whatever it is or involving our own ego and bias into the equation and thereby becoming inseparable from the chaos it contains. 

Acceptance can mean we either ignore or move away. The point I’m making here, now, is that it’s sometimes best to get as much distance as possible from those who challenge and destabilize our joy.

“But the compassionate thing to do is to show them love,” you suggest. I couldn’t agree more. But what kind of love do we show negative or toxic people? The same kind of love we show others, but sometimes a love that comes with a condition. That is, “I wish you well, I send you love, I accept how you are without judgment, but I need some distance to isolate myself from your toxicity and, in so doing, avoid creating another toxic person in the process.”

If you feel as though you have a responsibility to deal with a difficult or toxic person, the may not be the case. Certainly there are exceptions when it comes to people in our care or those whose lives depends on us. But there’s no reason to continually expose ourselves to the bitterness and pain that comes from dealing with those we don’t absolutely have to deal with.

Accept and move on. Send love…but back away. Sharing love and compassion doesn’t necessarily involve an intimate experience and we certainly do our part by extending love from the distance, in a cosmic sense, to all people and beings, despite their toxicity. 

Veganism and the Desire to Live

I’ve been a vegan since 2007. And even before that, I’d attempted to go vegan on several occasions. There was something about my final decision that stuck; a kind of resolution that solicited this decision for me. Maybe one of the greatest personal decisions of my lifetime. 

I have the unique history of having grown up around cattle. My grandfather was a rancher with a few hundred head. Every so often, he’d select a trailer load to take to market. He’d auction them off and, others, he’d have slaughtered for distribution to the family. We’d gather at the ranch early in the morning, when the long Bahia grass was saturated with dew and I’d watch through the truck windows as my dad and grandfather and others would corral the day’s delivery.

The corral is essentially a kind of trap with ranchers using it to maneuver cattle through tiny chutes until the only way to go was onto the trailer by a ramp. I can remember as clear as I stand here today the distressed moans of cattle. The confusion and chaos. The fear I saw when they’d push their heads through the grating. 

For a humane individual to consume meat, there has to be a disconnect. One cannot condone the entire process with a clear conscience because, as it was apparent to me on those frosty mornings, cattle desperately wanted to live and we were deriving them of that opportunity. Critics may say that a cow has no philosophical or intellectual ability to understand what it means to be alive or the kind of Cartesian insight one would need in order to qualify life as a process of thought. But what an extraordinarily high bar to set as an excuse for killing another living being. Those who argue that sentience is the basis by which we would judge the quality of life of an animal would say that merely feeling and the associated instincts would be enough to spare a life. And I would agree wholeheartedly.

Pigs, cattle, chickens, etc, want to live. On a very primal level they avoid situations where they may be trapped because it will lead to their death. Cattle are acutely aware of their surroundings and can sense danger. Pigs have the intelligence of dogs (or even more intelligent some would suggest) and chickens, well, have you chased a chicken around the yard with a knife? Good luck.

The empathy it takes to spare the lives of animals springs from seeing the commonality between us and them. We avoid danger at all cost and we seek to protect ourselves and the ones we love. And we hope that our efforts to do so will be successful should a situation arise. Shouldn’t we then afford the same consideration to animals? Shouldn’t we then allow them that same right to live and assist in their desire to do so.

The Heart of Peace

We all would like a little more peace in our lives, but how do we cultivate it? Do we say nice things? Do we smile at strangers more? Do we forgive people? Do we wear a peace sign around our neck to remind us every time we feel it tugging that we want to be more peaceful? Do we stare at a statue of the Buddha or listen to a CD of a babbling brook?

There are many paths to peace and, likewise, many definitions of what peace is. But for me, what lies at the very heart of peace is one thing: simplicity. And, the good news is…simplicity is available right here, right now.

Through simple living, we allow ourselves to slow down. And when we put the brakes on this frenetic pace of living, we are able to foster gratitude and and compassion. Gratitude for everything that we have; the simple abundance of blue sky, the songs of birds, breath in our lungs and the awareness that enables us to see and be with everything that is. Compassion to consciously embrace that every living this is as entitled to love and we are and that when we allow other things to be known and loved, love blossoms within us.

In our materialistic culture, the name of the game is accumulation. Get, get, get. More, more, more. This competition to acquire and be something to be known for what we have and how important we think we are. All the while, we’re building an ever expanding shell of a life around a profound hollowness and the larger that she’ll grows, the more britttle it becomes and the more work it takes to keep it intact. 

When we allow ourselves to humble and graceful, all of life flows to us authentically. We are imbued by realness. Our smiles, our laughter. Our sadness and our pain. Our sensuality. Our gratitude. Everything we are is intended to be experienced as it arises. No ulterior motive and no affectation. 

When we are committed to living simply, we begin to realize that it was never a challenge in the first place. The struggle was trying to be inauthentic. And that is where and when the fountain of peace begins to flow and spring forth within us.