We all seek happiness. In all our activities there is this underlying drive that appears as a belief or thought that what we are doing will make us happy. In the really bad times, we are still driven to act out in ways that we hope will eventually lead to happiness. And when we are really down, we feel if we can get just a glimmer of happiness then we feel there is hope. However deep within us we know and realise it is just little a fleeting bubble, soon to burst and vanish into thin air. So why do we chase it so?
This innate drive in us for happiness is what I want to talk briefly about today. Where does it come from? Why do we seek it? Why is it our efforts don’t eventuate in it? How can we actually be happy? Asking these questions and answering them can help us come to understand what is really going on and get ourselves on track for a more meaningful life and the cessation of our pain and suffering.
Seeking After Happiness
Typically the happiness we seek is based on achieving or gaining something specific so that we can “finally feel happy”. We all have these thoughts in our heads, “When I get that big screen TV, then I’ll be happy” or “When get that ideal job, then I’ll be happy” or “When I meet the right girlfriend or boyfriend, then I’ll be happy”. This is an attempt to acquire happiness. We feel through getting this or that it results in happiness.
We also attempt to make life or our days “just so” such that when everything is perfect and when our days go this way then we’ll be happy. ”If my kids will just do as I ask for the day, then we’ll all just get along great” or “If everyone at work would just do things the way I want them done, then we’ll all be happy”. Miraculously we feel if everyone just thought and did everything just like we do, then the world would be a better place. We somehow think our view of the world is right and everyone else is wrong and if everyone does it just how we imagine things to be, life will be just perfect. This however will never work.
Happiness Based On Conditions
While there are moments of happiness when we do achieve or acquire these “things”, it really is only short lived and soon afterwards we are seeking something else. There can also be periods in life when things are “just so” and we feel like we have that groove and flow we’ve sought after for so long, but then things change and we lose it.
This is because this type of happiness is based on certain conditions existing for the “happiness” to exist. In this there will never be any sense of lasting happiness because it is based on the existence of these conditions. As soon as the conditions change, the happiness also changes. This type of happiness will never last. It will always change and disappear. Yet this is exactly the type of happiness we seek day in and day out for our entire lives.
The Weariness of the Pursuit
After some time we start to realise this cycle of chasing after happiness is tiring. We grow weary of this pursuit and frustrated that all our efforts are not resulting in any sort of lasting happiness. We start at this point in our lives to look outside the box of our normal endeavours. Most people at some point try meditation but then quickly and incorrectly conclude it doesn’t work. This is because we repeat this same cycle of desire and ”pursuit of happiness” when we approach meditation. ”If I can meditate and find some peace of mind then I’ll be happy”. Once again, we’ve just repeated the same fruitless cycle in the meditation that we’ve done all our lives and then wonder why the meditation didn’t work. This is a misconception about life and meditation. It is important to realise meditation and mindfulness are not about acquiring and hence we cannot gain happiness in this way either. If we stick at the meditation we do start to see that it does work because it is based on a much more profound understanding about how life works and what we are.
The Innate Drive for Happiness
The reason we are compelled and driven to pursue happiness is because this is just the true nature of existence itself just being as it is, and we are this very same nature. In being as it is there is inherent within life, almost as a natural byproduct, an innate sense of joy. When we are out of harmony with this natural presence we experience an internal drive to return back to it. So this drive that we feel towards happiness appears due to our sense of separation from this true nature.
This is really quite different and contrary to the way we normally view the pursuit of happiness. We typically think happiness is something to be gained, to be acquired, but this is actually a very backwards way of interpreting this innate drive.
The Process of Unhappiness
So, the more out of harmony we are with the natural, inherent and latent principles of life the stronger we feel this drive for happiness. This separation is what creates this drive to return to being naturally what is. The more we feel the drive, the more we seek out happiness. However, we incorrectly interpret this drive we feel within us to mean “we have to do something or have something for happiness to return”. We therefore seek out happiness through the acquisition of “things” or though a false attempt to control life to be “just so”. This results in a reinforcement of this incorrect view and so the drive isn’t resolved but actually strengthened. This creates an ongoing struggle for happiness. This struggle for happiness is ironically unhappiness, and it grows stronger the more we struggle. Lasting happiness is not, and never will be, achievable through this struggle.
Ceasing the Struggle
So in approaching our life and meditations we cannot seek out happiness. Happiness is not something to be sought after or gained. A lasting sense of happiness is what is present when we cease struggling with life. This is the ironic part. Instead of trying to acquire happiness, we just have to be mindful and present with life as it is. Happy people are not happy because they try to be, they are happy because they don’t get caught up in the struggle of living. They do not seek after things or try to control things. When we no longer seek after things, a true innate joy is naturally present. This requires us to be present with life in this moment, and this requires that we are simply mindful.
The Self and Happiness
Through our meditations, and in this mindfulness, we can start to to examine the self and how we operate in life. We start to realise the struggle and our sense of self are always bound by the coming and going of conditions. When we are caught in this sense of self we are always acting out based on the conditions we find ourselves in. We attempt to pull in “this” or try to push away “that” in the hope of happiness, even in the very subtle actions. In this way, the pursuit of happiness is something that arises with this sense of self. They are both conditions that mutually support the existence of each other. When self arises so too does the pursuit for happiness and thus unhappiness arises. How remarkable. The very thing that is seeking happiness is actually the source of the unhappiness we are attempting to resolve!
So when attachment to conditions and our sense of self cease a condition-less happiness, a latent joy that is not bound by the comings and goings of things, becomes plainly aware. In this sense the innate joy and happiness are revealed as a natural byproduct of just being with life as it is. It is a lasting happiness that is there for no reason, not bound by any conditions.
By resting into this awareness through mindfulness, the sense of self quietens down along with our constant struggle and thus unhappiness quietens down as well. While life continues to change and flux we are just aware of this constant changing nature and allow it to be. We allow things to come and go as they do without attaching to them and trying to pull them in or push them away. This is equanimity, a presence of awareness that is is not bound or influenced by the changing conditions of life and our sense of self.
Happiness in Isolation
It is important to discuss one last aspect of happiness. One mistake we make is that we each seek our own happiness. We think “I want happiness for me” and we think it is achievable in isolation to everyone else. “I don’t care what they do, but as long as I’m happy”. There is inherent within this however still this sense of separation from the rest of the world. Once again however this separation manifests within us a drive to be happy, and so we seek it. In pursuing our own individual happiness we actually create our own individual unhappiness. How ironic! We must realise that we cannot ultimately be happy within ourselves if we are not also making others happy. Your happiness does not stand alone in the world in isolation to others. We must realise deeply that our happiness is dependent upon and relies upon the happiness of others. Through compassion, kindness and generosity for others, there is peace in our own hearts.
How To Apply This
So being present with life is a very simple action. We feel compelled however to do more complex things thinking that will result in happiness. It is a vicious cycle of never ending suffering, seeking, wanting and manipulating. This restlessness results in weariness. In the centre of all this we all instinctively feel this pursuit of happiness, this drive to be at peace, however we keep interpreting it incorrectly. Life does not ask anything of us at all to be happy, we just have to be mindful and allow this cycle of desiring and attaching to cease.
We need to examine “What am I doing to create unhappiness?” This is a more fruitful question. Thinking within ourselves that we have to do something or have something to be happy is the problem. We have to relax into and surrender ourselves to life and the experiences we have.
So in life, notice what you are seeking after. Notice what you are trying to achieve. Ask yourself “Am I seeking after this XXX in an attempt to be happy?” Typically the answer is always yes otherwise we wouldn’t have bothered to pursue it. We need to be mindful of the outcome “What type of happiness will this be creating?” and “How will I feel if I don’t achieve it or I later lose it?” This will reveal to us our attachments and where our sense of separation from life is. This is not to say we should stop and do nothing, but it makes us more mindful of pursuing unfruitful things and also allows us to stop this constant cycle of suffering we perpetuate in our life.
In meditation, notice also if you are bringing this “seeking happiness” mind into the practice. ”What are you wanting to get out of meditating?” Typically we’ll uncover an underlying desire to meditate in the pursuit of happiness or peace, or as some means of escape. I know this because this is why I initially started meditating many years ago, I wanted peace and I pursued it desperately. We must be mindful that this struggle is what is actually obscuring our innate sense of joy with life. The meditation practice, as much as is it is frustrating, makes this quite apparent for us. It allows us to start to see this cycle of suffering with clarity and that it is our wanting that is the problem. So just be mindful of the irony of our dilemma and the reasons to why we are sitting and be open to allowing this desire to pass as you progress. It is healthy to seek after enlightenment but eventually the meditation allows us to see the seeking in and of itself is what is unenlightening us. The endeavour to uncover this is important and definitely, definitely worthwhile.
Notice also if we are attempting to cultivate certain feelings or states of mind during the meditation “If I can just recreate that nice blissful feeling or calm state of mind then everything will be good”. This again is an attempt to gain or achieve something but we quickly realise this fabricated calm or bliss can only last for so long. It is a temporary happiness based on certain conditions to exist. When we let go this struggle we open ourselves up to a greater sense of lasting happiness that is revealed and not bound by the changing conditions of life or mind.
There is a subtle shift that occurs here. We no longer act or think as a separate individual caught in the world, bound by conditions seeking some temporary happiness for ourselves. Instead we rest into being the awareness itself and being mindful of life as it is. The sense of separation and struggle ceases and we rest into that which is ever-present and condition-less, simply mindful of the changing conditions within life. The mind naturally delights in this awareness of things as they are.