We all talk about it, we think of it and we all want it—to the extent that we are all seeking it daily and every moment in our lives, but have you paused to ask, or wondered what is this thing called happiness? Why do we need it so much? Why do we crave it? Why do we see it as the ambition of life, as it were?
The problem lies in our understanding of happiness. We understand it instinctively —a child grins, smiles, laughs —or so do we and we connect it to happiness. A brief, passing thought that can bring a smile to our faces, or the company of some friends over drinks constitutes happiness for most of us. Nothing wrong with that. We all want to experience some happiness along the way but we’re often not quite sure what happiness is. Is it the pleasure from a particular experience, being with a particular person or in a particular place? Is it a fleeting feeling we must try and capture as much as we can, and think up way and means to do so? Or is it a deeper, more durable sense that can endure effortlessly within ourselves? Which brings us to the crux of the matter—can we make happiness a permanent fixture in our lives?
We are often so busy running around wanting happiness that we don’t see it right in front of us; it is like dew on the grass, there for a little while but then gone. As soon as you get some happiness, the feeling disappears just as quickly. As soon as you get some pleasure, it too disappears like those droplets of dew, or like chasing a rainbow. This is our usual pleasure-based experience of happiness and we waste a lot of time and energy trying to find it. But relaxed and peaceful long-lasting happiness can certainly be attained; it is quieter than our glimpses of heightened sensory pleasure but still rich and deep.
Happiness is what bonds us together. We all have the equal desire to have happiness and at the same time we don’t want to feel pain or sorrow. And yet this is something we rarely think about or truly understand. By remembering that every single other person wants the same thing, we can begin to understand happiness as something full of compassion and generosity, rather than a selfish search for pleasure, for fulfilling our own desires. As the Buddha said, ‘Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.’
For me, I think happiness comes with appreciation. Happiness comes when we are completely inspired, when we are intimately connected with something that moves us, something that really catches our attention. Wanting to improve our understanding about anything, even in a small way, is very good. Learning makes us happy. For example, I wanted to learn French as I felt I couldn’t communicate with my French students at all well. As I started to learn the language I had a tremendous joy as my understanding improved. As we improve our understanding, we improve our wisdom and we are able to do things more skilfully, to the benefit of others. Remembering this helps you in your motivation. If you can continually be learning from each day to the next with the motivation to give something to others and to the world then happiness will stay by your side.
There are other aspects to the deep happiness we seek. Happiness is in sharing, doing things in accord with others; in silence when nothing needs to be said; in a meditative quality of deep understanding when we are in concord with the world around us. Happiness is the opposite of desire—to the extent that the desire for happiness is also antagonistic to happiness. When you don’t want it, does happiness happen? Happiness is a feeling that arises in you. It is not an object to be sought. It cannot be got. It has to evolve within ourselves. And it rises in each of us like a wave each time we expand our consciousness to absorb the beauty all around us—in nature, in people, in the wonderful relationships we have established.
The author is the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas