Would you agree that finding happiness is one of the noble goals in life? Happiness is what many seek, yet it appears to be quite elusive. When you look in the West, and go beyond the surface, it seems that our lifestyle, despite giving us a lot of comfort and material possessions, misses the point of producing happiness. At least, it’s been my observation. There was a time when I’ve travelled to many countries in the Far East. To my utter surprise, I’ve seen people looking very happy in countries where poverty was the norm. They had little, but they didn’t seem to care. Their smiles were radiant. There was a quality in their aliveness that I had never seen in Europe or America. Since then, I knew that I would have to look in a different direction than what I had been brought up believing, if I wanted to find my happiness.
You can read a lot about happiness, but it won’t get you any closer to it… I think it’s because there is something fundamental to understand. Happiness is a subjective experience, a state of being, a specific vibration of consciousness and, as such, is always available. You do not become happy, you are happy. French philosopher Voltaire (1694–1778) had this wonderful quote:
“J’ai décidé d’être heureux parce que c’est bon pour la santé.”
Translation: “I’ve decided to be happy because it’s good for my health.”
He touched onto something profound. What does that quote mean? It means that being happy is a matter of choice. It’s a personal decision! You see, in any moment of your life (past, present of future), happiness exists. And the only reason why you can’t see it is because your consciousness is focused on the wrong things. That driver that cut your lane this morning, that bill you’ve got to pay tonight, the shopping you need to do tomorrow before the shop closes, and that pay rise you need to negotiate next week that you’ve been waiting for since last year… All those thoughts jammed your perception of happiness: your mind is cluttered with far too many negative thoughts to even begin to perceive any happiness at all.
Energy follows the direction of our attention. When life become a series of to-dos, constraints and deadlines then no wonder that happiness will elude us. We put our energy on the things that won’t make us happy. Oh, sure, modern life comes with its share of responsibilities, paperwork and planning, but it doesn’t mean we need to put so much of our energy into it! The secret of happiness is to focus on the positive. When we focus on the positive, we capsize the logic of the ego mind that tends to bring up all the things that can threaten us. Don’t blame the ego, it’s its job to keep you alive and alert in case of danger. Now, there’s also desire that can act against our own happiness. Desire is a powerful drive and can transform our existence for the better—or the worse. Desire is not inherently bad, but it’s well-known to create suffering. That’s because human desire is endless and with an immature ego in the driver seat, desire will create unhappiness. How is that possible? A typical example: the ego can crave something without realising that it’s already been fulfilled before, and live in a perpetual loop. Desire is fleeting in nature, and as soon as the thirst for one desire is quenched, the ego will then focus onto another. It does not stop. Only the one who lives with awareness can unmask the tricks of the ego going after yet another desire. Some desires are healthy and bring higher levels of happiness when fulfilled, yet others make us less happy than we were. The craving is the problem, not being able to let go. If you can’t see it in yourself, observe the people you know best. Can’t you see some are chasing the same thing, over and over again, without realising it does not bring them happiness? For some, it’s about the latest fashion clothes, for others the best car, and for others still it’s the house they live in. The craving for yet another possession is generally not conducive to happiness.
Another reason why many people fail to see those patterns in themselves is because of the time dimension. Time obfuscates many things and only a higher level of consciousness can pierce through it. In fact, a great deal of secrets are buried in time, hidden in the vastness of our memory bank. The answer to many of our questions is hidden in time, not space. So, the key to introspection lies in the mastery of time. That’s why practices like journaling are priceless. There were times in your life before today where you’ve been through the same cravings, the same patterns of thinking and yet you may be completely unaware of it! If you can raise your awareness and see for yourself, you may realise that you current desire is futile: because you’ve already been there and the outcome did not make you happier—in fact it may have made you miserable. Ignorance is the problem, not desire. Once we realise some of our desires are sterile, generally after we’ve suffered the consequences of bad choices, we cannot indulge in them light-heartedly. Sometimes, the price to pay for fulfilling a desire was too high for one to ever forget. It’s called personal growth.
And do you know what’s difficult—yet essential—to realise about your life, once you’ve reached a certain age ? It’s to recognise that many of the things you once desired, you got them! You only need to look far enough. That job you wanted 10 years ago, that exotic holiday you dreamed of as a teenager, that gorgeous house by the seaside you craved for years… They all came your way, yet that realisation is diluted in time. Again, gratefulness is the practice that brings that back into your awareness today. Many of your past desires have already been fulfilled, and for many they did not participate, strictly speaking, in making you happier. Once you’ve got what you once desired, you forget about it. Because you’ve already moved onto the next desire. If you can catch that tendency in yourself, it will boost your self-realisation journey.
The time will finally come when you realise that desire was a decoy thrown by your ego to keep you busy… There are certain states of consciousness where the bliss is so profound that you can’t even desire for anything else than being what you are and as you are in the now. If you ever experience such a state, you will never be the same again. In those states, desire is dissolved because the ego itself is dissolved. There’s nothing to desire; in fact, there’s not even a thing you want to think about. You are complete. You just are.
So, beware about pursuing your desire of the day, because you may not be doing yourself a favour. You could use your energy instead to work on things that make you happy. But there’s a problem. Most people are quite terrible at choosing what life decisions will make them truly happy, so I’d suggest to forget about the big things. Think small, think about the daily things. Happiness and pleasure are in the small and simple things. Spending time with loved ones, taking a sea bath at sunrise in summer, hugging your cat in the middle of the night, driving to that spot you love going to, hiking that hill that you’ve known since you were a kid. Who said that happiness resides in the big and fancy possessions or experiences? That’s probably what those people in the so-called third-world country I visited all these years ago knew. They did not fall for the fallacy of consumerism, private property and excess of all kinds. They had very little so they were not looking for happiness in their possessions. That, paradoxically, is why they allowed themselves to be happy!
I suggest you use your willpower to make space for those moments that make you truly happy. You will know what they are: time seems to disappear, you are in a flow state, you feel energised and uplifted afterwards. It could be doing your art, spending time with your partner, traveling, gardening or anything you choose to do for the sheer enjoyment of it. Give yourself permission to do those things that make your heart expand as often as you can, and every day if possible. You can’t overdose on happiness. And it doesn’t last anyway. Life will happen, things will come on your way and disturb your happiness, like a pebble thrown onto a pond. But you can get back to those happy moments if you choose to—i.e. let the waves pass and be the still water again. You only need to desire it, and it will happen. At first it may be difficult, but then you’ll build the habit; a dramatically healthy and empowering habit. Above all, do not underestimate your willpower, because that force is what animates the universe itself.