We all try to be happy every day. But what actually works?
One thing that always makes me happy quickly is a really good piece of chocolate cake. Imagine it. You sit down at a quiet table. At this moment you may have any number of worried thoughts that you just can’t seem to get out of your mind. Unpleasant anxiousness about unfinished tasks or problems that can’t be solved hang over you. But then a waiter brings you the enormous piece of chocolate cake. It’s the thick kind with layer upon layer of cake and icing and chocolate sauce drizzled on top. From the moment of the first sweet taste the thoughts and uncomfortable emotions instantly disappear. The strength of this pleasurable experience pulls you away from anything that you were hanging on to before. However, only moments later you find yourself in the car driving home, and all your worries return along with additional worries about all the calories you just consumed.
If you really start to think about how to be happy you have to quickly toss out the temporary happiness these chocolate cake experiences. They really don’t solve the problem of the general malaise and overall depressed or anxious feelings we have. In fact after the temporary high is over we often feel worse. The same effect occurs with slightly longer results when we get a promotion, buy the newest gadget, or finally lose weight. So many things that we think will make us happy turn out in the long run to be just another chocolate cake experience. They give us a brief high and then afterward return you to the state you were in prior to the cake being served. So here is a twofold principle about how happiness works.
Any enduring happiness must:
1) Happen in the present, the current moment, the now
2) Come from your internal experience
Number 1 is best explained by this Tic Nac Han quote. “Peace can exist only in the present moment. It is ridiculous to say ‘Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace.’ What is ‘this’? A diploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt? If you think that way, peace will never come.”
Number 2 refers to “internal experience.” By this I mean your own internal thoughts and emotions which constantly stream though your mind and body. The opposite of these would be any external experience. We talk about these all the time. I will happy when I lose 20 pounds, get the job I want, finish school, get a new house, meet my soul mate and get married, or purchase a certain product. All of these ultimately work about as well as the chocolate cake.
Our confusion about getting happiness from external experiences is understandable. We are bombarded with messages about how external things will make us happy every day. Also, they do work …for a while. Sometimes the high lasts for moments and sometimes for months. But sooner or later we get used to the new thing and we have to chase again.
In addition, we almost never talk about current or internal experiences. Once we start to explore and pay attention to our internal, present experience there is a struggle to describe what we find. We simple lack the language to talk about. This is one thing I hope we can develop here in our discussion.
photo credit: Leslie Kalohi / nevercoolinschool.com