By Peter Schaller
Recently, someone very close to me said “I finally realized that I deserve to be happy.”
I understood perfectly what she wanted to say. Like many of us, she has trudged through rough days, and has had her peace compromised by the burdens and the beings of modern life.
It is easy to be affected by negative people, demanding jobs, and a thousand other detriments that often seem to be out of our control. I understood her, but still there was something that she said that didn’t sit quite right with me. So, I took a day to ponder, read, reflect and explore.
After meditating and reading a few thoughts about happiness, it occurred to me that the discrepancy resided in the word “deserve.” According to Merriam-Webster, deserve means “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital.”
Deserving implies, in a not so subtle way, that the world owes us something. If we work hard, play by the rules, and refrain from doing harm to others, then happiness should be our just reward. However, the world was here much before any of us, and will, despite the imminent threat of climate change, be here for much time after we’re gone.
The world doesn’t owe us anything.
We live in a world with great discontent and insatiable desires. For everything that goes wrong or feels improper, there is a pill, a purchase, a gadget or a treat that will provide some temporary relief. There is little incentive in our world to seek true and profound happiness and contentment. If too many people got too happy, nobody would be buying things to chase away their blues. True happiness will never sustain our culture of rampant consumerism.
Instead, happiness is a decision, made in full consciousness. The Dalai Lama has taught us that “happiness is not something readymade. It comes from our actions.” If we strive to integrate the eight fold path into our daily lives (right view, right attitude, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration) then our thoughts, words and acts will lead us to the point of true happiness.
Happiness becomes, not a goal to attain, but the direct result of the discipline of mindful living.
Without question, along the path to true happiness, we have to dump some heavy and useless baggage in the garbage, namely ego and desire. One thing is certain, ego is heavy. If we decide to carry our ego around with us through life, we will always be primarily concerned with our own well being. The Dalai Lama has also taught us that “only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”
We have largely been taught to believe that happiness means putting our own interests first, when in fact, quite the opposite is true.
Pure happiness, the kind that reaches every cell in our bodies, every thought in our minds, every word that rolls off teeth and tongue, will come to us when we dump ego by the roadside and focus on all of the other beings and elements that surround us.
Desire, in turn, is like tying a thick, nylon rope to our ankles before we set off on the path to seek happiness. Desire will never allow us to reach happiness, because happiness requires an absolute contentment with everything, in every moment, just the way it exists- even adversity. Desire, on the other hand, tells us continually that everything is not alright, we need something else that is not in the present moment. It tells us that we need to be attached to things, rather than enjoying our own freedom.
It’s not that happiness is exceedingly complex and unattainable, but it does require work, discipline and concentrated intent. It is a choice we make, day after day, to prioritize love and compassion above all else.
Happiness is right there, for each of us, on this day, in this moment.
Peter Schaller is an artist and activist who lives and works in Nicaragua. He spends most of his time trying to figure out how to reduce his karmic and carbon footprints. He is the author of After the Silence, a collection of poems, essays and photographs, and he can be reached by email or on Facebook.
Photo: Peter Schaller
Editor: Dana Gornall