By Indira Grace
“I deserve to be happy.”
That phrase absolutely sends me into physical shudders. As a logophile, there are certain words that contain hints of—or are dripping with—emotion for me; “deserve” is one of those words. Yes, this probably sounds very harsh, and yes, it probably is; and yet, when someone looks me in the face, feeling disempowered, crying, whining out, “but I deserve to be happy,” all I can think is, “Why? What have you done to deserve such a thing?”
Okay, so I may not be the most compassionate person in that moment. In all fairness, I am the youngest of 14 kids and whining was not allowed in my house. Well, it wasn’t allowed for very long.
However, in the spirit of a good Bodhisattva and Buddhist, and a Unity minister-in-training, I decided to sit with this phrase and hash out why I want to do a Three Stooges slap to someone who is whimpering about the unfairness of life.
A close examination of the word “deserve” was imminent. When I see that word, I am reminded of two things: one, the karmic response, to a person who did something bad, such as “he got what he deserved,” and two, the Veruca Salt-ish whining of “but I deserve this!” My limited, and quite judgmental beliefs about the word cannot be all there is. It is time to expand my awareness.
“Deserve” has its roots in a couple different languages. Old French “deservir” meaning, “be worthy of, earn, merit.” Ah. There it is. Earn. I already feel agitated.
“I earned the right to be happy.” That leads me to the question of what did you do to earn the right to be happy? Were you born? Did you sacrifice something important to you? And what do I have to do to earn that right? Sacrificing one thing for something else doesn’t feel like a reward. It feels like needless suffering.
Digging further, the Latin “deservire,” also directly rooted in “deserve” means to “serve well, serve zealously.” Now, that piques my interest, and, quite honestly, feels a little more tranquil to me.
Ram Dass and Krishna Das tell a story about their guru, Neem Karoli Baba. His followers asked how to end their own suffering and the guru answered, “Serve others.” That speaks to me. I always find that when I am low, serving others lifts me. Sometimes it is tough to do when I am deep in my suffering. But, if I stick with it, and allow those feelings to move along, I find that my suffering dissipates and my joy returns.
Buddha taught in Dhammapada, verse 118, “If a man does good, let him do it again and again and let him take delight in it; the accumulation of good causes happiness.” Doing good deeds with a pure mind is a source of happiness. Ah. Wait. What was that? With a pure mind. Aha!
That is the thing. It is the intention behind the action. If I believe that I should sacrifice this time that I could be doing things that I want to be doing so that karma will revisit me with the reward of happiness, I will not experience it. However, if I serve well, serve zealously, because my only care in that moment is to BE of service, then happiness is mine, naturally. True compassion, as Buddha teaches, does not require reciprocity nor confirmation of compassion. It is pure, in and of itself, and its natural reward is peace and happiness within.
So, there it is. Buddha, Indian gurus, and me, Indira Grace, all agree that happiness, true happiness occurs when we are of service to others with pure intention. At the risk of sounding like a TV infomercial, but wait, there’s more!
Believe it or not, Buddha (and me, if that matters at all) also believes that happiness is simply innate in us. If we observe the mindfulness in each thing that we do, happiness is a natural state of existence. Buddha said, in the Dhammapada, verses 1-2:
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows one, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon. All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows one, like a shadow that never leaves.”
In Unity, we say “thoughts held in mind produce after their kind.” If I practice mindfulness and I hold thoughts of purity and joy, happiness follows in my entire being.
So, there you have it. Happiness is not something we deserve. It is a natural state of being, as we express compassion for self and others, as we serve others from a state of mindfulness. It is something that we naturally are. So, if we are feeling that we are deserving of it, we are experiencing an imbalance. We will experience a balance once we return to mindfulness and serve from a place of peace.
I, too, shall return to a state of balance as I recognize that those who once irritated me are simply crying out for balance, and not happiness. As I exercise compassion in place of irritation, I, too, shall return to my natural state of happiness.
Because, after all, don’t I deserve that?
Editor: Dana Gornall
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