Well. Here’s a great big topic. Finding happiness.
I can hear the snorts. See the eye rolls. Because a whole lot of folks think happiness is something that rumbles into them. A storm that dumps rainbows and unicorn tears on the heads of those born under perfect stars. Or worse: a consequence of status. As if financial security brought happiness. Sheesh. If this was the case, I think all the billionaires in the world would be way friendlier. And not trying to take more and more from those with less and less.
But I digress.
Happiness. Consider for yourself how you feel it. Is it the consequence of situations outside of your control? Or is it some kind of magic that arises when the state of your mind allows it? And if your happiness was the result of external circumstances, how long did it last? Was it fleeting? Maybe just a moment of pleasure that you confused for happiness? (Which is not to say that pleasure can’t complement happiness… it can!) And if it came from within, can you access that feeling again? Like, right now?
This is sort of how you cultivate happiness. (Though there are a lot of things you can do to help you do this. Like yoga! Call me!) No matter what, however, it must be cultivated. It doesn’t just find you. You may have friends who seem unrealistically lucky; you may know people who don’t seem to suffer quite as much as you. But look carefully before you make your assessment. Are you friends actually so lucky, or do they do something to create their good fortune? Do you truly believe they’ve failed to suffer in their lives?
We have the seeds of happiness within. And all the factors to allow them to grow. But we have to do a little work to get the sprouts sprouting. It’s sort of like seeing a beautiful plot of land alongside a river in a valley of sunshine and realizing no one’s planted a veggie garden. It’s just going to take the decision to become a gardener.
Take a moment. Look inside. And source that deep love and gratitude that occasionally overwhelms you. That’s where your seeds hunker down, waiting.
In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali writes about the arising of negative emotions. ‘When harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate their opposite.’ You can find this at chapter 2, sutra 33. And this, in a nutshell, is how happiness is created. When we indulge again and again in negative emotions as they arise, we cast a spell over ourselves. We come to believe that we have no control over them. We victimize ourselves with them. We say things like, ‘there’s nothing I can do.’
This kind of magic isn’t the kind that serves our best selves. So why do we bother with it? Because, somehow, we’ve been convinced that we can’t do anything to change. Despite the fact that change is always happening. Every moment.
Happiness attends the liberating realization that you can shape the change happening in you. This is also an important teaching of yoga. With the wise decisions that come from careful self-study—svadhyaya—we can influence the direction of change in our life. We can never stop change; we can shape the course it takes.
Consider the amount of time we spend cultivating things—relationships, careers, homes, gardens. This is a way that we shape the course of our lives. We don’t expect these things to manifest for us without a degree of effort. Positive emotions and the happiness that blossoms as a result of our practice with them requires the same effort.
The next time you find yourself stewing in a sludge of yucky blahs, take control of your mind. Remind it that you’ve got seeds somewhere in there and you’d like to water them a bit. Then shine some light on them. Think a happy thought. Turn your frown upside down. And keep doing that. Again and again. Forever.
Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tanninirodhah. With practice and detachment, your mind will calm. It may take a while. But so did saving for your home, your graduate degree and all those other things you hoped would make you happy. And didn’t quite hit the mark.