“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV ~
For many people the pursuit of happiness is the main focus of their life. This week what happiness is all about has popped up in my radar in a number of ways.
Apparently, according to the Sydney Morning Herald on May 28th this year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says ‘Australia is still the world’s happiest nation’. Their happiness guage is based on the majority having paid work, the national economy side-stepping the worldwide recession, people working fewer hours, the existence of a stronger sense of community, and that most people said they have more positive experiences than negative in an average day.
But is this how to define happiness? Is it all about the economy and what we possess?
According to the Greek philosopher Epicurus external goods such as status and luxury are not good for us, and putting value on them, and pursuing them is not good for us at all.
Epicurus believes we need to abstain from external desire in order to achieve tranquility. He says the path to tranquility is through choosing the simple things in life.
A quick scroll through my Pinterest feed affirms that this is one belief firmly ascribed to by many others today.
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” ~ Dalai Lama ~
Apparently our level of happiness is age-related as a study by Hannes Schwandt, a research associate at Princeton University shows. People are happiest at the age of 23 and then again at 69 and life slumps for most people in the mid-50’s, when many battle with regret. Young people in their early twenties feel very optimistic about their future which while it equates to happiness can easily turn to misery if the expectations and dreams are not met.
So what is it that makes sixty-nine year olds happy? Have they come to terms with their failures? The research showed that the elderly have lower expectations and so are less disappointed. Is this all? It reminds me a little of Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh who never expected anything good.
Is it that they have stopped seeking happiness in the material world, so they are ab;e find happiness in other ways?
Of course this piece of research presents a perfect example of what happens when you focus on the past or the future.
The famous quote “carpe diem” may have come from the Roman Horace, but many others, including Epicurus also had something to say about living in the moment. Epicurus advocated living in the present moment as it is the only point at which we have any control. He said that by focusing on the past and future we dis-empower ourselves, but when we focus on the present moment we re-empower ourselves. This has become a very popular approach. It forms the basis of many Buddhist practices and many of the techniques of modern psychology are also based on this concept.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV ~
It is widely accepted that happiness is not to be found in the trappings of the world but as the result of our internal state of mind and approach to life. Happiness lies within. As Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book Eat, Pray, Love , “We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure–your perfection–is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”
However, there is no one thing in life that many agree can apparently be said to be the key to happiness. It seems that many psychologists have given their advice as to what the answer is and there are any number of blogs with lists advising how to achieve a happy life.
Finding happiness seems to boil down to our need to make changes both to the way in which we assess the positive and negative about our life, as well as the attitude we adopt as the purpose of our life.
Psychologist Martin Seligman believes the key is to recognize our strengths and virtues and then to use them for a purpose greater than our own. This concept is one that is ascribed to widely.
“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
Srikumar Rao, the author of Happiness at Work thinks our biggest obstacle is the belief that we are powerless and the victim of circumstance. He believes that we are the creators of own existence, and that control lies within the attitude with which we approach our work, and by association our life. As he says “The knowledge we have that we are responsible for living the life we have is our most powerful tool”.
Rao advocates inhabiting the “other-centred universe”. This is a world where our focus lies on others. And is a wisdom that forms an important part of Eastern spirituality. If we are motivated by an attitude of focus that is outside ourself, of looking for ways to achieve in our life that will be of benefit to others rather than focusing on satisfying our own wants and desires, then we will find happiness in our life.
“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” ~ Dalai Lama ~
For many people what may seem a huge negative in their life, a disaster, can in fact turn out to be a positive in hindsight. Often when serious illness forces someone to stop their life, to let go in order to undergo treatment and healing, they are offered the opportunity to turn their life in a different direction, one that can ultimately lead them to a happier life. Often it is a much simpler life.
Changes are made on many levels. Frequently the person finds they need to address their nutrition and they adopt a natural, wholefood diet, including the discovery of superfoods. The often seek out and adopt practices like meditation that allow them to sit in stillness. They recognize the generosity of others around them and begin to regularly and frequently express gratitude for those others as well as for the small, simple joys of everyday life. Importantly, their approach to their life can undergo a radical change which leaves them focused on the world outside themselves. Leaves them asking what they can do to improve and benefit the world and the individuals around them. It leads to a generous approach to life.
So what were the things that have reminded me this week about the purpose of life, the pursuit of happiness?
Well, firstly my free ‘Kindness Cards’ from the Wake-Up Project http://www.wakeupproject.com.au arrived in the mail. These are beautiful little cards to leave behind when you anonymously perform a random act of kindness. They tell the person that an act has been performed and invites them to repeat the game with someone else, to pay it forward. Why not some yourself?
Secondly, I have entered a competition on Pinterest to create “My Happiness Board”. I am not sure if entering a competition to win a great prize constitutes the true pursuit of happiness, and it has created some stress for me, however, once the event is over I will slowly build the board to hopefully be an inspiration to others. You can take a look here (don’t worry, you won’t need to trawl through a huge board – the rules called for only five pins!)
Thirdly, I re-read a favourite book (I love to re-read!) in which one oft-quoted line is “it is what it is”.
Forget about a positive spin on life. Life is what it is. We have to make the best of what it is – it could be better, it could be worse. But it isn’t – it is.
Look for your strengths, the things you may not even recognize, and use those strengths to address ways in which you can make the world a better place. Practice kindness, be generous with what you can offer. Accept what life gifts back to you. When you reach the age of sixty-nine you may very well realize that the lemons of your life were indeed gold. As Aristotle reminds us “Happiness depends on ourselves”.
And lastly, take note of Gretchen Rubins’ advice and try to notice and give credit to others that are living a life focused on giving what they have to offer to others. “The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.”
All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.
- Review: 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama (exhilaratedliving.wordpress.com)
- 12 Timeless Life Lessons Learned from the Dalai Lama (lifehack.org)
- 18 Rules Of Living by the Dalai Lama (ruijaime.com)