The Pursuit of Happiness
Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, August 14, 2020! Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
It is no lie that you can take long vacations around the world, eat the finest cuisine prepared by the most celebrated chefs, drive the swankest cars, earn a degree from the most prestigious school, have a prominent career, own a custom home stockpiled with abundant accessories, showcasing the finest art and overlooking the most pristine landscape, a jacuzzi, a personal masseuse and even a bed that is adjustable both for firmness and temperature, and still be abjectly miserable. It is also true that you can have little – even what many would consider a state of poverty – and be truly happy. What are we doing? What is this unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness doing for us? Where do we think happiness resides?
I am not going to go off here and pretend that I never chased the almighty dollar and stuff. I was so incredibly materialistic at one point in my life that I lived by the creed, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Despite a nice home, a respected career in healthcare, multiple cars, many toys, and a great family, I was seldom content and happy. Though I would have never admitted it at the time, I was quite unhappy in my pursuit of happiness. I was doing everything I was taught, well almost (but I will come back to this), to create the kind of external circumstances that are purported to be the source of a happy and meaningful life. I mean, just look around at all the enticements.
There is a 2006 Will Smith movie entitled, “The Pursuit 0f Happyness.” It is the true story of a young, single, homeless father who sells radiology equipment and cannot get a break. At every turn, he meets challenges, confronts heartbreak, and suffers demoralization. He later works incredibly hard and earns himself a position at a notable brokerage, and well, he makes it and it is suggested that he and his young son live happily ever after. Meow in no way am I saying that there is anything inherently wrong in working your way out of a homeless situation into a satisfying and supportive career. It is a beautiful and even motivating story. And yet, like so many other “stories” and “suggestions,” it is tacitly suggested that happiness lies somewhere else, “Out There.” It is as if when we get the right job, the right house, the right career, partner, and life, then we will be happy. Like I did, so many have met these requirements and have yet to experience a satisfying, truly happy life.
Though I do not recall the teacher(s) or the specific words, I was also taught that happiness is an inside job. It took me roughly 50 years of fruitless striving and a mindfulness practice to discover what this “inside job” idea really meant. Much like Thomas Edison and his lightbulb, I discovered 10,000 ways to not be happy. I literally had to have everything that was important to me stripped away before I realized that I had been hoodwinked by an illusion.
While all these prized gadgets, jobs, partners, homes, and other good life accoutrements do of course bring about an immediate sense of satisfaction and joy, and in varying degrees are necessary for our survival, they can also contribute to our suffering. Not long after we get a new job, we fear losing it. Not long after we get a new car, we resent having to pay insurance and maintenance costs. No sooner do we get the most wonderful partner that we have been fantasizing about for months or even years, than we find that they have faults. We may think to ourselves, “if I could just fix them, then I could be happy.” Lasting happiness always seems to be just out of our grasp, a shimmering mirage we can never quite reach. And, let’s face it, so many people will never have the opportunity to find out that all these outside circumstances won’t bring them true happiness. Yet, like so many of us, they continue to pursue. Always hoping. Maybe someday.
Happiness is not “Out There.” Happiness really is an inside job. It is an inside job because happiness is already within us. If we want to be truly happy – to experience a lasting, genuine happiness – our job is not to manipulate the world into our alignment—our job is to identify and remove the internal bias, judgments, thoughts and ideas that block us from our inherent happiness. In addition to removing the egoic conditions that create suffering and keep us from experiencing our inner happiness, when we do things we feel good about – living a virtuous life in alignment with our values – it provides a gateway through which we can experience our own inner fulfillment.
Oh, and kittens. I am quite sure that kittens are a source of true happiness.
I love you and there is not anything that you can do about it.
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