Around this time last year, my son and I arrived back home – after having spent 14 months abroad – travelling from Britain to Bali overland and back. The memories of that trip and the wonderful experiences we lived, put a grin on my face. This past year, in comparison, has been much less adventurous, yet I am still happy. Just like the weather – and everything else in this world for that matter, – I know that this happiness is just transient. This present state of well-being made me want to re-post an article on the nature of happiness and why most of us so frequently feel dissatisfied.
So why am I happy? I could easily list a large number of wonderful things that I am grateful for. I could also rationalise that it is due to good health. I am currently in Barcelona on a four-weeks yoga teacher training course (eating some of the most succulent peaches) and I have not felt that healthy in years. Being surrounded by people that I get along with, good sleep, wholesome food, regular exercise, meditation and time to contemplate are conditions that generally tend to put me in a good mood and contribute to my wellbeing. Culturally, there seems to be a deeply ingrained belief that happiness is brought on by external conditions, yet is that truly all there is to it?
Let’s look at the source of our discontentment for it may reveal something else about happiness. Sometimes I feel spoilt, and that all the good things that come my way will never satisfy an inner sense of sadness and fragmentation. It is clear that one can become frustrated at almost anyone or anything, that one can feel down by the state of the world and the destructive actions of our civilisation, that people who are close to us can suffer and make us suffer, that the mind is constantly in need of solving (and creating) problems and that we are rarely satisfied by what we have, where we are, who we are with and what we do. There seems to be in humans a discordance which leads to conflict, loneliness and harm regardless of how rich, healthy and successful we are. It is often assumed that the problems we have at hand whether it be circumstantial, relational, financial or health related are the sources of our unhappiness, but is it the case?
It may be important here to go into the difference between conditional happiness and a deeper sense of wellbeing which I prefer to call contentment. When we eat an ice-cream or a good fruit, we usually feel happy, but the feeling is usually short lived. When we feel loved and appreciated, we also tend to feel very good, but here again, we may easily get used to it or it may be shadowed by its opposite. So this type of happiness will constantly fluctuate and be at the mercy of changing circumstances. Things get a little more complicated when our minds start to want to control the world around us for the pursuit of happiness. This tends to lead to frustration for we may fall in a constant state of wanting to become something we are not. On the other hand, staying with ‘what is’ regardless of what it is and being truly present can nurture a form of contentment that is unconditional and wholesome.
We have probably all heard of exceptional human beings who in some of the worse circumstances and against all odds, remained peaceful and content. We probably also all have glimpsed in our own lives moments of unconditional happiness. Could it be that this quality is linked to a conscious state of being truly alive and alert?
So, if someone were to ask me today “why are you happy?”, I would simply have to answer “because I am alive”.
Photo: Ian Baldwin