This article is going to dive into a topic that is so controversial these days the mere mentioning of it sparks discord. It’s Happiness. I am going to delve into the topic of happiness and I will even answer the question “What is the best way to be happy?”
If this seems like a tall order for one single article then read on.
Happiness is not complicated. We have just stacked so much junk on top of the word that we have lost sight of what happiness is in the first place. Happiness is real for each of us. It’s also individual, meaning we each must experience it for ourselves before we can say for certain “I am happy.”
Being happy is just like being in love; you just are it, down to the marrow of your bones. And despite what you may have heard, there is a way to be happy.
So let’s get to it.
What Is Happiness?
Have you ever reflected on what happiness is in the first place? Happiness seems to be the goal of modern human life; everyone seeks it, whole industries have sprung up which profit from our ceaseless search. Yet still we search and search for that illusive thing called happiness.
We believe we want happiness. We believe it exists. If we were to depend on social media we would believe that most people are happy. Our eyes tell us that people are the happiest they’ve ever been on social media!
What do we need to do to be as happy as the people we see in our social media feed or on our television as they dance with the stars? How do we go about acquiring it?
Well, in order to acquire “it” we need to be clear on what “it” is in the first place. Defining happiness is the best place to start. Without a definition for happiness we will most likely climb the wrong mountains.
What is happiness, to you?
I ask you to really reflect here. It can be argued that all human action, even suicide, is done in the name of happiness. If that’s the case then it’s imperative we have a working definition of happiness so our actions can be in line with it.
The Best Definition Of Happiness I’ve Encountered…
I want to make one thing clear now. Happiness is impossible to define and it’s impossible to comprehend through words. Because words are mental concepts, they are not the thing itself.
BUT, there is a linguistic trick we can use to define happiness. We can define happiness by establishing what it isn’t.
In this way we have the following definition for happiness:
“Happiness is the absence of desire.”
Please take a moment to reflect on this definition of happiness. Does it seem odd to you? Shouldn’t happiness be tremendously complex? Shouldn’t it depend on luxury cars, sparkling yachts and corner offices?
How can happiness be the absence of something? And not just any something, but desire itself! Don’t we need desire? How would we go about living if we never desired anything?
These are all valid questions which I will seek to answer as best I can.
Imagine This For A Moment…
Imagine for a moment being free of desire.
Can you do that?
What would such an existence be like, to you? Take a few moments to imagine what it would be like to be free of desire.
In case you haven’t realized it, I’m asking you to imagine being happy.
Happy with how you are existing at this very moment, without needing to change anything, just being, in full acceptance of life as it unfolds for you. Like the boy in the first image.
When we’re happy there is nothing we need to do, nothing we need to change, accomplish or create; there are no deadlines, no appointments, no illusions to maintain. Reality is enough.
Because desire is absent.
We are happy as we are; with all of our qualities and imperfections, all of our unfulfilled dreams and our worldly accomplishments.
Because desire isn’t there.
When we are happy we exist at peace with what is. When we are happy we are enough.
Can you imagine it? Can you see why this is such an effective definition of happiness? It’s happiness as the absence of something, desire. It’s happiness as removing, as simplifying; not as adding and making more complex.
Happiness is subtracting, not adding. Happiness is being enough.
And in the words of the esteemed philosopher Mary Poppins: “Enough is as good as a feast.”
But What About Responsibilities?
Human life has skyrocketed in complexity over the last couple of hundred years. And it’s becoming increasingly more complex by the second. Living as an adult in the modern world is a challenge unlike any our hunter-gatherer ancestors ever encountered. I believe our ancestors would much prefer their simple, hunting-and-gathering existence to our modern, complex, distracted, perennially unhappy (desiring) lives.
Our civilization pulls our attention every which way these days. Its tremendously successful at convincing us that happiness, that thing we all desire, is achievable only through action and only in the future. According to our civilization, happiness is not something that happens now. It happens later, after we’ve accomplished something. It happens once we’ve become worthy of it.
This belief system is, of course, extremely effective at getting us to invest our time and energy in the acquisition and consumption of material goods. Desire powers capitalism and all of the technological, scientific and cultural developments complementary to it.
But does such a belief system actually make us happy?
Did you know that in the United States, teenage suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers? And that the rate is rising?
These are teenagers living in the richest country in the world! Young boys and girls with their whole lives ahead of them. They are the future of our species.
And yet, living in modern civilization is enough to drive them to the point of accepting suicide as the only way out of their suffering.
Could it be that we have gotten something terribly wrong? That we’ve been getting it wrong for so long that we have actually forgotten what it is we’re doing?
Are You Happy?
This article isn’t meant to get you to stop working on your goals or achieving your ambitions. It’s not meant to get you to give up on your life circumstances, move to a monastery in Tibet and become an enlightened monk.
It’s meant to get you questioning whether you are acting out of happiness or out of unhappiness. Because it’s the nature of human existence that how we do things matters more than what we do.
By doing things happily, we sow seeds of happiness. By doing things unhappily, we sow seeds of unhappiness. We always reap what we sow. It’s as simple as that.
You could be a high-flying executive at a Fortune 500 company yet be doing it unhappily, fully identified with desire. Would you be happy?
You could be a dish washer and be doing it happily, accepting what is. Would you be happy?
How you do things now fully determines how you are in the future. This is another way of stating dharma, a Sanskrit word with no translation in English. It can mean, among other things, cosmic law and order.
To be happy means to be living in accordance to cosmic law and order.
We Need Desire
I’m a firm believer that humans need desire to live. I’ve written a couple of articles that talk about this (here and here). Desire is the starting point of all worldly achievement. After all, if we didn’t desire to eat or drink, why would we do it? We wouldn’t and we’d die. We need desire.
But desire is for more than mere survival. We need it to express our potential.
If Michelangelo hadn’t desired to express his inner world through his work we wouldn’t have the Sistine Chapel today. Nor would we have the Water Lilies by Monet. Nor the 5th Symphony by Beethoven or the poetry of Octavio Paz.
Humanity’s potential would remain largely untapped, without desire. Our inner beauty would remain unexpressed in the world. (Photo: Claude Monet Nympheas 1915 Musee Marmottan Paris)
To Be Happy, Take A Break From Desire
I believe desire is necessary for the expression of our potential. But I also accept that happiness is the absence of desire.
So what can we do about that?
We can use desire, without allowing it to be our master. Desire, after all, is an evolutionary tool. We can use desire or allow it to use us. Just like money or smartphones.
We can master our desire, allow it to direct our energies while we live, while simultaneously living a happy life.
But if happiness is the absence of desire, how can we both experience desire and be happy? That’s a contradiction!
That’s why taking breaks from desire is essential. Yes, we can take breaks from desire. Read this article and this article to learn about that.
We can experience the desire to achieve whatever it is we want, allow it to set our compass in the direction we want to go.
And then let go of it. We can do our work while being happy. Because how we do things is more important than what we do.
Then, once we choose to, we can feel the desire again, adjust our course appropriately and let go of it, again.
In this way we wield desire without allowing it to be our master. We harness our biological drive to create and achieve, while allowing our spirit to express itself unencumbered.
Spiritual purists will say that all desire must be cleansed in order to be truly happy. I’m a pragmatist, though. I believe we experience desire for a reason and rather than purifying all of it (or worse, suppressing it), we should learn what we can from it, while mastering what we can of it.
Asking people to purify all of their desire is just impractical.
How This Works For Me
I make it a point to never share information with others which I don’t implement myself. Any actionable information you read about in this website has emerged from my own research and experience. I practice what I write about.
I follow my desire, ardently. Desire gives me something to invest my creative energies into so I can serve others through my work. It guides me truly and it allows me to live a creative, service-full life. I love my desire.
But I take breaks from it often.
Every day I allow myself to just be, without desiring to achieve anything. I do this when I meditate in the morning and when I go for walks in the afternoon. I allow my attention to reside in the present moment, without judging it. In other words, I allow myself to be happy.
This allows me to use desire, rather than be used by it.
I don’t believe the issue is desire itself. I believe unhappiness arises when people are unaware that all they ever experience is desire, so they fail to realize that happiness will forever be out of reach. Because happiness is now.
Maybe you believe your life is too full, too busy, for you to take the time to just be happy. Our excuses are always valid. But valid excuses will not change our situation. If we don’t choose to be happy for ourselves, no one is going to do it for us.
It’s up to each of us to choose to be happy.
Do You Choose Happiness?
If you’re a person who has been living identified with desire for a long time you might read this article and dismiss its message as impossible/impractical or not for you. You might be so identified with being unhappy that it’s impossible for anyone to convince you that there is another, lighter, way to live which is accessible to almost everyone.
No one can convince a closed mind to choose happiness. Everyone makes their own choice at their own time.
Also, if you’ve just experienced a tragedy, like the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, then it’s natural and healthy to be unhappy. Allowing such unhappiness to run its course with support of our loved ones is the best way forward, in my view. We can’t always be happy. There are ups and downs in life.
But, if this article struck a cord for you, if you’re a person who has been unhappy for a while and no matter what you do you just can’t seem to shake it off and you’re convinced there has to be a better way in life, then I invite you to read these articles:
- What Is The Science Of Meditation? – Systematic Training Of Attention
- The Power Of The Moment – Be Here, Now
There is no religion here. Just straight up ancient wisdom about how the mind works and what we can do to train it.
Of course, if you have any psychological disorders consult with your clinician before delving into training your mind. With some people, meditation can release things which have been hidden away.
Our Happiness Exists
I’ll finish with this. Happiness exists for each of us. It is there and it is real. We have to choose to experience it for ourselves. And once we choose to experience it we have to keep making that choice, over and over, until it becomes a habit. Happiness is a habit. It’s a way of being, not a destination.
Civilization sells us a bunch of untruths concerning happiness. It gets us running around in circles, convinced we’re but a purchase away from achieving it. That doesn’t mean our energy is wasted, everyone learns by making mistakes. But if you’re tired of making the same mistakes again and again, maybe you should consider doing something differently. There is a proven way to be happy, to let go of desire, our species has known about it for 2,500 years. And we’re now confirming it with the best science we have.
Happiness is practical and achievable. And you know it when you are it. I speak from experience.
So what are you going to do?
To our wealth and success.