It’s Not About Happiness


Looking for Mr. Goodbar

A few months back, I was read­ing an arti­cle in Shambhala Sun. I’d have to go digging to come up with who was being inter­viewed. I defi­nitely remem­ber it was a female Buddhist, and the ques­tion had to do with how come she seemed so happy. She replied that, “… I’m actu­ally a cheer­ful melan­cho­liac.” I really resonated with that.

I can’t remem­ber how many years I’ve spent think­ing I should be happy, what­ever that means.

What I’ve come to real­ize is that I’m not partic­u­larly happy person, accord­ing to the clas­si­cal defi­n­i­tion. I was recently read­ing an arti­cle that talked about some cutting edge brain research that suggests a better than 50% of mood is genetic in origin — in other words, we are programmed from birth with a predilec­tion toward a certain mood or way of seeing and being in the world.

I suppose one could argue that since every­one knows that happi­ness is the way we’re supposed to be, that I should be exert­ing a ton of energy to be happy. And yes, I could certainly do that. I’d fail, but I could do that.

It seems more logi­cal to me to simply accept that “the way it is, is the way it is.” In this way, I can work with who I am, as opposed to fight­ing my nature as I try to be what soci­ety wants me to be.

This was what was so appeal­ing about the comment regard­ing cheer­ful melan­cho­lia. She was making what might seem like a small distinc­tion — that there is a differ­ence between cheer­ful and happy. I’d like to suggest this is prob­a­bly accu­rate. And one distinc­tion I’m aware of is that cheer­ful is an inter­nally gener­ated state, whereas happi­ness is often a compar­i­son.

We are trained from birth and inun­dated with adver­tis­ing messages that all have to do with happi­ness. We think we know what happi­ness is, despite seldom expe­ri­enc­ing it. For most, it’s a goal to be achieved some time in the future, and some­how the future never arrives — which is pretty obvi­ous, when you think about it. As opposed to living in the now, where things are as they are.

It was sort of my point in last week’s arti­cle. I was suggest­ing notic­ing what’s going on in the world with­out getting your shorts in a knot. It’s not about whin­ing about how things are — rather, it’s about accept­ing things exactly as they are, and moving on from there. I was there­fore amused when I received an e-mail from a woman I know, who wondered, “Read your blog today and wondered how your summer’s going and if you’ve taken some time away.” I wrote back and asked her if she thought I needed a holi­day. She has yet to reply.

I recog­nize that when I judge myself — as lack­ing, as unhappy, as anxious, as “circling the drain,” I’m really just delay­ing deal­ing with what’s actu­ally happen­ing. In other words, judg­ment is, 100% of the time, noth­ing more than a stalling tactic. Looks good, accom­plishes zip. The dubi­ous reward? All those around you cheer and congrat­u­late you on how self reflec­tive you are. Yeah, right.

Much better to relent­lessly drop the judg­ments. For exam­ple, Darbella and I were sitting today, and toward the end I felt what I might describe as energy and tight­ness in my chest. As soon as this feel­ing came up, my ego/mind kicked in, and I heard myself think­ing, “Why are you getting so anxious?” I’m rather proud of myself for not biting on that one. I saw the game my mind was play­ing — the judg­ment game — and I smiled and let it go. The feel­ing in my chest was there until I stood up at the end of zazen, and then faded, as all feel­ings do. Had I gone to “figur­ing out” my anxi­ety, I’d likely still be in a pickle three hours later. What a waste of time and energy.

I suggest, as I always do, that you pay atten­tion to your think­ing, and espe­cially to your judg­ments. Feelings come, feel­ings go, and judg­ments change noth­ing. In fact all they really do is delay or elim­i­nate the possi­bil­ity of being in the moment.

Or, I suppose, I could just pretend to be happy, on holi­day, and tuned out. I’d likely fit in a heck­uva lot better.

I’m just glad that’s not, nor never has been, my goal.

wayne and dar

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