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.