March 20th was International Day of Happiness. Pretty cool, don’t you think? And who doesn’t want to be happy? The question is: How do we experience happiness frequently, regularly, and in all types of circumstances? Let me start with a short story.
You know how parents can drive you crazy? Me neither. 🙂 My dad and I were having a “heated” conversation when I stopped and told him: “STOP making me ANGRY!” With a hint of a smile on his lips, like he was about to call checkmate in a game of chess, he told me: “I can’t make you angry, only you can.” DOH! So true! I share that because just as the anger was in truth my choice, so too is happiness for each and every one of us. Happiness a countercultural state of mind we can choose in ANY circumstance.
I say happiness is countercultural because how often is gladness shown on the news? How many feel good stories are on the front of our newspapers? How frequently do we think of or cultivate being happy at work? Or say while we’re doing chores? Culture “talks” to us and shapes us via news, advertisements, political stories, and so on. It seems to me the message goes something like this: There are “bad” guys everywhere so be afraid. You are not enough as you are; you need ______ to be happy. There is only a limited amount of the possessions, victories, and ranks that bring us gladness, so you better stress and work your butt of for it. Do you know what I mean? Isn’t the entire capitalistic and consumer economy we live in based on some form of: Happiness is external to you and in limited supply, so be sure to buy it now? Now don’t get me wrong, there is lots of goodness in our culture.
Now, I say happiness is a state of mind we can choose in ANY circumstance because of nondualistic thinking. It seems our default state is either-or thinking, which is often helpful and good, but not always. You can turn right OR left at the intersection. You can go to work OR not. You are married OR you’re not. That said, always staying in this level of consciousness is NOT helpful. Our political decisions don’t need to be Republican or Democrat. You don’t have to be a football fan or baseball fan. God doesn’t have to be transcendent (i.e. outside our known universe) or immanent (i.e. in every nook and cranny of our universe). Nondualistic is both/and thinking. It says you can be Republican AND Democrat. You can dig football AND baseball. God is transcendent AND immanent. And to get to the point: You can be happy AND sad, glad AND heartbroken, joyful AND righteously angry, and so on.
In my 43 short years revolving around the sun I’ve noticed “impoverished” and hungry kids in third-world countries are often some of the happiest folks. Why? Because happiness is a choice we can make, a mindset we can adopt, and an attitude we can assume anywhere, anytime. With that in mind, I invite you to savor and ponder these quotes:
“If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more.” ― Roy T. Bennett
“If you want to be happy, be.” ― Leo Tolstoy
“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet.” ― James Oppenheim
“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.” – “Eat. Pray. Love”. Elizabeth Gilbert
We think when we have X, when Y happens, when we achieve Z, and so on we’ll be happy … this is not how it works. First, we decide to become happy, after which everything becomes AMAZING! Happiness isn’t an absence of sorrow, problems, stress, and the like, it’s moving through them WITH joy. Happiness isn’t a lack of loss, hurt, death, and failure; it’s engaging those with a lightness of heart and inner smile.
Happiness is an inner disposition. Think of yourself as a gardener. Imagine your thoughts and inner monologue are your garden. Tend to them like a master gardener, pruning the bad while fertilizing and expanding the good. While we don’t always control the thoughts in our minds, we do get to pick what stays. We have the power to choose which tapes play in our head. With that in mind, I encourage us not to ignore the troubles and sufferings, but always choose happiness.
Grace and peace,