finding happinessA man said to Buddha, “I want happiness.”

Buddha said to the man, “Remove the I, that is ego. Remove the want, that is desire.”

Buddha smiled. “Come again when you have another question.”

Is it that simple?

Yes, actually it is.

Everyone wants to be happy, except perhaps the masochist, and in fact being mistreated somehow makes them happy too. There are hundreds of books out there that will tell you how to attain it.

Plenty of people will work hard to get it.

Most people will not succeed.

The reason is simple. People think happiness consists of the world being a certain way. Or more specifically, their world. So they work hard and acquire things. Sometimes they do this for the better part of their lives, all awaiting that magic moment of retirement.

Then they sit in their Florida condos, amongst their “stuff” and wonder why they aren’t happy. They thought they had identified what they wanted. They worked hard. They got it.

See, where they went wrong is in not realizing that happiness is a state of mind. It exists or doesn’t irrespective of location and circumstance. True enough both can impact in some ways on happiness, but a feeling trumps every time. After all, a pig is happy wallowing in a pile of mud.

Mahatma Gandhi, it is purported, said, “be the change you want wish to see.” That is the answer in a nutshell.

Yes, it’s just that maddeningly enigmatic. You attain happiness by being happy.

Look, I just saved you a ton of money on self-help books.

Of course life is full of challenges and aggravations. That doesn’t stop at retirement or frankly at any point of life. The divorce courts are full of people who thought happiness would be attained with a wedding ring, or the first child, or the last child, or the first promotion.

Shit happens as they say. Health problems, family problems, work problems–we are always going to face problems big or small. Stop bemoaning that fact, and stop waiting for it to change. It won’t. It doesn’t for the Queen of England, and it won’t for you. No amount of money, fame, fortune, or anything else will change that fact. Some of those things will enable you to deal with the problem more easily perhaps, but in all likelihood your problems won’t be as large either. I mean do you really expect to be sued for millions any time soon, or do you face the real threat of assassination as a daily sobering thought?

So how do we go about this thing called happiness? Here are some tips:

  1. Change your circumstances if that is feasible. I know I just said, that things don’t bring happiness, but that doesn’t mean that a good environment means nothing. If you are prone to SAD, don’t consider moving to Seattle. Go where the sun shines a lot. Hate snow? Stay away from Montana. You get the point. If you can’t actually move, then create environments within environments. Create a room in your home where you can escape with Hawaiian prints, rattan, beach photos, shells, and so forth.
  2. Invest in a new hobby that excites you. Photography is great for some people, getting them out and exploring the environment. Walking about with camera in hand invites comments from strangers, puts you in touch with the earth, and helps you to see the interwoven nature of all life. Such discoveries may lead to a meaningful passion for environmental issues, wildlife preservation, or any number of other things.
  3. Spend some time with a gratitude journal. Every day list ten things you are grateful for. It will be repetitive some days, but you will discover that indeed you are happier than you might have realized. Six months ought to be a goal for this.
  4. Whether you actually believe in karma or not, realize that your attitude projected to others creates a response. If you are always morose and complaining, you attract others like yourself to commiserate with you. Instead they drive you farther down. Happy people avoid you. You should want happy people around you as both role models and to take you out of yourself. Cultivate trying to be happy around others.
  5. Volunteer! Everyone who does agrees that they get more than they receive. It is certainly true. You realize how lucky you are by comparison surely. You learn to be more empathetic and sympathetic too. But mostly you learn that helping others helps you heal your own wounded heart.
  6. Record old comedies you that always loved either as a kid or adult. When you are feeling low, play one, or try watching one each evening before bedtime. Laughter is cathartic and catching. Laugh as much as you can each day. Smile the rest of the time. Smile at strangers, at babies, and at animals. Check out LOL Cats and Dogs on the Internet. This never fails to make me happy. Or check out your favorite old comic strip online. Or in Google Images, search for “silly animals” or “cute baby animals”. I guarantee it will brighten the bleakest outlook.
  7. Read stuff that uplifts you. If you aren’t religious or even spiritual in the traditional sense, try some of the “Chicken Soup” books, otherwise peruse the library or bookstore for spiritual works about happiness or wisdom, or joy. You will find plenty. There are also plenty of websites and blogs that cater to a “spiritual thought for the day.”
  8. When you are in an up mood, sit down and examine the current “problem” you face. Can you break it into segments? Will it work to spend some minimal time each day addressing it? If not, set a target date to “make the call” or do what needs to be done to start the ball rolling toward a solution. If it’s something you just must wait out, give yourself 15 minutes a day to spend “worrying” and then get up and move on.
  9. Accept that problems are part of the fabric of life. They are interwoven, and part of who and what we are. In looking back at past problems, you discover that they often have upsides too, leading to new friends, new discoveries, new habits or goals. Bless them for that, and get on with life.
  10. Realize that you are developing your life as an integrated whole and that problems are nothing but detours or mild hills to climb, not boulders barring your way to a happy life. In fact they are necessary as a means of defining real happiness.
  11. Accept that happiness is within you, not something to be attained from somebody or something else. You’re reality is inside your own mind. Create it as you desire.
  12. Remember, we are all in this together. Reach out to others when you need to and welcome such requests from others. Feeling alone in one’s misery is the unkindest thing we do to ourselves.

In the end,  remember, it’s way better than being in the dirt. Smile, bless yourself, and do the best you can.