What Makes us Happy
The title for this piece is borrowed from Tara Brach’s dharma talk, Happy for No Reason. If you are aren’t familiar with Tara Brach, here is an excerpt from her web site: “Tara Brach’s teachings blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, mindful attention to our inner life, and a full, compassionate engagement with our world. The result is a distinctive voice in Western Buddhism, one that offers a wise and caring approach to freeing ourselves and society from suffering.”
What follows is essentially a summary and paraphrase of Tara Brach’s talk, which I find to be deeply wise. I keep returning to her insights.
Life Like a Problem
We approach life as if it were a problem to be solved. This leads us to dwelling in a sense of getting through the, on the road to something else. I personally know I am a victim of this sort ot thinking.
We think we have “1,000 serious moves,” borrowing from Hafez, a 14th century Persian poet. Our belief that we have so much important to do prevents us from enjoying the landscape that presents itself.
A truly happy person can enjoy the scenery while taking a detour. Can you? I certainly often cannot not. I too often see the detour as a problem. But in life we are always taking detours, always getting waylaid.
Two Kinds of Happiness
Brach identifies two sorts of happiness, both valid. First is happiness with a cause; second is happiness without a cause, happy for no reason. Happiness with a cause is conditioned happiness. Our happiness is dependent upon something external: the taste of ice cream, getting a new job, finding a new partner, mastering a craft, creating, hearing a kind word from a loved one. There is wholesome conditioned happiness.
The problem is that we fix on certain vehicles for experiencing happiness. We become attached to impermanent things. Things have to be a certain way in order for us to be happy.
If Only Mind
This leads to “if only mind.” If only something, then I will be happy. If only I have: food, alcohol, the right partner, the right body, financial security, behavior by my child. Whatever it may be. Happiness is tied to some external conditon.
The concept of “if only mind” has deeply resonanted with me, because I see myself falling into this trap over and over again.
Brach identifies two problems with “if only mind.” First, it doesn’t work. Our nature seems to have a happiness set point to which we return. Studies identify a time period of about five months. So, if an “if only” condition is met, within five months are so we find ourselves back where we started.
The second problem is that living in “if only mind” prevents us from finding happiness the only place it can be found: the present moment. When we chase happiness, we are saying the present moment isn’t OK. We are leaving the place of happiness.
The task is to shift from wanting life to be some way other than it is, to cultivating an openness to embracing life as it is. It is fear and grasping for something else that keeps us from being happy. It is critical to develop a sense of having enough. The knowledge that we have enough is profound. This is where we find happiness for no reason.
This moment is it. We aren’t preparing for something else. Our work is to undo the habit of charging for something else, and learning to love what is.