It likely comes as no surprise to any of you that happiness is a spiritual rather than physical state of being. We feel and experience happiness in the depths of our soul, from whence it emanates outwards and enlivens every facet of our existence. Many of us look for happiness or the causes of happiness in the wrong place, in externalities. We look to our dream home to create the setting where we can finally be happy, isolated from distractions and physically removed from the harshness of reality. We chase the perfect body, impossibly unmarked by any signs of aging or existence, as if it were created from a fantasy. We fill our rooms with possessions, adorn ourselves in the most sought after garments, transport ourselves around in the sexiest vehicles, or we simply pickup and move our self to a new location believing that the perfect vacation or the next purchase will finally deliver us from sorrow and fill the void of our unhappiness.
The problem is that this void is unfillable. It is a blackhole of imperceptible depth, consuming to no end and from whence nothing escapes. This tactic is misguided because it is the wrong map to the right destination. It would be like trying to summit Mt. Everest using a map of Mt. Kilimanjaro – it will take you to entirely the wrong place.
The Dalai Lama once said “I believe the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness.” I believe that whether consciously or coincidentally, all human thought and action is directed at the goal of happiness although we differ in our definition of happiness as well as the correct way of achieving it. While the definition of happiness varies between us, the feeling we experience is similar. The problem is we attempt to achieve that feeling through incorrect thoughts and actions.
Many of us believe we are unhappy because we lack something. We can’t be happy because we haven’t achieved enough success yet. We are unhappy because our home does not offer us the opportunity of fulfillment. Once we move over there: the beach, the mountains, a new country, anywhere but here, then we can be happy. Or perhaps once we upgrade our wardrobe from TJ Max or Target to Gucci or Prada, then we will finally be garbed in the clothes that can unlock happiness and our soul shall be at peace.
Those of us who have fallen into this trap and pursued happiness through such means realize the futility of such endeavors. The attainment of certain misconstrued understandings of happiness will provide momentary sensations of excitement, pride, and joy, but will ultimately fade as we return to our default level of happiness determined by the state of our spirit. Dr. Dan Gilbert, whom has been written about previously in this blog, taught us that future expectations of happiness based on certain outcomes are often overestimated. Additionally, whether we experience tragedy or extremely good fortune, either occurrence will ultimately leave us unchanged and within a matter of years we have the same outlook or measure of happiness as previously held.
Dr. Gilbert’s research specifically compared two groups, lottery winners and people who became quadraplegics. The briefest summation is that winning the lottery and all of the material gain therein provided, brought less happiness than people would think and that those who had accidents rendering them paralyzed were surprisingly not as depressed as one might think. In both examples the subjects returned to what can be considered their “baseline levels of happiness” in a matter of years. Thus reinforcing the idea that happiness is not the result of accomplishments, success, fame, or wealth, but rather a state of peace found in the spirit.
This concept has been discussed previously in this blog beyond on multiple occassions. The catalyst for this particular discussion was from an interview with Anelia Gregorek. Anelia and her husband Jerzy are both accomplished poets, writers, coaches, inspirational figures, who came to the United States as political refugees from Poland and have had to rebuild their lives from scratch together, on more than one occassion.
The most meaningful part of the interview with Anelia was when she described having to cut their losses and move from a house that she and Jerzy had worked diligently to restore. Anelia then discusses moving closer to the beach, where she felt she would finally be able to feel happy. Upon arriving at this goal she had a revelation. “Years later, I understood that my goal of owning a physical house was not going to satisfy me. What I really wanted was a spiritual house, a place inside me where I could feel fulfilled at any time.”
Anelia’s revelation is the answer to the question that many of us may have when we ask why we cannot seem to find happiness. The problem is that we are looking for or attempting to manifest it from the wrong places. Anelia understood that what she needed was not a home where she could enjoy beautiful weather and enjoy the views and smells of the ocean, but rather that she needed a temple in her mind such that from any time and place she could seek refuge and experience happiness.
I have had a similar revelation several times. The first was during a vacation I took with a good friend of mine to Nicaragua. It was a trip we had planned well in advance, and to which I had long looked forward. During the trip we surfed, we partied, we met interesting people from all over the world, we escaped the drollery of our “normal” lives and we saw some beautiful natural beauty in the Nicaraguan jungle and beaches. One night while lying on the roof of our hostel, I was admiring the stars and suddenly became consumed with dread by the idea that in just a few days I would be back home in the States, doing my job and living my normal existence. I was awed by the fact that I was not only so fearful or distraught about the concept of returning, as well as the revelation that despite being in the incredible setting such that I was, that I was still unhappy. It occurred to me at this time that no amount of vacationing and adventure would ever deliver me from fear and unhappiness. The only way to become truly happy was to build a refuge in my soul wherein I could spend eternity, while simultaneously still participating in society and the world at large.
Consider the ways in which you attempt to create happiness for yourself. Do you think happiness will be found in taking a dream vacation, or moving to a foreign country? Do you think you are just a few purchases away from having enough to finally be happy? Are you one promotion away from finally being able to relax and allow yourself to feel contentment and happiness?
Everyone’s idea of happiness looks different but the best way for any of us to realize our understanding of happiness is in building a temple of happiness in our soul and mind. Material attainment, success, fame, temporarily escaping reality, or trying something new and exciting will provide moments of levity and joy but they will fail to properly nourish our soul. I do not suggest that we not take vacations, or that we throw away the idea of our dream home, or that we forego promotions. These can absolutely add value to our lives if we properly understand their limitations. But the best way to be happy with or without such adornments is to build a temple of happiness within our soul. This temple will be readily available to you at any time and under any circumstances. Once properly constructed it becomes impermeable to disaster, strife, worry, poverty, illness and more. With access to such a temple you attain the power to be happy under any circumstances, regardless of where you are, who you are, or what you may possess. Build this temple through right habit, thought, action, and meditation, and you will possess a permanent state of lasting happiness.