by George Pitagorsky
"When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'happy'. They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life."
~ John Lennon
Can you be happy even when things aren't going the way you'd like them to be going?
Typically we are happy when things are going well and unhappy when they aren't. Usually, "going well" means we are getting what we want, the way we want it.
That's conditioned happiness. Unconditioned happiness is an intrinsic sense of well being that is not based on the way things are around us. It is not about making believe everything is wonderful while everything is crumbling. It's not about painting a phony smile on your face.
Being happy in this unconditioned way is invigorating. It enables optimal performance and healthy relationships. Acting with an unhappy mind is like slogging through a swamp. Acting with a happy mind removes unnecessary resistance.
It is said that joy or a heightened state of happiness is something that arises naturally when we get out of the way; when we stop bringing ourselves down by our disappointments, our judgments and our aversions.
In a recent group, one member asked if there is a difference between the way conditioned and unconditioned happiness feels. Yes, there is a difference. Unconditioned happiness has a deep quality of satisfaction while conditioned happiness is more on the surface, more like a flaming fire as opposed to one that is generating deep warmth without the flames.
Of course happiness, no matter what kind it is, is wonderful. But, when happiness relies on external conditions it is limited. Sometimes we get something we really want, and like a kid on Christmas morning, we are happy. But then there is anxiety and worry. Will the new toy get broken or lost; will someone want to share it. If we are older, the new toy needs to be insured and protected. Inevitably it will either get broken, lost or we will tire of it and either throw it away or store it someplace, never to be seen again. Getting what is wanted can be as much a tragedy as not getting it.
Some people think they can be happy by upholding, protecting and maintaining their most cherished views, opinions, and ideas by sacrificing their wealth, families, and even their life. "The real happiness comes not by promoting but by giving up opinions, views or ideas, for any pleasure stemming from opinions or ideas or belief can change into displeasure. If a man is happy by simply giving generously his material possession, how happy should he be when he willingly parts with all beliefs and opinions or views which are most difficult to part with? The happiness experienced after liberating oneself from such ideas, opinions and beliefs, is the most blissful happiness."
Unhappiness is caused by wanting things to be different from the way they can be. Based on this wanting we run after things, pushing others out of the way to get them, or we get possessive and in our attempt to protect what is ours we are willing to cause harm to others or isolate ourselves.
It follows, then, that by accepting things as they are we can obtain real happiness; not by faith alone but by realizing the truth face to face.
The foundation of happiness lies in the practice of moral principles and meditation based on a realistic view of how things are. One doesn't have to wait until there is some final awakening. While being engaged in conscious living there are increasingly longer moments of happiness. Happiness comes from living a life in which one makes the effort to do no harm and to do positive things as much as possible. Positive things are things that help others.
Unconditioned happiness comes from resting in the present moment without grasping for anything, without pushing unpleasant feelings away, without obsessive thinking and worrying.
How do we do that? By training the mind so that we are no longer subject to habitual unskillful ways of thinking. Cultivate sufficient one pointed concentration to be able to stay in the present, calm and undistracted by random thoughts and feelings. Cultivate mindfulness so that you can objectively see whatever arises in your mind and choose what to do with it; letting it go when it is not leading to greater happiness and giving it attention when it does.