What Is Happiness?
Well, first of all, let's look at our definitions - culturally, we have a fairly adolescent, impoverished view of what being "happy" would look or feel like. I've traveled in many different parts of the world, and experienced vast differences in what makes we as humans feel alive, nourished, fulfilled. But there are universal components that we all seem to share: feeling connected, loved and honored, embraced as an integral part of a family unit and community; feeling that our work is an important contribution to the whole; feeling a firm philosophical, spiritual foundation of meaning upon which our lives are built.
Why is happiness so hard to hold on to?
We tend, however, to think of it as a brief rupture of dopamine in our brains, that temporary "high" we get from outside stimuli. But let's take it a step deeper - when we experience those moments of grace and magic in daily life ... walking in the snow under the stars, becoming enraptured by
the sound of your child's laughter .. what's really happening? All of a sudden,we leave the burden of inner conflicts behind, and temporarily feel in harmony with others, with ourselves, and with the
world. We feel a sense of profound connection, rather than a fragmented reality, and experience a respite from our usual mental dialogue of fear, aggression, jealousy, pursuit, self-obsession.
Happiness can't be reduced to a few agreeable, fleeting sensations. That's like pursuing an elusive butterfly, ever just out of our grasp. Rather, it's a way of being and experiencing the world - a sense of fulfillment, acceptance and wonder that suffuses every moment, and endures despite inevitable setbacks. Authentic "happiness" is a state of mind, and can be cultivated.
So happiness be a learned skill?
Believe it or not, yes. After 2,000 years of practice,
Buddhist monks know that one secret to happiness is
simply to put your mind to it.
Current neuroscientific research has targeted
understanding the neurological basis in the brain for states
of optimal health, awareness and focus, and they've done
so by wiring up Tibetan monks. What they've found is that
meditation and mindfulness practices actually do change
our brain waves, restructure our neural net, and promote a
sense of well-being.
Have you ever noticed those exasperating people that seem to possess some unearthly amount of golden serotonin and good cheer? And those that, conversely, can seem to have it all - wealth, power, health, family - and still seem to suffer?
We try to create outer conditions that we think will make us happy, and become thrust into a feeling of despair when it does not. And so we pursue the next diversion, and ask ourselves what's wrong with us that it never seems to work. The truth is, it is the mind itself that translates outer conditions into happiness or suffering, and over this we can learn control ... learn to create and sustain our own sense of well-being.
When we come back to the freshness of the present Moment, the past is gone, the future is not yet born, and - if one remains in the practice and pursuit of mindfulness and freedom - disturbing thoughts arise and go without leaving a trace.