It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as I walked on a small path along the foothills of the Himalayas, thinking about why it was so difficult finding happiness. I was going through a rough patch in my life and I was quite stressed and unhappy.
I sat down under a large tree, watching the mountain ranges and the clouds floating by. I tried approaching the unhappy state of my mind through different angles. I looked at my past frustrations and anxiety. As I delved deeper into the whole complex of happiness and unhappiness I realized the unsettling truth about my thoughts. Every unhappy thought boiled down to a basic pattern –
I will be happy when I have x
I will be happy in life when I have sorted a particular life issue.
The entire conversation in my head was – I will be happy tomorrow, when things get better. The mind kept grasping at the future, forever unhappy. I knew I was onto something.
I closed my eyes and started going deeper into my consciousness, the pure sense of presence. This deeper state of awareness always helped me in gaining valuable insights into my own mind and its conditionings.
Suddenly, a flash of insight pierced through my awareness. In an instant, I could see the error in my thinking, the million times I told myself how the next day, the next turn, the next year would be happier, better and free of worries. I was forever waiting for the right circumstances for happiness to arise.
As I slowly drifted into contemplating deeper, a question started bubbling up –
Why do we always try finding happiness in the future, why not today, why not this very moment?
As I delved deeper into the question; I could perceive layers and layers of mental conditioning, resting on this one fundamental question. The question was like a knife, cutting through a life time of false mental construct. We live in an imperfect world, with millions of issues to take care of every second. How can I be so foolish as to let happiness be dependent on internal and external factors? The circumstances will never be perfect, ever.
Immersed in the insight, I felt a profound sense of peace rushing up my body. Stillness engulfed me; my consciousness was absorbed into itself; the anxiety and stress which had troubled me for months melted away, replaced by joy and happiness.
I spent the next few days integrating and exploring this insight. Finding happiness within yourself is dependent on a vast number factors coming together. A whole set of circumstances need to be aligned for real happiness to arise.
I call this the Infinite List of Happiness (Infiness for short)
It is a daunting list, and as you read through this, you will realize why it is impossible to find real lasting happiness.
Infinite List of Happiness – things we need to be happy in life
Below is the list of things needed to make us happy. Even if one of them goes out of sync, you lose your inner balance and become stressed and unhappy. I encourage you to spend some time on the list, going through each item and contemplating how it affects your happiness.
Life events – These can be a source of intense depression and chronic unhappiness for us.
Death of a loved one
Betrayal by a close friend of family member
Financial –Financial insecurity is the leading cause of stress and anxiety. You need to have reasonable financial security and a steady source of income for you and your family. This also includes –
No immediate threat to our livelihood
You don’t hate your job, career, boss and colleagues
No stress of managing finances
Taxes and legal paperwork all taken care of
No litigation or court cases
Relationships – How many times have you been stressed, angry or thoroughly frustrated with your relationships? To be happy in life, we need reasonable good relationships with a whole lot of people, including –
Relationship with partner
Relationship with children
Relationship with parents
Relationship with siblings
Relationship with in laws
Relationship with manager/boss
Relationship with relatives
Relationship with close friends
Body – Our body needs to be reasonable healthy. We also need to be happy with how our body feels, looks and functions. This includes-
No serious illness
No debilitation chronic illness
Brain should be in reasonable health
Mind – All the factors in this list influence the mind and the mind influences them. Some incidents play like a broken record, while some push our buttons, making us sad, angry and dejected. This includes –
Past sufferings, trauma and hurt
Psychological problems like anxiety, depression, mood disorders etc.
Self-blame and regrets
Upsetting emotions like anger, jealousy and sadness
Social –We all need social acceptance. Being a part of your social group and respected by our peers can make us happy and content. This includes-
You feel that you are respected among the society
You do not compare yourself with others wealth, assets and attainments.
You have close friends and social contacts you can fall back on.
Your neighbors are good with you.
Psychological fulfillment – This includes-
You have sense of purpose
You do not feel life is empty and meaningless
You have clarity about your future
You are not confused.
Everyday life – These include minor everyday issues, which, if not sorted, can cause temporary unhappiness.
The house is all fixed up, no major issues
The grocery/shopping is all done
Bills paid on time
Bank accounts, investments are all taken care of
Misc – These include the political and economic environment we live in-
No natural calamity threatens your region
No threat of war/terrorism where you live
No threat of economic downturn
Reading through the entire list is exhausting and I am sure your unique life situation will have tons of other factors which I have not covered above. (If you would like me to add more factors to the Infiness , please do leave them in the comments or email me.)
When all of the above come together, you have the momentarily, fleeting sense of happiness.
But life is always in a flux and multiple things on the list go out of balance on a daily basis.
We all struggle to balance everything on the list. But it is like trying to grasp the wind.
Now that you know how difficult it is to attain a few moments of happiness, you have a key insight into the reality of things. The list of happiness will never be in sync. Will you wait for it to be perfect, or will you have the courage to say, things will go on as they have been for years, I haven’t stopped breathing. Then why should I stop being happy?
4 steps to finding happiness within yourself
1.Happiness is a choice– If you don’t find happiness today in your most trying circumstances; you will never find it in tomorrow land. If you wait for all the circumstances to be perfect before happiness arrives, you will wait for eternity. You have to choose to be happy. I know it can be difficult in trying circumstances to bring up the feeling of happiness. But remember that list? Given the hundreds of things we juggle every day, I think we all deserve a pat on the back. Let’s stop for a while and smile and say –
I choose to be happy
I choose happiness
2.Making peace with your circumstances – Understand that changes in one or a few aspects of your life circumstances will still not give you the happiness you are yearning for. Something will go out of sync which will eventually make you unhappy. So acceptance of what is, is important. Accepting that everything will not always be as you want it to be is wisdom .. Active acceptance of your life circumstances reduces negative emotions and feelings, helping you better deal with your life circumstances, which in turn can make you happy.
3.Understand happiness is transient – Realize that happiness, by its very nature, is transient. Like flowers, happiness will bloom and then fade away. When you accept this simple truth, you also develop the capacity to let go. This process creates space around feelings and emotions. Accepting that you can’t always be happy is the dawn of wisdom.
Instead of being fully invested in being happy all the time, understand that it is natural for things to change. Everything is transient, impermanent. It is true while it appears, and then disappears again into nothingness. A constant demand for happiness can be self-defeating.
4.Beyond Happiness – Happiness, even though it feels good, is still on the surface. There are deeper states of being of which happiness is just a pale reflection. Through contemplation and meditation, you can experience boundless peace and contentment, spontaneous joy and the ecstatic bliss. There are states of profound stillness, where time itself dissolves and the mind transcends experiences, both happy and unhappy.
Going deeper – Higher level inquiry
Happiness is subjective and depends on the experiencer. Ask yourself, can I experience happiness or unhappiness, if the experiencer is not there? Why is being happy so important for me? Will living a meaningful life be a better alternative?
When the mind inquiries into the fundamentals of emotions and feelings, it develops the capacity to break free from its conditioning, and can experience a state of bliss, ecstasy and boundless joy. Happiness is a just small expression of this boundless state of being. And I firmly believe that everyone can experience these incredible states of bliss and joy.