Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Cultivating Happiness

"Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars."  Frederick Langbridge

When you get up in the morning, do you feel full of joy and energy, ready to face whatever the Universe throws at you?  Are you a "Good morning God!" or a "Good God, morning!" kind of person?  Do you look up at the stars or down at the mud?

I have met many people who seem to have everything anyone could wish for and yet they are miserable.  And I have met plenty more of very humble means who are joyful and full of passion.  How can this be so?

Happiness in this life is not down to what you own.  It is not down to the friends and family you have around you.  Not that I am suggesting for one minute that we should not strive to better ourselves.  If you have read much of my blog you know I feel quite the opposite.  And I am certainly not suggesting we should not try to surround ourselves with good people, with people who bring out the best in us.  Of course we should!  But what I am saying is that the most important thing is how you feel inside.  It is not the circumstances themselves that make you happy, it is how you react to them.

Please read the above paragraph again.  It may be one of the most important lessons you will ever learn!  If you want to be happy, then be!  And who does not want to be happy?

Begin addressing this first.  Before you try to do anything about gaining wealth and possessions.  Before you try to do anything about changing your relationships.  Before you try to do anything about changing your circumstances.  Because once you have learned this secret you are better placed for a happy life than almost everyone around you, no matter what their own circumstances.

When you try to do this I can guarantee something inside you will object strongly.  The something inside you that has had you in its power all these years and can now see that power slipping away.  It will tell you that you cannot be happy until ........  The gap is there because what that voice will say will differ from individual to individual, but the beginning of the sentence will always be the same.  "You cannot be happy until ...."  Actually, it will almost certainly come out as "I cannot be happy until ....", because that voice wants you to think it is you - but it is not!  Don't listen to it!  All it knows is lies, but clever, apparently very logical lies.

When you first begin you will probably find it hard to make much progress.  Don't be disheartened!  This is normal.  If it were that easy, then everyone would be happy all the time.  But also don't feel it is too difficult.  It is not.  You have the power within you to do this.  You can feel that happiness spreading from the inside, seemingly oblivious to what is happening on the outside.

Cultivating this permanent state of happiness is a bit like trying to meditate.  When you first try, it seems impossible.  Maybe you get a fleeting moment, and then suddenly a horde of negative thoughts and feelings appears.  Meditation masters tell us not to get irritated when stray thoughts appear.  If you focus on them in an attempt to get rid of them, they have won.  Just accept that they are there and continue cultivating your still mind - and eventually, after many repeated practice sessions, you will find they start to drop away.  Only to attempt to distract you again maybe many sessions later just when you think you have it cracked!  This will happen, too, with your practice in cultivating happiness, and the remedy is similar - just ignore these attacks and gradually they will fade.  Then, later, circumstances will conspire to make you unhappy again, and you will need to focus on cultivating that inner joy.

Don't just take my word for it.  There is a definite scientific basis for what I am proposing here.  Take a look at the following TED talk by Dan Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University.  I actually wrote this article before I watched Dan Gilbert's lecture, and have added this paragraph later.  But it is clear from what Dan says that my experience is not something unusual, not some wacky idea that only applies to a fortunate few.  Long term, external circumstances cannot bring us happiness or unhappiness.  Happiness is something we have to create for ourselves.  Here is the link to the TED talk:

Once you have begun this process you can then address the other issues.  You can make sure your life is properly aligned with your inner passion, which I can guarantee will make it a lot easier for you to maintain this new state of permanent happiness.  But more of this another time!

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