There is a great Buddhist tale…
“A man asks the Buddha…’I want Happiness’. The Buddha says first remove the word ‘I’ that’s ego. Then remove ‘want’ that’s desire. See, now you are left with only ‘happiness.'”
This is core to my own spiritual existence. I used to say, “when this happens, I will be happy.” Or, “when I finally get ‘here’, I will be happy.” My happiness was ALWAYS conditional. If and when the things that were important to me materialized, I would BE happy.
Always something external was in my way of finding happiness. A person’s behavior. An outcome to a particular situation. The condition of a physical place. Obtaining some material, pre-defined outcome.
“I will relax WHEN I go on vacation.” “I will slow down WHEN I reach this milestone.” “I won’t be stressed WHEN this finally happens.”
On and on. That was the narrative inside my brain. My thoughts were all organized in that conditional, outcome-focused manner.
My whole world view of happiness was shaped on situations that were OUTSIDE of me. I think most people think that way, too. When I reach this or achieve that THEN…
When I finally became so stressed and feeling exhausted as a result, I made the decision I have to live differently and to live differently, I realized I needed to think differently.
My buddhist practice taught me that happiness lies inside of me. That if I seek happiness outside of me, I will never truly find it. When happiness is tied to specific goals that present a constantly moving target, it’s a never ending cycle of pursuit.
Reading books like Buddha’s Brain, I Can See Clearly Now and Man’s Search For Meaning all taught me that if we control our thoughts and we change the narrative inside our brains, we will be whatever we desire to be.
So I changed my entire way of thinking.
I am responsible for whether I am happy.
I am responsible for my mood.
No one can make me stressed. I control that.
No one can make me angry. I decide that.
What I think, I am. What I say, I am.
“I am tired.” Well then, I am tired. “I am angry.” Well then I am angry. I control my thoughts now and so if I say I am not tired and not angry, I simply am not. No matter what my life condition actually is at that moment, I can change my thoughts and live in that state.
My thoughts are mine. What I say my life condition is, then becomes my reality.
Sure it may sound pacifist and non confrontational to some, and that’s cool.
But in fact, I have gained so much more power and control where I felt I had none previously. It’s a lesson I try to pass on to my kids, too. Only you can determine your life condition. If you say that someone upset you, well, you let them.
If we live without attachment to outcomes and see people’s reactions as merely their own preferences, we set ourselves free from suffering.
Consider your own language and the words you use everyday. “I really wish…” “I so hope that…” “When you do this, it makes me feel…”
If you remove all of the conditions to your happiness, it’s incredibly liberating. Try it.
In Buddhism, we also learn how to have compassion towards everyone and especially those who are angry, difficult, a bully, or in any degree of mental anguish. That’s the other part of this. Adopting a spiritual life guided by compassion, forgiveness and empathy.
Here is a great TedTalk on happiness:
So now if someone around me is stressed or angry or unkind, I see it as their own suffering. I don’t own it. I don’t let it become my stress, anger or unkindness. And I am not waiting for anything or expecting anything from anyone. I control what I control and I alone own my happiness. I don’t surrender it to anyone or anything!
Think about it in your own life. What if every morning you woke up happy and it lasted the entire day. What if your happiness was not impacted by what your kids did or said. Or something your spouse or friends did that might have pissed you off. Or a co-worker who did something that was really irritating. What if we didn’t set goals for ourselves that tied to our happiness. What if those things never had the power to knock you off of your “happiness game.”
What if you were just happy.
Here are some of my favorite Buddhist quotes about happiness:
“It is ridiculous to think that somebody else can make you happy or unhappy.”
“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.”
“There is no path to happiness, happiness is the path.”
“Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think.”
Two great quotes on the same topic from Dr. Wayne Dyer:
“I cannot always control what goes on outside. But I can always control what goes on inside.”
“How people treat you is there karma, how you react is yours.”
And so the one word that finally led me to pure happiness is…