The Foundation of Happiness

My fascination with the notion of happiness as a state of being that can be acquired through awareness and training continues.  Buddhist monk and scientists Mattieu Ricard in his book Happiness explores this topic. This is hardly a new perspective for this spiritual tradition.  The Dalai Lama and others have written extensively about it as well.

Happiness as a state of being is also a state of consciousness or mind. What is difficult for most of us to comprehend is–it is not based upon our immediate experiences of the world. Peace and equanimity is acquired through deep thought, contemplation, meditation and the awareness that the mind can be trained to achieve a degree of contentment.

Pleasures and pleasant experiences should be cultivated and appreciated. But they do not equate with a deep sense of inner serenity. Material acquisitions give temporary pleasure and are not to be rejected per se. Just be aware that the obsessional drive to achieve this transitory jolts of joy can become addictions, leading away from happiness.

External experiences are like the wave on the surface of the sea. The deep waters of contentment and happiness remain unmoved.

One particularly powerful example of happiness relates to its foundation–compassion for others, love for the wellbeing of others, a sense of connection with the universe. There are those who pervert the notion of happiness by feeling exalted by acts of violence, hatred, and destruction of others.  Their ‘rush’ is an emotional response often based upon distorted views of reality. These can never bring true happiness because their foundation is corrupt.

In the movie Age of Innocence [1993] based on Edith Warton’s novel, there is a love affair between two individuals played by Michelle Pfeifer and Daniel Day-Lewis. Acting on their love may seem like an inevitable release for each of them.  Pfeiffer’s character, however, refuses despite her strong desire to do so because she understands that others will suffer as a consequence of their actions.  She has the wisdom to state that no love built on the ruins of the feelings of others can ultimately survive.

The perversion of a serial killer, a sexual miscreant, a suicide bomber, may all offer the perpetrator an immediate feeling of ecstatic release.  These individuals may even rationalize their actions as providing them with the feelings of joy that they are driven to revel in. This feeling can never be the basis of true happiness.

Ultimately happiness is an idealized goal which will rarely be obtained.  But we can all approach closer towards it, once we recognize that it is possible to do so.

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