Friday, March 5, 2010

“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.”

So said Albert Schweitzer, and I'm not necessarily inclined to disbelieve him.

I came across this quote doing some research into happiness - no, that doesn't mean I've been discovering the finer points of Jack Daniels or the latest online dating service. As part of a writing project on the Tao Te Ching, I've been doing some reading about psychological research into happiness. There are people out there analyzing data and creating tables who seem to have given up on wondering why we here in the most affluent society the planet has ever known have off the chart levels of depression and a general spiritual malaise; instead, they’ve turned their efforts to figuring out ways to help people get the hell over it. And they’ve got a good method, too: positive psychology tells us that money doesn't buy happiness, that our true wealth is in relationships with family and friends, and that for a straight line to a happier life nothing beats gratitude. It has wonderful insights to share, but when you get right down to it I still think it misses the point.

"Do tell, Cynthia, enlighten us with your wisdom: what is the point?" Good question, glad you asked. The point, I think, is to be present, to be compassionate, and to recognize that everything is so intricately and intimately interconnected that nothing falls outside of the web. Good, bad, ugly, pretty, indifferent – all of it is part of the now, and when we put happiness front and center as the goal toward which all of life should aim, we push away so much richness that doesn’t fit the program. We want to carve happiness out as a cause for rejoicing and simply suffer other experiences and emotions, but we’re chasing the wind – even when we get in the middle of it, the tiniest bit of thought will show us that happiness is not made to last indefinitely. So why should we put all our efforts into trying to grasp what is bound to slip through our fingers like quicksilver?

What if, instead of seeking happiness, we seek contentment and harmony? What if we face happiness with gratitude and sorrow with acceptance?

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

Happiness is about liking the way things are; contentment and living in harmony are about accepting things the way they are. Doesn’t mean you can’t try to change them, but the second your happiness gets all tied up in the “if only things were different” mode, then you’re running down the track to Destination Unhappy. Find the harmony right here, right now, not in some future where everything is right and tragedies never occur and you’re never bored. Find it, and be happy.

1 comment:

  1. It makes me think of a point in Conversations with God (Walsh): Feel your feelings. If you're mad, be mad. Feel it. Acknowledge it. If you're angry, look your anger in the face. Take the time to experience whatever it is your self wants to experience and the move on. I do think it is beneficial to feel one's emotions instead of suppressing things that one feels. You feel it; get over it.

    Good insight.