If you wish to create a happier life for yourself, it is helpful to become clear about what happiness means to you.
For your definition of happiness will influence every decision you make in your life - the type of work you choose, the pace you choose to live at, the type of environment you live in, your attitude towards yourself and others, the activities you engage in and the things which are a priority to you.
Each person will have their own definition of happiness.
For one person, happiness is a night out in the pub, watching football with their mates. For another, it is the satisfaction of getting the promotion at work or receiving recognition for something they have achieved. Someone else may experience happiness through prayer or meditation.
When people contemplate their own personal definition of happiness, the conclusions generally fall into 3 categories - pleasure, satisfaction and joy.
Pleasure is the happiness we experience through the body and the senses.
Feeling the warmth of the sun on the skin, hearing the sound of the waves, savouring the taste of a cold beer on a summer afternoon, enjoying good company or smelling the scent of a rose can produce moments of intense aliveness and connectedness with ourselves and others.
Wonderful as these things are, there are some obvious drawbacks to pursuing pleasure as a path to lasting happiness.
Pleasure is temporary. It comes and goes. And, it is dependent on factors outwith ourselves. Pleasure can be unhealthy as well as healthy and can also be a source of pain, disconnectedness or addiction.
I love to eat pancakes every now and then - topped with butter and dripping with maple syrup! The first one is a delight to the taste buds, the second slightly less so and I know that if I were to indulge in a third or fourth, that the pleasure would quickly turn into its opposite, pain and regret.
The second definition of happiness, satisfaction, is the happiness we experience through the mind. It arrives when we successfully achieve a goal, when thing go our way or when we regard situations or circumstances as favourable.
We feel satisfied when our business or relationship is going well, when our football team wins or when we get promoted at work.
Like pleasure, happiness derived from satisfaction is derived from external factors. We are happy for a particular reason and remain so only as long as things don't change on the outside.
When things don't go as we wish them too, satisfaction can quickly change to its opposite, pain or dissatisfaction. If your partner walks out the door, your happiness can walk out with them.
When our happiness is based on external factors out with our control, we live on shaky ground. That is why it is wise not to put all of our happiness eggs in one basket!
JOY OR UNCAUSED HAPPINESS
Joy is the happiness which springs forth of its own accord from the depths of our being. It is the happiness of young children, who are happy for no reason. It is simply their nature to be happy. Joy is the happiness of the spirit.
Unlike pleasure and satisfaction, it is not limited to the body, the mind or the senses. It announces itself through each of these.
Being the ground of our being, our original unconditioned nature, it doesn't come and go and has no opposite.
It is what remains when we strip away all the stories we tell ourselves about happiness and unhappiness.
Being our true nature, everyone, without exception, has experienced this state.
Long distance runners, mountaineers, meditators, artists and sports people 'in the zone' know this space well. It can also be triggered by a stunning sunset, childbirth or being in love.
An intense awareness of the present moment can cause us to temporarily forget all notions such as my life, my problems, my limitations or my unhappiness.
Unburdened by the judgements, comparisons and self-limiting conclusions of a conditioned mind, young children (and conscious adults) hang out in this space of uncaused joy.
"Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven - Matthew 18:3
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