What is happiness?
We all want happiness, but how many of us ever take a moment to think about what it really means. On one level it means different things to different people, but on deeper reflection we find that real happiness comes from the same place for everyone.
Some of us go about life operating on unexamined assumptions, even about the things that are vitally important to us, like love, friendship and happiness. We take the meaning of those concepts for granted, but if our assumptions are wrong, or limited, we’ll be selling ourselves short. We might be so busy chasing a superficial kind of happiness that we miss out on the deeper happiness that will truly fulfil us.
So what is real happiness?
Is it eating fabulous chocolate cake? Or getting that new car you’ve been saving for? Is it finally moving into your new house, or a fun party, or a good meal shared with friends, or helping someone out, playing with your dog, stroking a cat or cuddling a loved one?
These are certainly one kind of happiness, but they’re not real happiness. No, not even cuddling a loved one. Why? Because these are all forms of happiness that rely on external circumstances, and, as such, they are fleeting and out of our control.
Happiness based on material goods and external circumstances doesn’t last.
We finish the chocolate cake; the new car gets old; our new house starts to get worn; the party ends, as does the meal with friends and the glow we get from helping someone out, playing with our pet or cuddling a loved one.
Happiness from external circumstances or material objects is out of our control and easily lost. We can work hard for the money to buy the things we think will make us happy, but a stock market crash, unexpected unemployment, a divorce, death or accident can prevent us from achieving our dreams and take material goods and happy circumstances from us in a flash—not to mention storms, fires and earthquakes. And even when we hold onto our material goods, the pleasure we take in them tends to fade with time, and we find ourselves looking for something else that we hope will make us happy.
This becomes a cycle of grasping, we reach endlessly for material goods and external circumstances that we think will make us happy. The objects and events may make us happy for a while, but it’s not the deeply satisfying happiness that is real happiness.
Searching for happiness outside ourselves makes us suffer.
When we search for happiness in material goods and events, we chase what we want and try to avoid situations and objects that we don’t like or don’t want. We live in hope and fear, hope for getting what we want, and fear of not getting what we want, or of getting what we don’t want. In this way, our very search for happiness creates suffering or disappointment. At the very least we feel an underlying sense of dissatisfaction, a nagging feeling that somehow something is missing.
So where do we find a lasting happiness?
There is another kind of happiness, the deeper, more fulfilling happiness that comes from inner peace and contentment. This kind of happiness does not depend on outer circumstances, and once we have it firmly established, it is with us always. This is real happiness because it is within our control and is the only happiness that lasts.
Until our inner peace and contentment is stable, we can still lose it, but once we have the skills, we will be able to return to it without depending on external circumstances. The most profound inner peace and contentment comes from enlightenment, which is not some lofty ideal only for saints, rather it is the realisation of one’s true nature and the removal of everything that obscures it.
Imagine always being happy, always having inner peace and contentment regardless of what circumstances befall us.
It is possible. Look at His Holiness the Dalia Lama.
How do we get this inner peace and contentment?
The way to inner peace and contentment is meditation. Meditation practice brings us many other benefits as well, but even a brief daily meditation practice will increase our sense of inner peace and our ability to handle our life with a positive outlook and be content with what we have. Being content stops us from always wanting more. It cuts the cycle of grasping that only causes unhappiness in the same was as salt water increases our thirst. This is the basis of a real, lasting happiness.
So the point of this slogan—Remember Real Happiness—is to remind you where to look for real happiness—the kind that once firmly established no one can take away from you, no matter what is happening to you. When external circumstances are making you unhappy and you don’t seem to be able to do anything about it, remember real happiness, stop chasing external forms of happiness and look for happiness inside yourself, not outside.
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