Happiness is found in Reality.
Happiness is found in reality. I can imagine that idea may not sit well with you. It certainly didn’t with me when I was first starting to wake up to my life and Joy, Peace, and Contentment. Reality seems hard; in our culture, reality has a negative connotation. This negative belief is partially built into humanity because we usually only associate reality with negative events. It’s as if positive events can’t be reality. “Avoid reality, it’s harsh,” is the unspoken rule. This thought continues, and we falsely think that if we avoid reality, we avoid negative things in our life. And so the problem creates a circular logic and reinforces itself. I suspect that a big part of the problem is the false perceptions we have of reality. So let’s define reality and happiness.
What is Reality?
I know this seems obvious, but let’s start here. Reality is what is seen by emotionless outside observation. For instance, a video camera sees reality. When someone watches the video camera’s recording, though, what that person experiences as they watch the recording is not reality. Reality is not what we sense, think, believe, or feel about any given situation. Our senses and our internal thoughts, beliefs, and feelings are our own experience but they are not reality. I refer to our sensory experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings as our internal dialogue. In other words, our actions are reality but our sensory experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about reality are not.
What is Happiness?
If we were to look at our brains in an fMRI machine while we felt happy, basically we would see that happiness is just an emotion like any other emotion. I realize that this may sound boring but it’s the truth. Happiness will come and go with our perceptions of different situations, just like all emotions do. Emotions fade into new emotions, like clouds in the sky fade into new clouds, all the time. Happiness is just an emotion that we feel. There is one important point about happiness though. Happiness will arise naturally if we give it room in our minds.
Happiness is our natural state of being if we allow it to be. Thus, one definition of happiness is we feel happy when no “needs” or “wants” dominate our minds. We have “needs” for survival and we have “wants” for life satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with having them. When we give those “needs” and “wants” control over our thoughts and actions, we no longer have room in our minds for happiness to reside naturally. Once that space is full, we think we have to acquire our “needs” and “wants” to feel happiness.
Happiness is a pleasant feeling to us. And the desire for pleasure is built into us. For example, if a baby is massaged and then the person giving the massage moves away, the baby will crawl towards them or cry until they return. As adults we react the same way, except we may not be so blatant with our crying. The problem is that as we grow, we learn to associate happiness with pleasure from external stimuli and that association is constantly reinforced in our culture, institutions, media, and relationships.
If our emotions are congruent with reality, then our lives are easier.
I feel pretty confident predicting that no one feels truly happy for very long, or at all, when they are using a particular brand of laundry soap. The same goes for tires, bathroom products, fizzy drinks, or even clothes. Yet the advertisers sell us the idea that if we buy the product they’re selling then we’ll be happy. Although the pleasure that something gives us can last a long time, once we buy the product we often find the happiness we may feel from that purchase is short-lived at best. Learning that the pleasure we feel from an idea or thing is not happiness is an important step towards achieving that happiness.
For instance, soap is soap. It serves an important purpose in life, but that is all it does. The clean feeling soap can give certainly feels good, but it is not happiness. That is an example of reality. Once we let go of the desire to feel happiness from the brand of soap we buy, do we find we are less happy? I doubt it. Instead, I suspect that you will have a bit more room in your mind to feel happy because you’ve let go of the “need” to be made happy by soap.
When we let go of our “needs” and “wants” to be made happy by the things we buy or the ideas we believe, we open up all kinds of room in our hearts to feel happy naturally. We no longer expect happiness to come to us externally.
How do we let go of our “needs” and “wants”?
Here is a simple mindfulness exercise to help you start opening your mind for happiness. It entails watching your behavior. The next time you go to a store, or a restaurant or cafe, ask yourself why you are going there. The easy answers will be, “Because I want to”, or “I need to eat.” Look underneath those easy answers, though. If you’re going to a store, ask yourself if you are going to buy something that you think will make you happy, or if you are going because you enjoy shopping. If you’re going to an eating establishment, ask yourself if you will feel pleasure by having a full stomach, or if you will enjoy eating the food. As you do this exercise, you’ll become more aware of the reasons that you’re doing certain things. That awareness or mindfulness is key to opening your mind to happiness.
A mind that is aware is a mind that can be happy. As you start to understand the deeper reasons you’re behaving in certain ways, you’ll probably start to find ways to lessen the hold on your mind that “needs” and “wants” have. Then you can start letting go of those “needs” and “wants”, opening up room for more happiness in your life. It takes practice and diligence; it’s usually not something that happens after one try. If you keep practicing mindfulness, though, you’ll find that your daily mood will become more positive. You’ll find that most happiness is found in reality.
May Joy, Peace, and Contentment fill your day.