In Pursuit of Happiness, What Does it Even Mean?
I recently read an article on "the world's happiest man."
To give you some insight, the world's happiest man is Matthieu Ricard. He is a writer and Buddhist monk who had a career in cellular genetics before he went to study Buddhism. The author of the article, Michael Paterniti (who I LOVE and completely recommend you read his other work) questions him on happiness and asks to define what it even means and how it can even be achieved.
I mean, how is it even possible to remain unbothered and calm in spite of all the chaos this world has to offer?
The article had me questioning the same things about myself, asking myself if I am making an active effort to make myself happy and if I am not, then how can I go about bettering that?
I think that's also what writing does: it forces you to question and reflect. More importantly, it forces you to relive (certain experiences, lessons, etc.) and come up with an answer or solution. Or even better, it can also lead you to a 'non-answer' or even more questions and it becomes your decision to be at peace with that or not.
Part of reaching happiness is deciding whether something puts you at peace or not. And if it doesn't, you let it go. I don't mean to speak in cliches, but there is something so profound in something so simple.
How often have we questioned our abilities and have fallen short from our goals all because we didn't believe in ourselves? How often have we beaten ourselves down over something we could clearly achieve, but didn't because we were too busy comparing ourselves to others?
Have you noticed that our world becomes just a little bit smaller each time we approach it with negativity?
In the article, Paterniti talks about a study on meditation. There were two groups: intense meditators (monks) vs non-practitioners of meditation. In the study, each group was told they would hear a loud noise, and the scientists would see how each group reacted to it. It turns out that the non-practicioners took it pretty rough while the monks reacted minimally.
Both groups were affected by the noise, but how they handled the intrusion made all the difference.
While it is about perspective, achieving happiness is also about how strong our minds are and our abilities to let go of the chaos that enters it. Happiness is a decision.
Upon questioning my own decisions, I realized I am a lot happier than I used to be.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time thinking, and over-thinking, and questioning (mostly myself) over and over and over again.
Did I do it right? Was I supposed to act that way? Why don't they like me? What's wrong with me?
My childhood/teenage years is a completely different post lol. But what I am getting at here is that I spent a lot of time comparing and questioning my self and my worth. I was not satisfied with the idea that I can simply be and be okay with that. Even worse, whenever something negative happened to me, I saw it as justification for reasons why my life was not meant to be filled with happiness:
- this happened to me because I am like this.
- this happened to me because I deserved it.
- this happened to me because I was not good enough.
It's funny, we think we have it all figured out. After some years of getting our knees bruised and getting thrown around by life, we think we know the world. At the time I thought I did. (Disclaimer: I still don't). But I always found myself coming to the conclusion that my life was miserable because I was misery.
At 22, I realize that's not the case; I realize I can change that.
I know all of this sounds obvious and hunky dory, but I ask you: when was the last time you allowed a negative situation to affect you? Did it consume you? How long did you hold on to it and what were you reasons for doing so?
Recently for me, it was a grade on an assignment. I know questioning, "why am I like this?" is a term a lot of people my age use. It's meme-friendly and simple :). But I really did question, "why am I like this?" and "why didn't I just do it sooner, studied harder?"
I wasn't looking for any answers to these questions. I knew I was doing it again, that self-doubt thing. I was so caught up in questioning my own abilities that I viewed my grade as a reflection of who I am and my own capabilities. While, yes, I could have done it sooner, and yes, I could have studied harder, it does not mean I should invest so much of my energy questioning myself and allowing this negative instance to define me. I didn't allow it to for long, but I realized I caught myself falling into that pit of self-doubt.
In comparison to my childhood, the younger version of me would have mourned over it for days. I would be so invested in my woes that I would forget about all the good things. Our minds tend to do that -- force us to zoom in on the negative even though the amount of positive outweighs it all.
So -- back to happiness. What is it and how can we get it?
It's different for a lot of cases, but based off of the article, I think it weighs down to two main ideas:
1.) Accept the world is chaotic. Accept that there are just some things, some external forces that we cannot change. Allow the suffering to exist, and go through (instead of over) that suffering to find what it is you need to move forward. But don't allow it to stay too long.
2.) Comparison will only result in our own failures. You are not better, not lesser. You are simply who you are and that is always enough. The beauty of life is that it is meant to be imperfect. You are human and you make mistakes, but don't ever apologize for being yourself.
“The search for happiness is not about looking at life through rose-colored glasses or blinding oneself to the pain and imperfections of the world…. It is the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred and obsession, that literally poison the mind.” – Matthieu Ricard
With adversity, comes strength, resilience. With each moment of darkness, light will exist. Both will always exist, but it is within our own power to decide what we make of that and of our lives.
Anyway, speaking of adversity, finals week is coming up and I have five finals so I'm ready to get rekt (or not, if I allot enough ample time to study 😉 ). I should go back to that soon, so I will leave two things that I have learned (and try to apply everyday) myself:
1.) Everything in life is transient.
2.) It isn't about the t-shirt, it's about how you wear the t-shirt. In other words, if you are confident and you believe in yourself, you're gonna look good and be good (at anything!) no matter the situation.
Happy h̶e̶l̶l̶ finals week, and remember that no matter what happens, you're still doing the damn thing.