Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Happiness

In the aftermath of Nick Kyrgios winning his fourth round match at Wimbledon all eyes were on the teenager.  He carries the sporting hopes of the nation now, and I love the fact that he's as much the medias darling for appearing "normal" as actually winning.  But while all the hype and hyberbole was being heaped on him something else was happening. A champion had lost, in an upset, to a newcomer.  

Nadal of course was the consummate professional and the commentators lauded him for it.  At Nadals post match press conference he was "gracious in defeat", they said.  "You learn more about a persons true character in defeat than in victory" they said.

And the cliches ring true.  Because it's easy to be cheery when things are going your way.   Of course you are happy if you are winning.  But can you be happy when you are losing?  And that got me thinking about happiness and it's nature.

It's been a long time since I've been to Meditation at my local Buddhist Institute. But as I reflected on the Kyrgios win, and subsequent loss, and Nadals defeat also, one of the teachings I heard there last year kept coming to mind.

It was a discussion about happiness, what happiness is, what it means and who is responsible for it.

To discuss happiness we need to understand what it is, and despite it being a constant in our minds, it is not as easily defined as we might think.  Oxford Dictionaries defines happiness as "feeling or showing pleasure or contentment", but are pleasure and contentment the same thing?  I would argue not, in fact to some degree I would consider that pleasure is at almost the opposite end of the same spectrum as contentment.

A renowned Buddhist saying defines happiness as "that which can be borne with ease", but even this has it's complications.  As I have tried to unpack before, true happiness is not necessarily comfortable or easy.

That is exactly where it differs from pleasure.  And that is exactly why it is difficult to define, convoluted to discuss and complicated to achieve.

I can compare it to my running.  When I run I am often not comfortable, usually there is difficulty, whether physical or mental and it is mostly, not pleasant.  But it makes me happy.  When it's over.  

Oh, okay, sometimes I'm happy while I'm running - at the start there is usually a bit of a bliss moment where I look around at the sun peeking over the tree tops or through the clouds, I check out the other joggers and feel a little spark of connection, like I belong here. I feel happy.  

Mostly though the real happiness comes not from running, but from having run.  In the same way that while I get sporadic pleasure from actually writing, I feel most happy for having written (thanks Dorothy Parker).

This is the contradiction of happiness.  Things that are hard, awkward, uncomfortable, even scary can actually lead us to happiness.

That which is easy, comfortable and pleasant may lead to pleasure but they won't help us achieve real happiness.

It's important we understand that difference, don't you think?  Important that we use our words accordingly, to stop saying certain thing "make us happy" when really what they do is bring us fleeting enjoyment or pleasure, not real happiness.

It's an important distinction because pleasure is fleeting and while it can be enjoyed when it finds us - it shouldn't be sought and is not a source of happiness.  In fact what we consider to be positive emotions such as pleasure, anticipation, excitment cause equal disturbance to the mind as so called negative emotions like anger, sadness, or disappointment. 

Think back to your last infatuation, the last time you fell in love.  Don't you remember feeling distracted, agitated and sort of buzzy?  It's a gorgeous feeling and one that many of us seek to replicate over and over again.  But also think about how unproductive it is, how all encompassing and how completely unsustainable.  It is pleasurable, no doubt.  But in many ways it is the opposite of happiness. 

Why? Because happiness is peace and tranquility of mind, not agitation, even pleasant agitation. Happiness can exist whether we feel pleasure or not. We can and should seek to be happy whether or not we get what we want, feel pleasure or are comfortable.  If we can find happiness within unpleasant situations, this is how we let go of attachment.

So now we have a sense of what happiness means we can have a look at who is responsible for it.  Because I think as well as expecting to get happiness from objects or situations (like cars, houses and holidays) we can also sometimes expect to get happiness from other people.  But should we?  Can we?

It seems like a simple question, with a simple answer. Obviously only I am or can be responsible for my own happiness.  Because my happiness is dependent only on me.

Disturbances to our well-being can be caused by others for example by being spoken to rudely or some other small aggravation, to a major disturbance like a loved ones death or serious illness.  But these things while challenging in their own ways, are out of our control.  Even our own health and body can be out of our control.  The only thing we have control over is our own mind and our response to outside occurrences.  What a waste then to spend our lives trying to control the things we cannot. How futile. 

Seems simple, yet when I get angry it's often because someone is not "making me happy".  My kids are not listening to me, not doing as I ask. They are ruining my plan to get out the door, get them off to sleep, or get the house tidied up.  For example.  But what insanity to put the responsibility of my happiness in the hands of my children!  What an unfair burden on them.  And what a fast track to failure for me.

No, it's important that I recognise that no other person or outside situation can "make me angry" or "make me happy".  Only I can do that for myself.  It's a big responsibility for sure. And it feels a bit daunting to acknowledge that it is all up to me.  But that doesn't mean I have to do it all on my own. That doesn't mean I can't ask for help.  It just means that I cannot hold anyone else responsible for my happiness.  Also I cannot blame them for my unhappiness, because it's my body, my mind and my happiness.  

Rather than feeling like a burden, that actually feels quite liberating, because if it's up to me, then it's up to me.  Nobody might be able to do it for me, but then nobody can stop me either.

And that feels a little like happiness.

What does your happiness look like?

Listen to Powderfinger My Happiness

Image via One Small Life


  1. Good read, Kate. True that things to our health and body can be out of our control, yet it's only us who can control our minds and our reactions and thought processes to these difficult as that can be at times. Our minds are very powerful! True happiness, I find, can actually be being able to master those techniques and that in itself can be liberating. And for me, finding happiness in simple pleasures of life too. Simple pleasures are happiness. xx

    1. Completely agree Katie - simple pleasures and mastering our own minds bring the greatest sense of joy. I am slowly learning too the very liberating art of being able to connect with happiness and joy, even in the midst of not getting my own way or uncomfortable things happening. It's a process, not an overnight occurrence, but it's an amazing transformation! x