Happiness is one of the most misunderstood words in our vocabulary. Yet, we search for this intangible state our whole lives. If I only had this or that, if I met the right partner, had a big house, a new car, the job I’ve always wanted – then I would be happy! However, when we achieve these perceived wants, we often find the happiness they bring to be short lived and start the ‘if only’ process all over again.
Mindfulness practice teaches us that happiness is real only when we let go of seeking material and transient things and discover the lasting joy that is within. Every time we see a giggling baby or young child we’re reminded that we are all born with this natural and innate sense of happiness. We learn about suffering or unhappiness as we grow older, more externalised and as circumstances change.
Here are some of the ways you can ‘re-kindle’ the happiness you are born with:
Don’t take yourself too seriously. At times of hardship, it’s easy to lose your humour, and even easier to get involved with the negative aspects of what is happening. Remembering not to take yourself too seriously brings a lightness and acceptance to the weight of circumstance around you.
Not to confuse your suffering, loss, or illness, as being who you are. When we experience suffering, a loss or illness etc. we can often see this as ‘who we are’, identifying ourselves as a cancer survivor / widow / recovering addict, or whatever it may be. Instead we need to ask ourselves who we are without that label or identity. When you don’t identify with the negative issues, then who you really are has a chance to shine.
It’s OK to be you, just as you are, flaws and all. You may think you’re imperfect, a mess, falling apart, hopeless, or unable to cope. But true perfection is really accepting your imperfections. It is accepting yourself, complete with all the things you like as well as the things you don’t like. In this way you’re not struggling with or rejecting yourself. Each one of us is unique, a one-time offer, but we can’t know this if we are facing away from ourselves.
Make friends with yourself. Your relationship with yourself is the only one you have that lasts for the whole of your life, and you can be the greatest friend or the worst enemy to yourself. So it’s very important not to emotionally put down or beat yourself up. Just be kind.
Feel everything, whatever it may be. When you are suffering, it’s easy to want to deny or repress your feelings, as they get huge and overwhelming. If you can really honour whatever you are feeling then it will bring you closer to the inner happiness beneath the suffering or grief. Acknowledging and making friends with your real feelings is the greatest gift.
Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Treasure yourself. These are big steps, but each one liberates the heart and sets you free. You can forgive yourself for feeling angry, for getting upset, for all things you think you’ve done wrong. They are in the past and who you are now is not who you were then. You can take any guilt or shame by the hand, invite it in for tea, and open yourself to self-forgiveness.
Meditate. There is an overwhelming amount of research showing how meditation changes the circuits in the part of the brain associated with contentment and happiness and stimulates the ‘feel-good’ factor. Meditating on love and kindness makes you much, much happier! And the only way to know this is to try it, so don’t hesitate.
A particularly effective form of meditation is Mindfulness Meditation. OPAL have a number of books and CD’s on Mindfulness and Meditation. These are available at the OPAL On-Line Store. I also run a number of courses on Mindfulness and a weekly Mindfulness Meditation class at The OPAL Centre.