The False God of Happiness
‘If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.’
– Edith Wharton
Got this question today, and thought it might be worth a post:
‘Roger, I’ve been meditating for two years now, and I’m still unhappy. I’m wondering what I’m doing wrong. ‘
On the surface, this might seem a silly question – but it’s not. It goes to one of the principle lessons we need to learn if we are to be able to meditate effectively. That is, we must learn to let go of everything – pleasant, unpleasant, right, wrong, good, bad.
Let it all go.
And in particular, we must learn to let go of our expectation of happiness – not just to meditate effectively, but also if we are to live well.
Speaking personally, when I was young, if I wasn’t having fun, I’d get depressed. Much later, I realized that the largest part of that depression had been the assumption that I was supposed to be happy. So if I wasn’t happy, then surely something must be wrong. And that would get me looking around, trying to figure out what it was that was wrong with me, with my life, whatever – looking for all the reasons I wasn’t happy – which would get me focused on all the things that were wrong in my life. And that would only make me even more unhappy.
And so it went. Stupid huh?
Yet a similar trap of expectations and disappointment can sabotage our meditation practice if we expect meditation to make us happy – because whenever we’re going through a rough patch, which is inevitable, we start looking for what we’re doing wrong. And that gets us chasing our tail looking for some magic trick or new meditation method that will deliver us the happiness we pine for – a visualization, a new mantra, this teacher or that book. And around and around we go, with our meditation practice in a downward spiral, possibly leading to us giving up entirely.
So here’s the thing.
I’m not saying tranquility and relative happiness of a kind are not in the final mix when it comes to meditation. Of course they are. But there’s a catch. And ironically, one of the most powerful impediments to happiness is the expectation of happiness itself!
So the only solution is to let go. Let go of expecting tranquility. Let go of wanting to be calm, in the same way as letting go of unhappiness itself.
Let go of wanting anything. Let go of everything.
Just sit still.
As with meditation and the winding path it takes you on, things will occur or not occur on their own terms – both pleasant and unpleasant. And if happiness is to come, then let it come upon you like a wonderful surprise – like a burst of sunlight on a cloudy day, which briefly lights up the world, then disappears. And if not, then practice not giving a damn.
Like stillness and life itself, happiness will always be ephemeral – here, then not here, for reasons all its own. So there’s no point looking for it, or expecting it, or hoping for it, or wanting it to happen. I gave up on happiness a long time ago, and it was the beginning of a wonderful life.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
‘BEING STILL’ is available on Amazon as a softback book …….. AUD $26.40 (incl. GST)
‘BEING STILL’ is also available as a Kindle ebook …………………………………..AUD $11.99
‘BEING STILL’ the audiobook (including all exercises) …………………………. AUD $25.00
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)
I completely agree. Until a few years ago, my pursuit was of “happiness”, and then I realised that that is a wrong goal to aspire for.
Oh, that does not make me an enlightened soul just yet. While I’ve given up on my attachment to happiness, I am unable to get over the revulsion of unhappiness. I am unable to view the unhappiness as a passing thing, like I am able to view happiness. It took quite a few years for the former, the latter can’t be easy.