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 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.
Used to be when I was young, if I wasn’t having fun, I’d get depressed – and the largest part of that depression was the assumption that I was supposed to be happy. So if I wasn’t happy, then surely something must be wrong – which would get me looking around, trying to figure out what it was that was wrong – looking for all the reasons I wasn’t happy. And that would get me focused on everything that was wrong in my life.
Which would only make me even more unhappy.
And so it went.
Yet a similar trap of expectations and disappointment can sabotage our meditation practice if we expect meditation to make us happy – because it gets us wondering what we’re doing wrong, and gets us chasing our tail looking for some magic 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 it’s this: to reach that happiness, we must first know everything that causes us not to be happy. 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 tranquillity and happiness. Let go of unhappiness. Let go of wanting anything. Let go of everything.
And just sit still.
As with meditation, and the winding path it take you on, things will occur or not occur on their own terms – both pleasant and unpleasant. 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.
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.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)