Almost every day I have a conversation with someone about happiness. Sometimes it’s a client, sometimes a friend and often it’s an inner dialogue with myself. On a recent trip to Stockholm I visited the Nobel Museum and was once again reminded who these exceptional people, the winners of the Nobel Prize, were and why they were so honored. The Peace Prize winners especially interested me and I spent some time viewing the exhibition on the life work of the Dali Lama. I’ve had the honor twice in my life to be in the same room with this man. Once at an event at San Jose State University where there were thousands of people gathered to hear him deliver a scheduled lecture and conduct a kirtan and meditation, and another time in Santa Fe where I was attending a conference on “Addiction and the Family”. There were about 75 of us assembled in the typical small hotel conference room when the program was interrupted for a “special guest”. In walks His Holiness the Dali Lama, smiling, beaming in fact, and nodding at each of us with his hands in the prayer position as he walked, without entourage, down the center aisle of the room. He had come because he heard that a group of therapists was also in Santa Fe and that we were focusing on the family. He came to thank us. Wow! Aside from the “thanks” I don’t remember much of what he said and he didn’t stay long. What I DO remember is my impression that this man was truly happy. He didn’t speak of happiness that I remember, but he radiated it. I think he probably lives it moment by moment. At the Nobel Museum, the quote offered representing the Dali Lama’s philosophy was simply “The purpose of life is to be happy”. So simple, uncluttered, direct and, I believe, true. We may pursue money, power, love, fame, health, intellectual accomplishment or whatever else draws our attention and effort, but what are we really after? Simple happiness. There are many paths to self-realization but don’t all true paths lead to the same place? And isn’t that place ultimately characterized by happiness?
When I was in my late twenties and being courted by my now husband of 32 years, he told me that his goal in life was to be happy. I was not impressed. I thought him naive, unambitious, even lazy. I, on the other hand, wanted to be enlightened, save the world, become a therapist, overcome my anxiety etc. etc. Oh, I had lists alright…lists upon lists. But happiness was not on them. Who was this man that I was so drawn to and yet, unlike me at the time, so uncomplicated? It turns out he was my life partner and teacher and fellow traveler who held the beacon of happiness out to me as I struggled with less and sometimes even “grander” goals. I’ve come to realize that any goal isn’t satisfying if it doesn’t make you happy. Even in those rare and deep moments of meditation when I realize for an instant the life beyond delusion, feeling what Yogis call “bliss”, what I’ve come to understand is that this is the ultimate form of happiness.
I treat people every day who are not happy. I/we label it as depression, dysthymia, anxiety, relationship problems, addiction and on and on. I/we work hard to eliminate those “symptoms” and sometimes we do. But even when we do, does happiness result? I maintain that happiness is not the mere absence of symptoms. I also believe that the symptoms are informative; a loud knock on the door of our consciousness trying to tell us that all is not well, that we are not happy. Minus “symptoms”, millions suffer in quiet desperation, silent dissociation from themselves and life. I say “thank you” to symptoms because they are, if we chose to make them so, one of the gateways to our ultimate happiness. “Something has to change” they tell us. Yes, something DOES have to change. We need to become our authentic selves and turn our pathologies into a path toward happiness.
Kahil Gibran, in his book “The Prophet” says this much more eloquently than I.
“…Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.”
“…Joy and sorrow, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
How can we be happy; what is the nature of happiness? We’ll explore more of this in future blogs.