Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Road to Happiness

Image by Julien Sanine

I understand that two women were studying a painting titled “The Road to Happiness.” The scene was warm and compelling. “Isn’t that beautiful?” one of the women said to her friend.

But the other looked despondent. "Of course it's beautiful. The only problem is… there is no such road."

No road to happiness. And I suspect she may be right, in part, anyway. There is no one path that, if we just follow, we will be sure to arrive at happiness. But that doesn’t mean there are not various roads to greater happiness. And one path is really quite simple: to stop thinking that happiness as a state of being somewhere in the future. If we can’t be happy now, can we be happy later?

Writer Barbara DeAngelis, in her audio-book Real Moments, says this about happiness: “Although when we say, 'I want to be happy' we are usually projecting ourselves into the future, happiness, by definition, can only be found now, in this moment.”

Forget about being happy later, she says, happiness right here and right now is all there really is.

She continues, "If you can't be happy now with what you have and who you are, you will not be happy when you get what you think you want. If you don't know how to fully enjoy $500, you won't enjoy $5,000 or $500,000. If you can't fully enjoy taking a walk around the block with your mate, then you won't enjoy going to Hawaii or Paris. I'm not saying that having more money or more recreation won't make your life easier. It will. But it won't make you happier because it can't."

And we don’t have to take her word for it. The Dalai Lama (The Art of Happiness), who has made a study of these things, puts it this way: “We don't need more money, we don't need greater success or fame, we don't need the perfect body or even the perfect mate - right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.”

So we all have, at this very moment, the basic equipment we need to achieve happiness. That means there really IS a road to happiness – and you and I are on it. In fact, we’ve ALWAYS been on it. Is there a reason we can’t be happy now?

Let me ask you a question. I know it sounds a bit morbid. But, could you be happy right now if you knew you were to be hanged in a few days, or even a few hours? What is much worse than that? As bad as things have ever gotten for me, they’ve never risen to that level of fear and uncertainty. But the question is not just theoretical. It was real for Dietrich Bonheoffer in 1944.

Arrested as part of a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, the German pastor and theologian languished in a Gestapo prison awaiting his execution. In his last letter to his fiancĂ©e, just hours before his execution, Bonheoffer writes about his love for her – and about happiness.
“You must not think I am unhappy. What is happiness and unhappiness? It depends so little on the circumstances. It depends really only on that which happens inside a person. I am grateful every day that I have you, and that makes me happy.”
And that’s it, isn’t it? Happiness depends little on circumstances and a lot about what’s going on inside of us. We have the basic equipment needed to be contented and at peace now. Whether we recognize it or not, we are already on the road to happiness.

 I wonder … can we ever just pause in our pursuit of happiness long enough to be happy? I think it’s worth a try.

-- Steve Goodier

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