Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happiness is the Way

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. –Buddha

A friend asked me to “favor him with a reflection” on this saying by the Buddha. I doubt that my reflections are a favor to anyone, and I have no expertise in Buddhism, but the passage is intriguing and I have been mulling it over for a few days.

It reminds me that there is no way to happiness “out there.” I’ve read that only 10% of our happiness is dependent on outer circumstances. That’s not very much. So happiness, if it to be found anywhere, is inside us. As the Bible says, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”

I had lunch today with a former student, now with his own successful practice. As we talked, I was struck by his great attitude about life. He seemed truly happy. I asked him about it, and he told me a story. He spent six years in the Navy, most all of it out at sea working in the engine room of the ship. It was hot. It was hot all the time. There were no days off, no vacations. He looks back on it in a Tale of Two Cities kind of way – it was the worst of times which led to the best of times. Now when he gets up in the night and goes to his refrigerator for a glass of cold milk, even after all these years, he is grateful that he has a kitchen that has a refrigerator that has fresh, cold milk in it. He is content.

Happiness is not a destination. It is the way we live. Or at least it is the way we can live, if we choose to. Choosing to live that way might take some effort, perhaps some training. There is much wisdom out there to guide us, to inspire us, to encourage us. But, like horses, we can be led to joy, but not made to drink it. Ultimately, it is our choice to live in joy. Or not. That freedom to choose can be scary (there is no one to blame) and liberating (we have the power) at the same time.

It is a choice we make every moment. We can remember happy times in the past, we can anticipate happy times in the future, but happiness can only be actually experienced in the present moment. So each moment is a new opportunity to choose. I believe that if we choose repeatedly to be happy, it becomes a habit, our default position. It doesn’t mean that we feel lalala happy all the time. But it means that we live from that foundation. It is our home base. In that sense, happiness is the way.

Developing joyful habits is the focus of this blog. The title 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) might sound like there is a way to happiness “out there,” but in truth, all the steps bring us back to where we started, with ourselves. George Moore said, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” Like finding your glasses on top of your head, we wake up and realize that our happiness was here all along.


  1. "We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time."
    - T S Eliot 'Four Quartets'

    Peace to you and your family, Galen

  2. Galen Pearl: I have studied Buddhism for many years, and the closest I have been able to come to understanding it is my recognition of the fact that I travel through life without knowledge. Buddhism is not really a religion, although in the Western world we tend to need a classification. It is a fascinating way of life that actually works. We all have an innate great perfection, and happily attempting to identify with it daily makes our lives much more fulfilling. If we learn how to listen in order to understand, we become happier. We should listen without prejudice, judgment, or reaction. When we do, we automatically alleviate a great deal of pain in the person to whom we are listening.

    I have enjoyed blogging with you very much, because you happily search for answers. Happiness is the way.

  3. I swear your posts are giving me such a positive outlook for the upcoming year!

  4. Alexia--Thank you for adding this quote. I love the part "know the place for the first time." I'm reminded of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, learning that everything she really wanted was at home.

    JJ--Thank you for adding your wisdom. One of the things I really appreciate about Buddhism is the belief that we have "an innate great perfection." Although I belong to a Christian faith community, I find that I incorporate much from Buddhism into my own faith. (As you have said, it is not inconsistent.) There are those in the Christian faith who believe that we are in essence flawed, tainted by original sin. I prefer to think of us all (of any faith or no faith) as in essence pure and perfect light, wondrously loving and beloved, one with each other as a reflection of our oneness with the divine.

    onemixedbag--You are a sweetie! Your comments are giving me such a positive outlook! Thank you!

  5. Thanks for a positive post. Often the feat for me is to practice all items in the moment when the moment is a negative emotion (#4). I am getting better at it. :-)

  6. I came to visit on the suggestion of Bernie from One Mixed Bag. Great positive blog. Isn't it a pity that many people live on the other side of happiness. I like your 10 points, especially #9. the grateful one. If people used just the grateful one, they would find their happiness. I am your new follower.
    I know your day was "Happy." :)
    Wanna buy a duck

  7. Manzanita -- Thanks to Bernie, and welcome! Glad you like the blog. You are right about #9. As you can see, many of the steps overlap. For example, if we are grateful, we are more likely to be compassionate and forgiving.

  8. I agree 100%. That said, choosing happiness is so much easier for some people than others. I feel sorry for some of my students, who just don't have the reinforcements for choosing happiness on a regular basis. Still, I keep trying... :)

  9. This post is the reason I am following your lovely blog. It touches me deeply. It gives me pause and the need to share this for you... It's strange how deserts turn us into believers. I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages, because you learn humility. I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together. And I believe in the gathering of bones as a testament to spirits that have moved on. If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self.
    "There is no place to hide, and so we are found." So true. Terry Tempest Williams in is a true gift in life to visit places like this.

  10. Mrs4444 -- Yes it is easier for some than others. It is not something that came naturally to me. I had to learn it. I think that is why I am enjoying writing about this and teaching it at retreats and in discussion groups.

    Karen S -- What an interesting comment about deserts. I had not thought about that before, but of course you are right. Jesus went into the desert to pray, for example. And there were the desert fathers. I have never really been drawn to the desert. I am more of a mountain person. But I am going to ponder what you said. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, and thank you for your nice words about the blog.


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