Chasing Happiness

Unity by the Bay, 2 September 2018

SONG (Bob Sima): Easy Does It, from It’s Time

“Take it easy.” “Chill out.” “Relax.” “Calm down.” All phrases that remind us to become more aware of our presence.

We all have our “moments”, as we call them. Those experiences that change our state of being that get us all up in a tizzy. Maybe they last a split second and maybe we wallow on for days, finding some strange comfort and distorted pleasure with our frustration, our anger, our fear, our embarrassment, our grief. Whatever the reason for our dis-ease, we can so cleverly attempt to convince others – often with success – that our personally defined and manifested dis-ease is the only way to be. And we can work really hard to make our point by acting it out!

Whether short-lived or over-dramatized, we cannot always predict what is going to throw us into a tail-spin, right? But I would bet that the spinning would end much sooner if we could remember to breathe and take it slow, to breathe and let it go, to breathe and let it be so.

The definition of dis-ease is simply “a lack of ease”. Taking that definition a little further, it is the presence of difficulty that often requires extended effort to resolve, a rigidity or discomfort, a lack of poise, the presence of worry, or a sense of being faced with a problem.

Yuck! Who wants all that? We would love to bypass all that and go straight to happiness, right?

Anne Frank said this: “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”

Dr Tal Ben-Shahar is an author and is renowned for teaching two of Harvard’s most popular courses, Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership. He is also co-founder of four organizations that package his teachings for certified happiness coaches, communities, children, business leadership, and organizations. In his book Happier, he describes The Happiness Model, otherwise known as The Hamburger Model because of his comparison of satisfaction and happiness when we choose to create different levels of happiness for ourselves.

I selected my words carefully in describing his approach. Notice my words: we choose to create our happiness.

The first archetype is Hedonism. This is when we make a choice that leads to present benefit and future detriment. A hedonist focuses only on enjoying the present moment and completely ignores the potential or probable negative consequences of the chosen present-moment action. They choose to eat the greasy double-decker junk-food burger layered with cheese and bacon and sided with french fries for the present moment indulgence, aware of the potential painful aftermath of a challenged digestive system. Hedonism.

The second archetype is the Rat Race, the opposite of the first archetype. This is when we make a choice that leads to present detriment and future benefit. The rat racer chooses some level of suffering in the present moment for a potential payoff in the future. So they choose to eat a tasteless vegetarian burger that barely stays together as a patty, made even less patty-like in a lettuce wrap to avoid a bun made from – what the FDA calls – wheat but has been modified beyond recognition from the original wheat grain. They bypass flavor and the ability to enjoy a meal to feel healthy in the long run. Rat Race.

The third archetype is Nihilism. This is the absolute worst burger of all. This is when we make a choice that leads to both present detriment and future detriment. The nihilist chooses to suffer in the present moment with a tasteless burger that is also completely unhealthy, so there is no satisfaction now or in the future. They generally cannot enjoy the present moment and have lost their sense of purpose. Nihilism.

The final archetype is Happiness. This is when we make a choice that leads to both present benefit and future benefit. Imagine a burger as tasty as the junk-food burger and as healthy as the vegetarian burger. This creates happiness and a choice that feels safe and secure in the present moment that will lead to feeling fulfilled post-meal.

Without going into the details of the personality traits and characteristics of the person that might exemplify each archetype, you can probably guess that we live with all four. We spend time with and as each one, on our journey toward happiness.

Yes, happiness is a journey, an experience, a fleeting moment that we are chasing through our every choice. Short-term or temporary detriments can be experienced with little significant harm to ourselves and no harm to others. I believe the goal is to make the happy fleeting moments more frequent so that the combined effects of the present benefit and the future benefit outweigh any minor detriments we might choose to indulge in between. As the distance between detriments becomes shorter and shorter, we can stop chasing happiness and settle into joy.

As we move into meditation, recognize yourself as the Hedonist, the Rat Racer, the Nihilist, and the Happiness archetypes. Are you able to feel happy, internally, when you think about being all four of these archetypes? They are all present. Is there an archetype that you generally favor more than the others? Is there a conscious decision on your part to present that dominant archetype? What is that motivation? Is it preventing a feeling of happiness or a state of joy? Is there a balance that could be achieved by allowing the other archetypes into your journey?

Every morning, every moment, we get to create any of the possibilities of each archetype. As you breathe yourself into a meditative state, I invite you to map this day and the moments that will complete it in a way that will make you feel happy. Your day begins when you open your physical eyes. Let us intentionally create happiness throughout it within the mind’s eye.

SONG (Bob Sima): Presence, from Believe the Bird

A good friend recently presented a question to a group of people, asking for input into concepts that he, himself, is pondering. He invited the opportunity for dialogue, opinions, thoughts, and any other musings around his question. The question was presented like this:

——— It is reasonable to say that joy flows from growth. And that joy also comes from a sense of contentedness. It is also reasonable to say that without discontent of some form, there is little impetus for growth to occur.

Is it possible for meaningful growth to occur from a state of perpetual contentedness? Or does growth require a level of discontent that prompts change from the status quo?

So is the path to joy one that includes discontent in proper dosage? ———

My response was this:

——— Growth can come through any feeling or state of being, if we choose to be conscious and aware.

A feeling of discontent is just that. It is a feeling.

A state of joy is just that. It is a state. It is a state of being. And a state of being is something that is received. It is not something that somebody can or is trying to create. It simply exists on its own with or without an observer, with or without recognition.

I believe that people can feel joy even in a discontented state. For example, discontent may be an angst about something that is happening in the world – our little microcosm or the larger macrocosm – that makes us uncomfortable. Discontent can lead to a desire to do something or change something or to motivate an action. There is an “I don’t feel good” moment that comes and, when we are ready, we take action to change that to an “I feel better” feeling. I believe we have the power to transmute discontentment.

Depending on your definition of “growth”, I would say that discontent can absolutely lead to growth… or not. We experience something that does not make us feel good. We have two choices: 1- do something about it, or 2- do nothing about it. Doing something can be scary, vulnerable, silent, outrageous, or anything in between. So maybe we tolerate a discontent?

The growth comes when that discontent is no longer acceptable. It crosses a boundary, a threshold, a limit. That is what initiates change and – when we choose to do something – we typically grow through the discontent to a different state of “who”ness. Who we are shifts through the discontent and that feeling changes to something we more passionately desire. Growth.

As I already mentioned, joy can still be experienced in those (discontent) feelings that become energy in motion or e-motion. Joy never “goes” anywhere. We just tend to overlook it when our laser beam is focused on something else, which I also believe is necessary for our growth.

I believe joy is a power that is already within us. To me, you cannot strive for joy. You have to stop, breathe, and recognize its presence. We may forget that it is there, which is why, I believe, we experience discontentment: so we can remember joy. And add love and peace and harmony into that list as well. ———

So my friends, I ask: Are you chasing happiness? If so, I would like to remind you that you just had a momentary slip. You just simply forgot to sit back and breathe. No matter what appears in front of you in this given moment – you are sitting in, with, and as the presence of joy itself. It is time to start living it.

SONG (Bob Sima): Right in Front of You, from It’s Time