Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth says, “Love, joy, and peace are deep states of Being, or rather three aspects of the state of inner connectedness with Being. As such, they have no opposite. This is because they arise from beyond the mind. Emotions, on the other hand, being part of the dualistic mind, are subject to the law of opposites. This simply means that you cannot have good without bad. So in the unenlightened, mind-identified condition, what is sometimes wrongly called joy is the usually short-lived pleasure side of the continuously alternating pain/pleasure cycle. Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within. The very thing that gives you pleasure today will give you pain tomorrow, or it will leave you, so its absence will give you pain.” He is also the author of the revolutionary book The Power Of Now.
Most people confuse happiness with pleasure or joy and, while happiness and pleasure are short-term feelings derived from external material or happenings, joy is a sense of being connected to either God or serving a purpose greater than yourself. Happiness is related to the word “hap,” the root meaning which implies that happiness is more due to luck — happenstance – hence its transient quality. You can say eating cake makes you happy, but the act of helping out a stranger with no expectation of reward becomes the reward through the feeling of joy one experiences. Joy comes out of selfless acts, happiness or pleasure come out of the fulfilment of temporary wants and needs. This can clearly be seen in the hedonic treadmill below. Look familiar?
According to the Hedonic Treadmill theory, first published in 1971 by Brickman and Campbell, as a person makes more money, expectations, and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Human beings tend to revert to their normal state of happiness despite most positive or negative changes in their lives. You buy a new pair of shoes, and it excites you for a while, but sooner or later, you get bored with it and desire a new pair thinking that the new one is going to be the one that will bring you the most happiness in the world. You buy it, enjoy it for a while, then spot another shoe and forget about the two swearing this time that the third shoe is it. Then the fourth and so forth.
Or, you get news that you have cancer, and it feels like the worst news in the world. You cry and swear that you will never be happy again, but soon, you continue living your life with the cancer and thank its sudden appearance in your life because of how greatly it has made you change your perspective on life. Soon, you return to your normal happiness baseline. Or you lose a job and feel like it is the end of the world, or someone breaks your heart, and you think you can never be happy again until you find a new job to replace the old one or fall in Love again and life goes back to being a happy little ride. This is the hedonic treadmill. A person’s long-term happiness is not significantly affected by otherwise impacting events.
Life is a turning wheel of different circumstances that challenge us to be better and only death gets you off the wheel. Most people have this idea in their heads that as soon as they get this or that they will be happy, as if one could grasp happiness in one’s hands and finally say, “Yes, this is the happiness I was looking for.” Happiness is found in activity. It is found in keeping ourselves busy with the things we love doing and the people that make us feel good. Joy is found in giving and sharing Love and being utterly present and connected to being. These two things do not lie somewhere in the distant future based upon things that might or might not happen. Do not be the person that will die in his or her bed, saying, “I wish I could have…” Fill in the blank. There is nothing out there that will bring you peace or joy. It is up to each one of us to find something to be joyful about in our current circumstances. It is up to us to direct our focus on where the attention matters most; on where it is most impactful. Joy brings more joy. Love brings more Love. Negativity brings more negativity.
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”― Seneca
‘Happiness, as a feeling, is not based on something necessarily being good for us. We have joy when – even in our suffering – we are acting toward someone else’s well-being. Happiness is an emotion in which we “experience feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure,” whereas joy “is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness.” We experience joy when we achieve selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice.’
Suffering, on the other hand, is always associated with pain, and though connected, they are bred from different branches. Pain is physical. Suffering is abstract. Pain is biology. It is felt in the senses, and it is also objective. Suffering is a romance with the mind and the past, like a novel with a tragic ending in every chapter. It is subjective and comes about as a result of desire. Desire brings about suffering because we cry over the things we do not have imagining that they are the solution to our predicaments, which then causes us a lot of distress and physical pain.
However, Friedrich Nietzsche said that ‘To live is to desire and to desire is to affirm the existence of life along with the suffering.’ Whichever way you choose to look at it, one thing is clear; to suffer is to live and to live despite the suffering is to evolve. Joy and happiness is found in growth. Growth is found in solving problems. Problems are soaked with the ink of pain. Hence, is it correct then if I say that happiness and pain are intrinsically linked?
“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”– Epictetus
A Jungian oriented author named Robert Johnson, who wrote Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, points out that the word “suffer” comes from the Latin sub plus ferre meaning “to bear or to allow.” I interpret this as allowing ourselves to bear the pangs of reality that come with necessary growth not only to promote the evolution of the human species but also to promote the individual expansion of consciousness. When you consciously allow yourself to go through pain, you grow through it and always, always, become a better individual with more skills and knowledge than the person you were before you went through that terrible time. One can even question the idea of denoting suffering as a negative experience. If it helps you grow, builds your will, strengthens your grit, and reinforces the sinews of your mind, then can it really be called a negative experience or an illusion of negativity because of a temporary situation?
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ― Epicurus
Suffering encourages psychological and spiritual maturity. The philosopher Alan Watts speaks to this point when he says, “Because human consciousness must involve both pleasure and pain, to strive for pleasure to the exclusion of pain is, in effect, to strive for the loss of consciousness.”
“The pursuit of happiness is a toxic value that has long defined our culture. It is self-defeating and misleading. Living well does not mean avoiding suffering; it means suffering for the right reasons. Because if we’re going to be forced to suffer by simply existing, we might as well learn how to suffer well.” — Mark Manson
Have you ever noticed that the more you avoid suffering, the more painful your suffering is? The more you hate the fact that you are struggling, the more you struggle? Avoiding pain or problems ensures that we never grow fully into our power. It stagnates our potential, traps us in a state of wishful thinking, and, in the long run, creates regret over missed experiences in one’s life.
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” – Seneca
“You can’t get rid of pain — pain is the universal constant of the human condition. Therefore, the attempt to move away from pain, to protect oneself from all harm, can only backfire. Trying to eliminate pain only increases your sensitivity to suffering, rather than alleviating your suffering.” — Mark Manson
So, is happiness the result, absence, or acceptance of suffering? It is both the result and acceptance, but not the absence of it. We said that happiness and pleasure are derived from external enjoyment while joy is derived from being in a deeper state of connectedness. It is unfair to say that humans should discard pleasure because it is fleeting. It is also foolish to go into deriving it without seeing it for the ephemeral thing that it is. It is wise to enjoy it when it comes but not desire it or get attached to the things that bring it. It is vital, however, to hone the craft of Being, sitting still as nothing and enjoying nothing and being happy with this formlessness, and in doing so, you will experience joy beyond tears of a mother in love with her child. Happiness is individually focused, but joy is not a self-centred per-occupation. The power of joy rises above the ego of the self. It is a creative power smack in the middle of God’s turning wheel that makes us more appreciative, loving, hopeful, and filled with gratitude.
When we accept that life cannot be lived without its fair share of agony, we accept reality and in doing so we find peace. Do not go looking for pain, but when it comes, as it always does, know that on the other side of it is a blooming, for when the acceptance seed is planted, clarity sprouts and from this, presence blooms and in this, joy overflows.
We suffer more often in imagination than in reality. He suffers more than necessary, who suffers before it is necessary. –Seneca
I began a course called The Science of Well-Being at Yale University through Coursera and from what I have learned so far, the following things (among many others) do not bring joy or lasting happiness: Good job, Awesome stuff, Perfect grades, True Love, Money, Perfect body, Good grades, Genes, and life Circumstances. I have written blog posts about what I learned in the course during Week 1 (introduction and highlight) and Week 2 (nose dive). Feel free to read through.
Over the past few months, I have felt more connected to myself and my surroundings far more than ever before and I credit this state of being to the following activities which you can borrow (or disregard) at your own liking:
- Meditation (30 minutes in the morning and the same in the evening)
- Cutting down the time i spend on social media which is about an hour a day these days
- Practicing mindfulness in my daily activities
- Feeling gratitude and watching a lot of Dr. Joe Dispenza
- Nature walks or yoga or both
- Connecting deeply with friends, family and surroundings
- Taking silent gaps during the day to enjoy the nothingness state of all that is
- Reflection on my daily behaviours
- Reading insightful content from authors like Dr. Joe Dispenza, Thich Nhat Hanh, Senneca, Eckhart Tolle, Laozi, Marcus Aurelius, Robert Wright, Steven Kotler, Wayne Dyer, Sadhguru, Abraham Hicks, Bruce Lipton, Deepak Chopra among many other authors whose work I find invaluable and whose presence I thank God for on this beautiful earth of ours.
You can check out my reading list here or start with these 10 must-read autobiographies set to change your perspective on life.
What can you do?
Next to meditation, reducing the amount of time you spend on social media or consuming negative news through TV etc are the most vital habits to pick up. You can start with reducing your screen time today. I promise you that after three clean months of this, you will be so shy to go a day, two or three without logging in to your social accounts. Heck, even a week. Also:
Week 1: Identify your character strengths through the VIA website.
Identify your weaknesses/characters that are holding you back in life.
Week 2: Pick a strength and incorporate it into your routine
Pick a weakness/bad habit to work on. And do the work.
Week 3: Savor the things in your life like the taste of food, the smell of fresh air, the voice of your friend as they speak, the sound of a piano key, the little things. Then, write about them i.e…
Week 4: Journal. This is not a diary but a personal accountability manuscript of how well or poorly you have used your time. What did you do that you can do better tomorrow? Where did you slip back into your old ways? What repetitive negative thoughts did you have? What excited you the most and why? How long did this excitement last? How was your tone when you encountered a situation you did not like compared to other days? Self-question and reflect on your life for yourself and, while you’re writing…
Week 5: Incorporate the act of practicing gratitude. You can write about just one thing you are grateful for each day as you finish up the day’s accountability manuscript. When feeling grateful, one cannot simultaneously have feelings of anger, frustration, worry or fear. Gratitude banishes negative thoughts and feelings. Too many benefits have been linked to practicing gratitude that I simply cannot go over them all now. Just remember:
The more grateful you are for what you have, the more you will have to be grateful for.Tweet
Week 6: Prioritize kindness and social connection because, in the long run, the things we cannot touch are the gold of life and gold, as you may know, is the only mineral that can be made from any other mineral except itself. Ponder over that for a minute.
Week 7: Find time to be in nature; no phone, no company, just you and good old grass or trees or the sand beneath your feet. During this time, enjoy the sound of wind and feel in your heart how grateful you are that on a spinning floating planet, you can enjoy a blissful walk and just be. Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
Week 8: Incorporate a form of physical exercise not only or necessarily to keep fit but to release endorphins into your body. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that make you happy. It can be a more mentally stimulating than a physically exhausting experience. You can dance, do yoga, go on the treadmill (as long as it’s not the hedonic treadmill), jog, walk, etc.
Week 9: After doing all these things, I promise you, no one will remind you to meditate or try to convince you of the power of being still. You will do this yourself voluntarily because you will have seen the impact these small changes will have made in your life. And after you pick up meditation, the only way to go from there is up my friend!
“No level of pleasure from any material possession compares to the feeling of unconditional happiness.” ― Edmond Mbiaka
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