I am currently reading the book ‘Happiness’ by Matthieu Ricard and a small exercise is presented at the end of the first chapter. The exercise is to think about what gives us pleasure and happiness. This question got me contemplating for quite a while. It appears I am not thinking very often about whether I am happy or not, let alone the causes of my happiness. I usually live with the assumption that my life is quite a happy one, unless there is something specific happening that upsets me.
However contemplating this question might not be the worst of ideas, since, as Ricard argues, being happy and content is a skill that can be learned like anything else and understanding what makes us happy seems like a very important step in getting better at happiness. Some of the things that I could come up with that make me happy are the following:
- My wife: how I can bring good things into her life, and how she brings good things into mine, such as a wonderful smile when I am coming home from work.
- Work and mastery: being engaged in a task in a field, software development, that interests and challenges me.
- Beauty: encountering beauty in the natural world or of the mind.
- Being helpful: bringing goodness into other’s lives.
- Creativity: the ability to think and create.
I think what also contributes to my happiness is the absence of certain things:
- Anger: at someone or something I think has wronged me.
- Jealousy: thinking that someone has something I deserve more than they do.
- Feeling of being treated unfairly: thinking that someone has taken advantage of me, not paid me back in kind.
- Tiredness: feeling of having no energy to do something.
- Sickness: feeling of not being able to do something because I have a sickness or afraid of catching one.
Thankfully I do not encounter these feelings all that often; but if I do, they certainly impact my level of happiness. Ricard calls these ‘mental toxins’.
A subquestion of the question posed is whether the things that bring us happiness could easily be taken from us. I think that is probably the case with what I have identified as contributing to my happiness. However I am not so sure if that should worry me.
I think some things, they make us happy, but they can also be taken away from us; but the happiness they bring outweigh the dangers of loosing them. I think it is thus still wise to embrace them – and ready ourselves for the possibility of loss.
Ultimately, of course, it is most important to find a deep, lasting and unassailable happiness. This I think can be achieved by finding a deeper purpose that provides us with a foundation for happiness. I think that I am still in the process of identifying this purpose for myself; sometimes I feel like that I have found it; and sometimes it seems to slip away from me.
I think it is very easy to live our modern day lives and loose sight of the question of the deeper meaning of existence. We are so busy with other things; so occupied with readily available distractions; and I am susceptible to this admittedly.
I feel like that my deeper purpose is to bring good into this world; to give back some of the blessing of the miracle of my existence. However, I am still unsure how I should go about this and also about what exactly good entails.
Thus I think I still have a long way to go on a road to deep and unassailable happiness. The question that Ricard poses is I think a very good one. I believe thinking about it has been valuable for me and I will try to make sure that I will keep it in my mind and in the process hopefully get better at happiness.
Picture credit: kikatani