By “Rhondananda” Leifheit
“Seriousness is one of the major causes of truth decay on the planet.” Swami Beyondananda
(Ananda - Sanskrit word for bliss or happiness)
Life presents any number of serious challenges which can leave us bereft, sad, angry, or over-whelmed. It is precisely for those reasons that cultivating the traits of happiness are so important. These traits might include compassion for our suffering, patience, resilience, and yes, a sense of humor.
Defining Happiness 😊
Martin Seligman’s book “Authentic Happiness” makes a distinction between what he calls “happyology and positive psychology”. It’s the difference between hedonism (momentary pleasure) and the deeper pleasure of discovering our strengths and developing our character in meaningful ways (Seligman 3). Many spiritual traditions remind us that mere ego gratification will not bring lasting joy. The Buddha is a wonderful example of one who went from hedonism to self-deprivation to ultimately discover the “middle way”, awakening to the true nature of internal life and Self.
Start Where You Are 😑
Whether you are presently content or feeling discouraged, there are steps that can incrementally expand your capacity for happiness—whatever your starting point. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron asks: “How can we train ourselves to have a happiness big enough to allow for grief, and heartbreak and loss and moods of all kinds?” (Chodron) Life and loss weigh us down at times. Yet those who cultivate humor, practice gratitude and develop trust can endure those difficulties with more grace and resilience.
A Little Bit Happier 😎
So, what if you could be a tiny bit happier? What if you could laugh a bit more often; go to work with a spirit of play; see others through compassionate eyes; and end the day with a smile of gratitude? After all, a minute of kindness is a minute of expanding our hearts and radiating a positive feeling that blesses us as much as the recipient. Rather than imagining we will “arrive at a place or time” where we’ll always be happy, think in terms of moments. We can manage moments, and moments accumulate.
Moments Create Momentum 😌
An experiment, conducted by psychoneurologist Dr. Edward Diener, demonstrated, “It was not how very happy but how many times a person was a little happy that led to the highest state of well-being" (Pearsall 87). In other words, be a little happier a little more often. Incremental changes will lead to exponential growth.
Happy Brains 😄
No matter where you are on the “happiness spectrum” you can incrementally increase your happiness by learning ways to expand your capacity for joy. There’s a wealth of scientific research indicating that we can change the chemistry of our bodies and brains. Whether by comparing cortisol levels when we’re stressed compared to when we’re happy or from MRI studies of the brain in meditation, there’s evidence that we can (and do) influence our inner environment. It’s also been demonstrated that hearty laughter has been shown to release endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, as well as improving our immune system (think emotional immunity as well as physical).
The Gift of Happiness 🤗
“If you want happiness to bloom within you, simply water the seeds” (Nhat Hanh)
I can’t imagine a better gift to give ourselves this year. Whether you call it happiness, joy, purpose, serenity or optimism, the cultivation of our happiness is also a gift we give to others. It’s less about “making” ourselves happy and more about “creating the conditions” that allow it to flourish.
The seeds are within, but they need to be tended: planted in the soil of self-acceptance, nourished with humor, and watered with kindness. We may need to give ourselves permission to be happy, and weed out our beliefs and behaviors that choke out authentic happiness. We can shine the light of spirituality on the illusions of materiality. Place your attention on the joy of meaningful connections, the creative power of laughter, and the magic all around us.
Beyondananda, Swami and Steve Bhaerman. Beyondananda and Beyond: Two Takes on the Healing Power of Humor. Wake Up Laughing Productions. 2000.
Chodron, Pema. True Happiness. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2006.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1975.
Pearsall, Paul. The Pleasure Prescription: To Love, To Work, To Play—Life in the Balance. Alameda, CA: Hunter House Publishers, 1996.
Seligman, Martin E. P. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002.
First published in Pathfinder News
© 2017 Rhonda Leifheit – All Rights Reserved