The Secret of Happiness
A long time ago I attended a conference in Colorado where a group of teachers, including me, were giving workshops on different topics. One of the most interesting (besides mine) was given by a young Frenchman. I don't remember his name, nor the title of his workshop, but it had something to do with being happy. Because of our schedules I couldn't attend his workshop, but I did go to an evening lecture he gave.
Basically, he talked about happiness as being a choice. Then members of the audience began asking him questions. "How can you be happy if you've lost your job?" asked one. "Be happy," said the Frenchman. "How can you be happy if you've lost a child?" asked another. "Be happy," he replied. And so it went. People would bring up unhappy situations and ask how could you be happy, and he always answered, "Be happy."
The people at the lecture got very frustrated, because he never really did explain how to go about shifting from unhappiness to happiness, at least not in the lecture. He was telling them they could make the choice, but that didn't go over very well.
So I've decided to share my views on happiness, and give you some ways in which you can have as much of it as you want, if you are willing to change your mind about some things.
First of all, like anything else, happiness is what you think it is, but the word itself implies that some degree of pleasure is involved. So it's very clear that there are different degrees of happiness. At a minimum, when faced with two unpleasant choices and a choice must be made and one of them is not quite as bad as the other, someone might say, reluctantly, "Okay, I guess I can be happy with that." At the other end of the happiness spectrum, when something has happened that is the fulfillment of a cherished dream or long-term effort, someone might say, "Wow! I'm so happy I could burst!"
Therefore, happiness doesn't have to be the same kind of experience for everyone all the time. It can mean we are not totally unhappy with something, or we can't think of anything at the moment that could make us feel happier. Or a whole lot of feelings in between.
One thing that governs our ability to feel happy is the way we look at things. Even more curiously, we can look at the same thing one way and feel unhappy, or look at the same thing a different way and feel happy. A simple example would be when something happens that has both bad aspects and good aspects, like when someone loses their home to Pele's lava flow and says, "I'm unhappy that my home was destroyed, but I'm happy that no one was hurt."
Another example would be when someone changes their interpretation of something. I remember a situation in which a man was very unhappy because his daughter had such stubborn behavior. A wise therapist said, "You mean she's able to say no when a guy wants her to sleep with him?" When he looked at it that way, the man who was unhappy suddenly became very happy with the same behavior.
I think it's useful to realize that the only time you can be happy--or unhappy, for that matter--is right now. You can't be happy yesterday, but you can be happy right now about yesterday, because memories exist now. Likewise, you can't be happy tomorrow, because it doesn't exist yet, but you can be happy now in anticipation of tomorrow, because expectations also exist now.
You could also be unhappy in the same way. When your memories and expectations and present awareness are conditioned by fear, anger, regret, sorrow, grief, resentment, criticism and such, it's easy to feel unhappy. On the other hand, when they are conditioned by confidence, hope, forgiveness, appreciation, caring and such, it's just as easy to feel happy. The only thing that makes the shift seem difficult is habit.
There are different kinds of happiness, too. What I mean by that is that we can have different reasons for being happy. Instead of naming hundreds of different reasons, I'm going to put happiness into four categories common to all of us.
One kind of happiness comes from pure sensory pleasure, the good feeling we experience when something we see, hear, touch, taste or smell pleases us. Of course, exactly what pleases us can differ from person to person and culture to culture.
Another kind of happiness comes from what I call resolution. This is the pleasure of winning a game, solving a problem, finishing a project, accomplishing a task, having our curiosity satisfied, or reaching what we believe is an understanding of something.
The third kind of happiness comes from the experience of harmony, when two or more things flow together peacefully or even joyously. It can be in the form of music, nature, human interaction, or what we consider beauty of any kind.
The fourth kind is when our happiness comes from the happiness of others experiencing any of the above three. In English we generally call this a "vicarious" experience, supposedly based on imagination, but in Huna we call it a form of grokking, a sharing of the feeling.
Now on to what you can do increase your happiness or make it more frequent. For this you need to know the difference between "Reactive Happiness" and "Proactive Happiness."
Reactive happiness is the type of happiness that most people experience. It comes from how we have learned to react to specific conditions, situations, events, and behaviors. In this case our happiness is dependent on what happens in us, to us, or around us. Even our reaction to beauty has to be learned. When one of my sons was about two I was holding him and pointing out the sunset. At first he was indifferent, but when I explained that the way all the colors came together was a good thing, he began to respond. The next time we were outside at sunset he happily pointed out to me how beautiful it was. It's the same with everything that "makes us happy." We are happy because we have learned to be happy when a particular thing occurs.
Unfortunately, if those things don't happen, most of us don't have any occasion to feel happy. All we can do is to wait around until the right thing happens to make us happy. But it doesn't have to be that way. The young Frenchman I mentioned before was trying to teach proactive happiness, the idea that we can purposely choose to be happy, no matter what the situation. To many it might sound like we would have to fake it, but he didn't mean that and neither do I.
When we find outselves dwelling on unhappy memories, we can purposely shift our attention to happy memories. Just dwelling on the unhappy ones doesn't change them, so what's the point? Making the shift may feel uncomfortable if we aren't used to doing that, but so what?
If we do make the shift we'll feel happier in moments. Dwelling on unhappy expectations is the same. I have a friend who once was very unhappy because kept thinking "What if my heart stops?" All I did was say "What if it doesn't?" He shifted to that and became happy.
There are a lot of things happening in the world right now that we can dislike, and the more we dislike them, the more unhappy we will feel. But there are also a lot of things happening that we can like, and we'll feel happier more often if we give them more attention.
When we feel unhappy because we have lost a game, or because a lava flow is changing a way of life, or because of anything else, we have the power to be happy for whoever won, for all those not affected by the lava, or for those who benefit from anything else.
No, that isn't always easy, but so what? More happiness means better health, better relationships, and better opportunities to help others be more happy. In fact, that last idea brings up a sure-fire technique for helping you to be more happy more often.
It's a simple thing to do. All you have to do is to take one minute or more one or more times a day and wish happiness for other people. If you want to add plants, animals, spirits or the earth that's up to you, but be sure to include living people.
It can be in the form of wishing, prayer, distant healing, programming, or whatever form you prefer. The thing is to take the time to care enough about others to want them to be happier in whatever way seems right to you. And you'll feel happier without any effort.
Another way to feel happier without effort will work for everyone, but not everyone will want to use it. You may have heard the song, "Put on a happy face." Here is the first verse:
Gray skies are gonna clear up
It's based on the fact, known very well by actors, that the easiest and fastest way to feel any emotion you want is to practice the facial expression that goes along with the emotion. Put on a happy face regardless of the situation and you'll start to feel happy in spite of yourself.
On the other hand, here's the last verse of the same song:
I knew a girl so glooming
For the finish, we'll end with a truly Hawaiian technique based on this proverb:
Ilaila i luakaha ai me Hiku
Hiku was a happy-go-lucky hero of ancient times, so what the proverb means is this: if you really want to be happy, hang out with happy people.