"How happy are you?" is an important question. But it's not as important as "How can I be happier?"
There's a nice little video on the Sydney Morning Herald web site which summarises the main factors which determine happiness, according to certain research. It's worth watching if you haven't read much of the research.
Here's what the video says can make us happier, in a nutshell.
- Commit random acts of kindness
- Be positive: see what is right in your life
- Forgive! Let go of grudges.
- Do things that make you happy.
These are all excellent suggestions. However I would challenge some elements of the research.
All research contains unexamined assumptions.
Perhaps we are asking the wrong question when we ask ourselves whether we are happy or not. What if we change the question to: "Am I at peace?" This distinction between peace and happiness is one of the distinctions that is often not addressed in the happiness literature. The fact is that the research into happiness measures states of mind that are associated with what I would call the human ego. The ego makes judgments about what is good and bad, right and wrong, then feelings of positivity or negativity follow. No matter how "right" the ego makes something, the fact is that you are still amenable to the whims of ego even if you are happy in any given moment. I'm not saying that this is not a legitimate option in life. It certainly is. In fact disciplining the ego to optimise happiness is a great thing, and certainly a wise and logical process to undertake.
However we can go even further, and that is where peace comes into the picture. Peace occurs when we reside in perfect presence, without judgment. Peace is simply blissful. It is such a wonderful thing to experience. With perfect peace there is perfect love, - love for ourselves, and for all those around us.
Peace is simple. It occurs naturally as we bring the mind to attention in the present. It doesn't require any particular goal to be achieved, nor anything to be resolved. There is no agenda, and this is the fundamental difference with the kind of happiness that the video and much of the research literature into happiness discusses.
Forgiveness is indeed important. In fact it is important in even more profound ways than the video suggests. We not only need to forgive those who have hurt us. If you observe your mind throughout the day, you will see that it will make judgments about people, ideas, and things , and many of these judgments will contain anger or negative projection. In a nutshell, we often blame and hate, and this may be in subtle ways. Let me take an example from today in my own life.
Recently I have been becoming increasingly concerned with some of the actions taken by the Chinese government. The most obvious has been the crackdown on Chinese dissidents, including the arrest and detention of Ai Wei Wei, who was perhaps China's most famous dissident. He was considered by many to be untouchable, because of his high international profile (e.g. he helped design the Beijing Olympics' Birdsnest Stadium). Two weeks ago he was detained at Beijing airport and has not been seen since. The Chinese media have launched an often vicious attack on him.
Ai Wei Wei's case is not the only development which has raised concern. Hundreds of Christians have also recently been arrested. And perhaps most absurdly, the Beijing government has released a notice telling the media and public that they cannot discuss numerous concepts, one of which is time travel. That's right. They have banned time travel in literature and movies! Apparently the concern is that people might try to challenge the Party's one correct interpretation of history.
I think the best reaction to that is laughter.
The point is that some anger has been rising within me about these things. Now, as an intuitive, what I have noted is that the judgment has shifted my consciousness field, and taken me away from peace.
It is physiologically disturbing to judge with anger.
What I do in such cases is simply to acknowledge the anger and judgment, and then confess them to God. This is not a confession of guilt but one of open acknowledgment and transparency before God. In doing so, the judgment lifts.
Note that this does not require that one no longer cares about the issue. one was judging One may still have a conscious discernment that the situation is not as one prefers, or that it is creating suffering, or has "dark" intentions behind it. One can do this while letting go of the anger. The truth is that my anger towards Beijing is useless. It hurts only me. In fact in a small way it adds to the psychic drama of China versus the West, and the collective "fight" that is occurring there. The judgment pulls me into the collective consciousness fields, and i start unconsciously channeling that energy. I am adding to the darkness.
What is it that you can forgive each day? Your country? The Jews? The Chinese? The Americans? The industry? The education system? Capitalism? City buses?...
To be truly happy and peaceful, we have to forgive, and that means releasing judgments regularly. Note that I did not say we have to eliminate judgment. That might well be impossible. It is simply about taking responsibility for it.
Choose happiness today. Most of all, choose peace!