Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Zen of Happiness

Most people live their lives backwards. They attempt to acquire more money and stuff in order to be happy. But the key to happiness is to be fulfilled with what you have, knowing you've got what you deserve.

A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery even when lost. It's the feeling you feel when you want to keep feeling it.

The director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Ariz., Dan Baker, PhD, claims that "happiness doesn't mean being in a good mood most of the time or experiencing the emotion of joy. Happiness is a way of life." He also believes happiness is hard work and surrounded by traps.

Baker's definition of happiness is the combined totality of 12 important qualities:

1) Love
2) Optimism
3) Courage
4) A sense of freedom
5) Proactivity (making your own happiness rather than waiting for it to happen to you)
6) Security
7) Health
8) Spirituality
9) Altruism
10) Perspective
11) Humor
12) Purpose

This all makes sense but I would first define happiness by the mistakes people make trying to be happy.

One mistake most people make is assuming money can buy happiness. Not true. First of all, it usually takes a lot of work (long hours and sacrifice) in order to accumulate lots of money -- that's no fun. And if you're born rich, you're probably bored because you don't appreciate the effort it took to become wealthy. Plus, those who strive for wealth never think they have enough. And if you never have enough, you can never be happy.

Money can't buy love – it attracts people who are attracted to money.

Money can't buy a life of leisure – you're too busy making and protecting it.

Money can't buy status – there will always be others with more status.

Money can't buy peace of mind – the more money you have, the more obligations you have.

Money can't buy security – the more money you have, the bigger target you become for thieves, swindlers and hangers-on.

Pleasure seeking is another false avenue for those who seek happiness. This includes travel, socializing, recreation (skiing, scuba, running, cycling, ski diving, racing, golf, bowling, fishing, hunting, gambling, etc.) and other distractions from ordinary everyday life. If you travel elsewhere or do something "exciting" in an attempt to find happiness, you're looking in all the wrong places. Happiness is not elsewhere, it's a state of mind.

Another way people seek happiness is by escaping reality, the perceived cause of unhappiness. This usually involves immersing themselves in some activity to take their minds off their troubles. Overindulgence in any form of activity (television, music, reading, playing games, sex, exercise, hobbies, shopping, housework, etc.) is a subconscious attempt to escape reality. There's nothing wrong with these activities unless done in excess.

Even eating can become a distraction from reality because food is often a substitute for love. People who feel empty inside subconsciously attempt to overcome their emotional emptiness by overindulging in food. When you overindulge in excessive behavior to escape reality it soon becomes an addiction that's hard to break.

Another way to escape reality is through mind-altering legal drugs (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, tranquilizers, anti-depressants, etc.) or illegal drugs (uppers, downers, psychedelics, etc.). But altering your state of mind is only a temporary cure of your woes (reality) rather than addressing the root problem (inability to cope with life).

Reality can be overwhelming at times, but you can't escape it forever. Sooner or later, you've got to face it.

All the distractions (money, pleasure seeking, drugs, etc.) you go through to be happy are only fleeting moments of self-indulgent highs, simply to escape reality. If you're forced to escape reality to be happy, you're living an unfulfilled life (happy on the outside, miserable inside).

If you pursue happiness, you'll never find it.

Basically, happiness is being content regardless of the circumstances. It requires an understanding that suffering is part of life. Without the negative, you can't appreciate the positive. The world is a harsh place and life often doesn't seem fair. You must embrace the suffering and overcome it. Only then can you truly be happy.

Happiness may be surrounded by traps, but it isn't hard work at all. You don't have to go places or do things or escape reality to seek happiness -- it was there within you all the time.

To be find happiness in everything, seek happiness in nothing.

To possess all things, seek to possess nothing.

To be everything, seek to be nothing.

The greatest happiness you can achieve is knowing you do not necessarily need happiness – it's the acceptance and appreciation of the imperfect perfection of the way it is.

Quote for the Day – "To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness." Bertrand Russell

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and embraces the suffering on a regular basis. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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