At a recent gathering a friend asked how to cultivate happiness. Below are my New Year's thoughts on this issue.
A month ago, I talked to the driver on my way to teach a workshop. Now retired, it turned out he had been an executive in charge of employee benefits at a big New York financial firm. When I asked about the pros and cons of working there, he mentioned that the most challenging and stressful time of year in a financial firm is bonus time. It was one thing from his former life he could not really understand: nobody was happy with the bonus they got, no matter how much the actual bonus was.Yet the average bonus alone, his firm issued, might be significantly higher than the average household income in the U.S.
When wealth and prestige are primary goals there seem to be endless possibilities for frustration and unhappiness. Let’s go back to the classics in Chinese philosophy and see if we can find an answer. Lao Zi, a Chinese philosopher, had a famous statement: “if you comprehend abiding truth in life and act accordingly, you will be happy and successful in achieving your life goals.” If you ignore this and act blindly, you are more likely to be miserable and fail in life.
One of the abiding truths in life, according to Confucius, is that humans are born with innate kindness. When you can find ways to extend your kindness to others, it creates happiness. Cultivating and extending the kindness at our core is one of our primary life purposes and leads over time to a deep sense of fulfillment. Ignoring it is to be out of balance.
There are different ways to extend our kindness. It can be the care a great grandmother provides to her great grandson. It can be the kindness extended from a doorman to residents in his building. It can be an elementary school teacher who is providing the best education she can to the kids in her classroom. It can be a researcher who is finding new drugs to treat cancer. It can be the action to rescue a dog on the street.
Further, we can think about the significance of our thoughts and actions: their impact on other people’s lives and the planet we are living on. When you see a floating plastic bag on the sidewalk, can you think to pick it up and discard it to a trash can? Otherwise, it can trip an elder who might fall and be injured. Even the simplest acts of kindness can have far reaching impact.
We all have to make a living to support ourselves and family. We are all busy. But at times we might be busy heading on the wrong path or down a “good” path with faulty or unclear intentions.
If we give thought to our life purpose, especially if we can align our thoughts and actions with our innate kindness, and understand the significance of our thoughts and actions, we are more likely to be happy.
This practice can lead you along a different path. It can also allow you to continue on the same path but with a different and more meaningful understanding of the significance of the things you are doing. My driver in his way had followed one path and attained success and respectability. He was now following a different path, a path of service, working to assist the very real daily needs of a spiritual retreat center. If I am not mistaken, he seemed happy and content in his work.
Of course, there are many factors affecting our happiness to be explored in upcoming training and meditation tips.