Ever get confused about what true happiness and pleasure are and how they differ? Ever wondered how to cultivate true happiness? Misunderstandings related to pleasure and happiness have caused me much discontentment and sent me on wild goose chases looking to others and circumstances outside of myself to 'make me happy'. Lets look at true happiness and pleasure and their differences and similarities first.
True happiness is that deep feeling of peace and contentment that is not influenced by the ups and downs of life. It is an internal state of mind that is not dependent on external circumstances. For example, as we know some people are truly content with very little money while others may be very discontent with lots. We all know how good it feels to spend the time and effort to be that helpful friend, smile or find that perfect present for someone. This is lasting true happiness that comes from our efforts to be kind to others.
Pleasure is different to true lasting happiness or contentment. Pleasure is a sensory experience, for example we enjoy the taste of nice meal, the scent of perfume, the sound of music or the sight of a beautiful scene. The pleasure lasts as long as the sensory experience of it. True happiness is lasting and like that deep feeling of peace and calm beneath the ocean is not affected by the waves of life's ups and downs.
Pleasure like true happiness both come from our kindness to others. When we give a pleasurable experience to others we create the causes to perceive sensory pleasure ourselves. The converse is also true when we practice harm we have the perception of unhappiness and displeasure.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying pleasurable things, like a nice meal, holiday, relationship or any pleasurable experience. But, we need to remember to enjoy these things with the wisdom that understands our pleasurable experience of them comes from our kind efforts to bring pleasure and happiness to others
When we think that pleasure or lasting happiness are in external things or experiences we grasp at trying to get them outside our ourselves in others, relationships, the job, and experiences. Like when I think it is someone else's responsibility 'to make me happy'. This is exhausting and futile. When I first encountered the idea that my experience of pleasure and true happiness were internal states of mind that were not dependent on the externals it was a bit destabilising, as I had been so used to trying to juggle the externals to find happiness..
However when I was able to think some more about it I realised it was liberating to think I was in control of creating the causes for my true happiness. I did not have to look for it outside of myself and also I no longer needed to blame and criticise others for my unhappiness either.
How do I change my state of mind to a happier one? It is easy really, when we understand that our true happiness and, pleasure too, come from our kindness to others we can begin to generate this happy state of mind for ourselves.
When we wisely understand where both pleasure and true happiness come from we can have fun bringing them to others and sub-sequentially enjoy them ourselves. As Mark Twain says "The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up".
Ever feel caught up in negative thinking and don't know what to do about it? On the weekend I was reminded how easy it is for us to slip into negative thinking and spiral down into that place of gloom and doom. Thinking negatively is just an unhelpful habit and as we know, we can thankfully change the way we think and put a new helpful habit in its place. Of course awareness is the key, we need to be mindful of this unhelpful negative thinking habit and want to change it into a more helpful and happy way to think and be.
A person I met on the weekend was a beautiful reminder of how destructive this habit of negative thinking can be . And how it is tricky to be around someone who is in the habit of thinking negatively. Rather than be negative ourselves with blame and criticism we can see them as a beautiful reminder to be the change we want to see and to be more positive ourselves, and compassionate to them and their unhelpful way of thinking. Often times we do not want to be reminded about such behaviour and attempting to tell the person to 'stop being so negative and focus on the positive' can inflame the situation. A kind, positive, playful response may be what is needed. I watched one of my friends skilfully and playfully deal with the situation. She said in a kind, way "come on negative Nelly, lets find Positive Polly in there." The situation lightened up and we were all able to have a bit of a laugh.
We can all be in that unhelpful spot. But with awareness we can also get ourselves out of it too. We are not pretending there aren't any difficulties - certainly things can be tricky at times. But we are making a choice about how we respond when things don't go as planned. So my 'positive Polly' friend saw my 'negative Nelly' friend as a reminder not to let negativity take over. There was no need to be negative or critical back but rather to have compassion for this unhelpful habit and playfully remind all that 'positive Polly' can be a choice. Gandhi reminds us that "we must be the change we want to see in the world." so if we want to see a positive us and our world we need to find the positives in ourselves and others and change ourselves and our world for the better.
Ever feel down and don't know what to do? I know I at times I feel sad or down and am not sure why. Fortunately though, I am grateful for some helpful ways to respond as life's natural ups and downs unfold. When I remember!
We tend to want to push away those tricky emotions like sadness, anger, depression and only want those more pleasant emotions like joy and peace. However we need dark in order to experience light; we would not know happy if it were not for sad or peace if were not for stress. My tendency often, is to want to push away a negative emotion like sadness, or to try to numb or suppress it with food, alcohol or distraction. Equally unhelpfully I can indulge it with feeling sorry for myself. These extremes of ignoring, surpassing or overindulging are never helpful. Instead a response somewhere in the middle is what is needed.
So what is most helpful when 'sad' comes to visit? Instead of attempting to numb, ignore or overindulge I find it helpful to see this so called negative emotion as a friend who has come with a helpful message for me. This reminds me to accept it or invite it in and hear the message it has without suppressing or overindulging it. My friend 'sad' reminds me to stop worrying about myself and how bad I feel and find someone else to help.
I found myself feeling a little sad and lonely recently when it seemed that I was not included in some family events. Fortunately I remembered it was not helpful to ignore, suppress or pretend 'sad' didn't matter. I also remembered it was equally unhelpful overindulge it with negative self talk like "what about me? I am so sad and lonely, no one cares, I am not good enough" etc. My funny mind, how easily it slips into those negative habits!
So what to do with my friend 'sad'? Invite it in and hear its message
As Mahatma Gandhi says "the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." It is the best way to lose that 'worry about me, down self ' and pick yourself up too.
Have You ever found it hard to find the joy in helping others? I have many times, as there seems endless chores to do at home. Gandhi wisely reminds me that "service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant or the server".
One of my children taught me the truth of Gandhi's words many years ago. Like most of us I tend to spend a lot of time in the laundry. In the past most of this time was spent without much joy or care. I would be in there huffing and puffing with a negative, resentful soundtrack going on in my mind. "Why was it my job? Why didn't anyone seem to care of appreciate my efforts? I have better things to be doing with my time, I spend half my life in the laundry, I just want to get it done as quick as possible and get out of there". The service rendered in this case lacked joy and care too. I tended to be slapdash, pairing the socks any which way, hanging and folding haphazardly and hastily in a desperate effort to finish and move on.
I did not realise the unhelpful habits I was creating. I was building up resentment and unhappiness. I did not know I had a choice to make it agony or fun.
One day one of my boys announced with joy "don't you love it w hen you open your socks and they are the right way around". "Really!" I thought, "it makes a difference if I take the time to turn the sock the right way around!" My slapdash resentment in the laundry was not helpful to me or my family. No joy for me or them.
I made a decision that day, I would make the laundry somewhere I could serve with joy. No more resentment and negativity there. I would also do my best to be mindful and take care as I paired, folded and hung. It has truly become a favourite place of mine. A poster with a quote from the Dalai Lama hangs there. It reads
The true meaning of life
"We are visitors on this planet, we are here for ninety of one hundred years at the very most. During the period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people's happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life."
Since that day I always take care to pair the socks the right way around so they are easy to get on. I try not to rush either and as best I can mindfully and carefully do the laundry. I recently got a new washing machine as I needed to retire my old faithful one. My new machine and a new clothes horse have made the laundry even more fun!
As my family have grown up I have began to share the laundry. This probably could have happened a little earlier. I now share the joy with them as I learn to let go of the control and share one of my favourite places.
So again I am reminded that when I can be mindful of unhelpful habits and aware to get that 'what about me, Maree' out of the way and instead do my best to benefit others that as Gandhi says - the server and those served have the opportunity for joy.
Kindness makes a huge difference to how we feel about ourselves, others and our lives. Research tells us the areas of the brain which respond with pleasure to monetary rewards and chocolate are also stimulated when we show kindness to others. It is when we are mindfully kind, grateful and compassionate that we experience true happiness. We all know how good it feels when we are able to be available to connect and show kindness to others and ourselves too.
We are all doing kind, generous things for each other all day but we often don’t stop to notice them. It is helpful to bring mindful awareness to these times, no matter how small. For example, a smile can totally change someone’s day for the better. It is also helpful to notice the kindness of others. Especially fun and powerful are those times we do anonymous kind things; this takes the self-interest out of our actions. Sometimes appearances can be deceptive. For example, as a parent we can say “No” to our children in a very strong and firm voice, with the kind intention of helping them prevent harm, to themselves or others. Our kind intention is what matters.
We are all interdependent, so every situation and person allows us the opportunity to practice kindness. Practicing kindness to others helps us form a positive, happy perception of ourselves. We can, therefore, be grateful to others for this opportunity. The secret of our own happiness lies in our efforts to bring happiness to others.
Kindness to all includes kindness to YOU. It is equally important to be kind to yourself as well as others. It can be as simple as treating yourself as you want others to treat you. That is with respect, understanding, love and compassion. We often unconsciously treat ourselves unkindly with negative self-talk. We judge, criticize, belittle and are unforgiving toward ourselves, often, despite being a kind friend to others. Often we are not aware of how these unkind thought habits run our lives and undermine our confidence and peace of mind.
Being kind is an effective way to find meaning in our lives. It is when we focus on the strengths and talents we all have, and how we can best use these to be of benefit to others, that we find true happiness and meaning in our lives. It does not matter what we do. We can serve in a bakery, sell clothes or be a doctor. As long as it is with this attitude of connecting with and benefiting others, whatever we do we can’t go wrong. When we have this ‘what can I do for you?’ or ‘service’ attitude instead of the ‘what about me?’ or ‘sales’ mentality, true happiness is guaranteed. We can’t be worried about ourselves and concerned about helping others at the same time. It is more helpful to choose to focus on others. This is an instant fix for worry and stress. When we get involved with helping someone else the worry and stress about ourselves magically disappears and we feel great.
Kindness Bottom Line
Thank You for kindly allowing me to share with You.