The Pursuit of Happiness

I recently read Jane Gruber’s article “Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt You” in which she discusses the downside of being up. Now, while it’s great to maintain a positive attitude, I think that Gruber makes a valid point when she states that “Happiness is not suited to every situation.” Many of the proponents of positive thinking and affirmations would have us believe that it’s never ok to feel bad: that by doing so we are energetically drawing toward ourselves all that we actually seek to avoid.

Try telling that to someone who has recently experienced a significant loss or major life challenge.

If we define happiness as an emotion that we experience, then it seems unlikely that we’d be able to experience just one end of the emotional spectrum at all times. We might realistically have to concede a little time to unhappiness, too. But the thing about that is, by contrast, the good times will seem that much better.

Perhaps it’s also true that happiness can make us just a little bit too comfortable. If we feel happy, we’re less likely to strive for something more in our lives. A little contentment goes a long way. Too much of it can be a dangerous thing, at least in terms of ambition and personal drive.

Of course, in all of this discussion we are focused on happiness as a feeling that is generated by external circumstances and experiences.

The Buddhists would say that it is a mistake to rely on external circumstances to generate our happiness. That such an attitude will leave us grasping for something we’ll never be able to hold onto or sustain. And this will only serve to make us more unhappy. It will also take away from our experience of the present moment.

There is a joy inherent in being present in each moment as it arises, knowing that nothing lasts; indeed the only constant is change. Each experience is precious for precisely that reason.

One of the greatest gifts of yoga, meditation, and other spiritual practices is that they awaken our ability to Be Here Now. There is beauty in every moment, if we are awake enough to experience it.

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