My thoughts after nearly 40 years of thinking about this subject and watching this 21 minute speech by Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, who challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if “we don’t always get what we want,” as the Stones sing. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned, Gilbert says. Watch the film first, when you have time, before reading my rambling or it won’t make as much sense… my rambling I mean. He talks fast so it took a second watching for me to “get” it all.
Suddenly, I am realizing what the answer is to the fact that so many people I have seen all over the world, in deepest poverty, in wretched conditions, no choices, no expectations, with or without a faith in a religion, generally seem so happy and joyful.
I’ve always thought that disappointed expectations (which is really the desire to control our lives) is what makes us unhappy. Buddhism, as my friend Jiraporn says, says just accept…in fact all religions preach surrender. Maybe it doesn’t matter what makes you surrender, or what you surrender to…God or the 12 steps, or the gods, or nature or the laws of the universe. Maybe there is an inherent wisdom deep in all societies that we need to surrender to be happy and the concept of God is a “synthetic” construct to encourage this…or demand it as the case may be.
Have always felt, on an intellectual level, that the whole concept of a God seemed artificial…not in the same sense as Marx thought…but in the sense that we know we need to surrender in the face of mystery, to the need to understand. It may be that faith in God is just as artificial as a chemical that allows us to transcend an ordinary state of consciousness. I think that maybe this creates the bliss we feel when we do it…the bliss during a born again experience is the same bliss we feel during meditation. For me anyway. I know. But whatever, opening the “doors of perception” and letting go at times seems to be a universal need.
At the same time, it doesn’t mean that we surrender to abusing spouses, corrupt governments or poverty. It doesn’t mean that we surrender to ignorance. We still will explore the universe and the laws of nature and man itself. It is just the basic attitude in the meantime while we ponder the choices we do have to improve and move life forward. The trick is to realize what improvement means and what moves us forward and what doesn’t…politically or personally. And the ability to feel happy in the meantime. Our Declaration of Independence guaranteed our freedom to pursue happiness. It just didn’t tell us how. Maybe they were wise.
We practice surrender when we meditate and then it becomes a habit. Just sitting down and letting go of the stimulants of the outside world helps us to practice surrender…maybe doesn’t matter what technique we use…a mantra, a prayer…our breath. Maybe we use faith.
Letting go of the expectation that a certain outcome will make us happy (more money, a perfect spouse) makes us feel invulnerable on the inside to life’s whims. Then ”bad” outcomes can not touch our interior…our ability to feel happy and secure. Fear of a bad outcome makes us feel more pain than the outcome itself.
When we were counseling foreign exchange students and host families when you were in high school we told them not to judge an experience as bad or good. It is just an experience that we learn from. We don’t allow it to knock us off our feet. Of course that is easy to say when we are not in the middle of an event. But things always work out, I always say, not just the way we expect.
Couple more things to leave you with:
“When do you know your God is man-made?
When he hates the same people you do.”
The Two Wolves
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a
battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son,
The battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow,
regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment
inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope,
serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence,
empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute
and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
These are just my thoughts. You get to choose.
Update: You might like to check out the comments to this post.