Our relationship to happiness is an interesting one. Being happy is one of many people’s biggest goals, and yet people often struggle with being happy. It’s one of the goals many spiritual seekers have and why they come to the spiritual path.
In general, I’ve found that there are at least three different types of relationships to happiness. They are choosing happiness, allowing happiness, and seeking happiness.
Let’s explore what that means.
Let’s start with the most common one. It’s the search for happiness. It’s the search for that experience or experiences that make us feel good, and sometimes, we hope we can keep these experiences forever. If we do find something that we like, then we try to repeat the experience as much as possible.
But why are we searching and/or repeating?
What needs and desires are driving us?
In asking those questions, we typically find that this search is a rejection of the present moment and ourselves. Because if you are truly surrendered to the present moment, you don’t need to change your experience. If you already are at peace with yourself, you don’t need a different experience than whatever is arising for you now.
It also tends to be very selfish in nature. The person is trying to please themselves, and they often are unaware of how their pursuits impact others. However, sometimes, people are sneaky. They try to hide their selfishness in actions like helping others. But this gets exposed when that help is rejected. The selfish ego comes out and says, “Why don’t they like me? I was just trying to help!”
In short, “seeking” as I’m defining it today is about fulfilling a need, and we almost never understand that need until we learn to understand our egos. If we don’t understand this pleasure-seeking, then we are typically doomed to suffer the ever-changing experiences of life and get stuck in cycles of fulfillment and wanting.
Allowing Happiness: The Arising of Genuine Feelings
Let’s now jump ahead to some of the moments that arise later on as we dissolve the ego and many of our attachments. I’m sure you’ve already heard/read people talking about it. Maybe you even experienced this arising. In short, there was a moment, and spontaneous happiness came up. If it was really strong, a person might call it bliss or ecstasy.
But let’s also include in this category a much simpler and quieter forms of happiness. So you could be sitting on a bench waiting for a bus or you could walking in your garden. Or you are lying on your couch. Then this happiness arises for no rational reason. Sometimes I like to call this “irrational happiness.” It is a happiness that is not attached to an ego reason. It comes when it comes, and it is beautiful.
But it also goes, and the person in a state of surrender does not suffer the loss. This is very different than the happiness seeker because when the happiness seeker loses the enjoyable experience, all they want to do is get it back.
Choosing Happiness: Understanding Rewarding Experiences
Now let’s jump even further ahead on the path.
Where are we now, Jim?
Well, we’re at a space where needs and desires are not driving you. You don’t need the moment to be anything else. You’ve deeply dissolved your ego. You can be where you are.
And sometimes you choose things that bring happiness into your life because…well, why not?
I know this will seem so similar to the seeking stage, but it truly is not. This state of realization does NOT need anything. Rather from a rational standpoint, choosing happiness–and often a much deeper form of happiness–just makes sense. Furthermore, the spiritually mature person making these choices has a much clearer understanding of what true happiness is and what causes suffering. The seeker’s attempts to find happiness often cause themselves and others to suffer–substance abuse is an obvious one. But you may also consider workaholics and how their social and family experiences can get destroyed by trying to find happiness through their work.
On the other side, let’s consider something that is a deeper form of happiness. Consider the happiness of motherhood and fatherhood. It’s a deeply rewarding experience for many people. It’s often one of those things that people look back on and say that that’s what mattered the most out of everything else they did in their lives!
Notice I used the word rewarding because this kind of happiness embraces difficulty, toddler tantrums, lovely moments of cuddling with your little ones, teaching your son how to drive, time-outs, high-fives, vomit, and everything. The pleasure seeking person doesn’t want pain; they just want some kind of unvarnished joy.
The realized person can equally surrender to pain and pleasure, and it’s because of that they can choose a much deeper form of happiness that often doesn’t just reward them, but rewards many others in their lives. Yet in that choosing, their pursuit is non-attached. If the direction they go changes, they change. If the goal doesn’t work out, that’s fine. The process is deeply embraced, and along with that, a sense of selflessness is also a driver in a way that is also opposite to the seeker, who is trying to fulfill themselves (even when they may say they’re trying to be of service).
In short, these are three interesting relationships to happiness. I hope they give you an idea of how we can still do similar things, but it is the how that matters most in whether we are choosing, allowing, or seeking something like happiness.