The Definition of Happiness
I started reading the dictionary when I was four years old, so I’m very attuned to the definitions of words. One of the most ill-defined words is “happiness”.
There’s a lyric by the band Morphine that sums it up for me: “I’m exactly where I want to be right now.”
Isn’t that happiness to you? To be where you have everything you want. To want for nothing.
There’s two ways to try to get to that place. One is to work to change “where” we are. Not just your location, but people, possessions, feelings, events.
All of humanity’s problems come from that way. False happiness.
This is what Secular Buddhism means about desire. Desire is infinite — no matter how good things are, they could always be a little better. Happiness is always just a little further away, never here.
Back to “I’m exactly where I want to be right now.” What’s the other way?
First, full disclosure: it’s not just easier said than done, it’s teeth-grittingly gruelingly hard, the hardest thing I’ve ever tried. But it’s worth it.
The other method is to change what you want. Want exactly where you are right now. Because we’re all where we are for reasons.
But how can we want the world with all its ugliness? Today there’s war in Ukraine, yesterday was the anniversary of my friend’s suicide, kids’ parents get cancer and die, kids get cancer and die.
All of these things I have had to learn to want, in the sense of “wanting for nothing”, accepting. And I am grateful for all of them.
I’m grateful I got to be a part of my friend’s life, even for a short time, and that I learned from his death how much his brothers meant to me. I’m grateful my brother’s death brought me closer to his family, and that from it I learned to be more accepting. I’m grateful my friend responded to her daughter dying by organizing her community in a charity memorial, and from that I learned even the death of a child can be transformed.
I’m grateful for the war in Ukraine, because it’s given me the courage to write this. I’ve learned I believe in the possibility of redemption for all mankind, through rejecting false happiness.
True happiness is not for the weak of heart. You have to be incredibly strong to withstand it, because you have to accept everything, exactly as it is. The joy and the sorrow, we don’t get to pick and choose.
(Acceptance doesn’t mean we can’t take action to make changes in the world. We just can’t be disappointed when the world doesn’t meet our expectations.)
Love, acceptance, gratitude, true happiness… and grueling ordeals of discomfort. They’re all the same thing.
I’m exactly where I want to be right now.