All of us are seekers of happiness. Most people are looking for it as if it were a tangible object that once found they can hang onto forever. How many of us have thought, If only this or that occurred then I would be happy, or I only need to have such and such and my life will be perfect. I used to think that retirement would bring happiness and I was right, not for the lack of work, but for the ability to choose my work.
I read three pieces about happiness this week, two of which promised seekers they’d find what they were looking for if they followed certain recommendations.
15 Things You Should Give Up to be Happy offers a Buddhist approach to happiness, which involves changing your expectations, your behavior, and, oh yeah, getting rid of your ego. Examples of actions to discard are complaining, criticizing, needing to be right, engaging in negative self-talk, attachments, and having to please or impress others.
The poem, “How to be Perfect,” by Ron Padgett, taken from The Writer’s Almanac provides a more doable list of somewhat tongue-in-cheek steps to achieving happiness. These include “getting sleep, eating an orange in the morning, wearing comfortable shoes, washing the dishes after dinner, avoiding spending too much time in large groups, taking a deep breath, and doing one thing at a time.”
My third source was brainpickings.org, which had a review of The Happiness of Pursuit: What Science and Philosophy Can Teach us about the Holy Grail of Existence. The conclusion the author draws is that experience is key to happiness. “A changing, growing self, constantly shaped by new experiences, is happier than the satisfaction any end goal can give us. It turns out the rewards we get for learning and understanding the workings of the world really make it the journey, not the destination, that matters most.” The moral of the story is that if you like what you’re doing, you’ll be happy, that the process is more important than the product.
Since few of us are willing to try anything new based on views from a single source, we can always select items from all three lists, as in, eat an orange in the morning after getting a good night’s sleep, do what you enjoy — one thing at a time — and stop whining. If you only accomplished one of these it should be to do what you enjoy or enjoy what you do while you’re doing it. It’s likely that nothing matters more than this, including kissing your ego goodbye.