I just read “No Mud, No lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh and it was really an eye opener. Just like the lotus flower cannot grow if there is no mud, he says that happiness cannot exist without suffering. Like most people I often get caught up in the busyness of life and start thinking, “if only I had this or did that I’d be able to get past the stress and be happy”. For me, I keep thinking I’ll be so much happier when I actually build my tiny house on a lake because my life will be even more minimalist and simple. But then I had an aha! moment. Will my tiny house actually make me happier, or when I have it, won’t I just want something else? It might make me happier at first, but if I keep looking for happiness outside myself, there seemingly will always be something else that could make me happier.
According to Nhat Hanh, we all have a tendency to run into the future or to go back into the past to search for happiness elsewhere. When we run to the future or the past, we are trying to escape a current pain or suffering. We sometimes also run to the store to buy ourselves something that will make us feel better in the moment or run to the fridge to eat something that will make us feel better in the moment. Doing that will only make you forget your pain for a little while; it will still be there until you actually face it head on.
Happiness like everything else in life is impermanent. In order for you to keep being happy, you need to feed your happiness. One way to feed your happiness is to practice grattitude by being grateful for everything you do have. You are the only one who can choose to be happy, you need to look inside yourself and find what brings you happiness instead of looking everywhere around you.
A few weeks ago, I was frustrated with an interaction I had with technicians for an internet service provider. They showed up over an hour late for the appointment and then they were being really rude. I was trying to stay positive, after all, I did get an extra hour to myself and enjoyed reading my book. But I couldn’t let go of their attitude. Thich Nhat Hanh compares this scenario with being hit by an arrow. The technicians shot me with an arrow and it caused some suffering. I now had two choices; I could either take that arrow out of me by letting go of the pain and situation and accepting it, or I could shoot myself with a second arrow that would cause me 10x more pain, by negatively reacting to the situation, creating a storyline in my mind or be taken over by anxiety. I tried so hard to let it go, but I ended up shooting myself with a second arrow and this situation still bothered me the next day, until I finally accepted it and let it go.
We encounter scenarios like this most days of our lives. It could be as simple as forgetting our keys, not finding a parking space, being cut off by another driver or having to deal with rude people. Some things are easier to let go of than others, but letting go is critical to your happiness. If you spend your whole day thinking about the person who cut you off, and create a storyline to tell everyone at work about it, it will just make you more unhappy. Rather, if you just get angry for a minute and then just let it go, you will be much happier. After all, the person who cut you off was probably having a bad day too. Its sometimes hard to accept, but we are responsible for our own second arrows. We are human after all, it’s easier said than done. The more you are able to let go, the happier you will be!
A good way to check in with yourself to find out what is preventing you from being happy, is to observe your feelings; the good, bad and neutral. According to Nhat Hanh, feelings flow in us like a river, and each feeling is a drop of water in that river. By looking into the river of your feelings you will be able to see how each feeling came to be and you can then choose to let it go.
Choosing to be happy doesn’t only have to do with our feelings though. Another way to choose to be happy is to do more things that you love. Here is an exercise that I invite you to try to see what you can do to add more happiness into your life.
1. Start by drawing a circle and then dividing the circle like a pie. In each slice, be honest with yourself and add what you do with your time. You can do a day, week, month or year. (I did day and year)
Here is my pie in 2017. I am very fortunate that I set up my life to not need to work anymore so I have a lot of time to do things that I love. But here’s what my circle would have looked like when I did work full time in 2017.
2. Draw a second circle and divide it into a pie again. This time add all the things that you love to do.
Here is my optimal pie. It still doesn’t happen like this every day but I choose to do more things that I love. For example, I replaced tv and social media with singing and playing guitar and I added some creative time.
3. Compare both of your circles and see if there is anything in your second circle that you would like to add to your first circle that could feed your happiness!
Comparing my circles, I can see why I craved a different lifestyle that was more flexible. Working full time, we used to only have 3 weeks of vacation or 4% vacation per year. That was not acceptable to us so we made a plan that would allow us to have more freedom and achieved our goal. And so can you! Do what you need to do to cultivate more happiness into your life! It doesnt have to be life changing like what we did. It could start with a small change like trading in 1 hour of mindless screen scrolling with 1 hour of something that would actually increase your happiness! What are you waiting for?
As the quote says “ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” Let go of what’s happening around you that you can’t control and take control of your own happiness!