The Search for Happiness

Posted: May 6, 2013 in Spirituality. Buddhism

Everybody, I think, desires happiness above all other things. Yet, if this basic emotion or state of being is so central, the question arises as to why it is so hard to find? And if it is found, why is it so hard to sustain?

I find the answer to this question in the stories and examples of Tibetan Buddhist monks. Many of these gentle souls were imprisoned by the occupying Chinese forces simply for being religious. Unjustly imprisoned, and many serving upwards of 20 years, when these monks were finally released they invariably thanked their guards, the prison warden and other officials for their time served. Indeed, almost to a man, these monks walked out after years of hard labor, injustice, and inhumane conditions in a blissful, serene state. When asked about how they could be happy in such a miserable state of affairs, these monks invariably pointed to the mind’s ability to create and sustain happiness anywhere. Through loving kindness practice and gratitude, even the smallest things became objects of beauty and enjoyment. In short, these monks lived happy and free within the bounds of a harsh imprisonment, and a reality that would make most of us lose our minds in abject despair.

The lesson is this: happiness is an inside job. Too often in our society we are taught that we need to find people, and fill our lives with things in order to be happy. We spend our lives searching for “the one” in the firm belief that that “one” will lead to a life of bliss all the while chasing the latest desire for material possession. Unable to be fulfilled many find themselves addicted to all sorts of vices and substances.

Strangely, to me, a pop culture example seems appropriate: I am always a little perplexed by Taylor Swift songs. She seems so caught up in blaming whoever the ex-du-jour is for having the temerity of not being the “one”. Her songs lead one to believe that she is with man after man in the hope of securing the “one”, and then when she does not find it in her relationship with so-and-so she becomes bitter, resentful, and accusatory because some poor sap does not measure up to her ideal. Moving on, her next hit song details the same thing with a different guy. She doesn’t understand that her “one” does not exist outside of her own natural capacity to be happy and fulfilled.

In sum, we expect things outside of us to provide what we possess all along. It is like looking for our heart in a department store, we will never find it, and we will be so distracted by all the shiny baubles we find there that we will forget what we were looking for to begin with.

Rumi has a beautiful line that goes something like this: “I looked for you (God) in a mosque, but you weren’t there. I then tried a church, but you weren’t there, so I went to a temple and you were not there either. But then, I looked in my heart, and you were there all along.” We will never find happiness outside of us. At best it is a fleeting feeling when we do; a mere whisper of a trace that something greater exists. And the search begins.

Indeed, we will never find it at all unless we cultivate the capacity to look within, and then develop the natural radiant happiness that is inside–a happiness that is available to us no matter our external conditions.


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