So, you want to be happy.
Perhaps you are having problems in your life. Maybe something bad happened to you, and your outlook on life has been bleak ever since. You want to feel happy, stay hopeful, and possibly smile again.
Or perhaps you are actually living a very nice life. You have good health. You have a great job. Maybe you are even living in a great place, and you have a loving family and lots of great friends that support you unconditionally.
Yet somehow, you are not happy most of the time. You don’t remember joy.
“Why is that?” You ask.
It is strange and confusing. It feels like you have everything – but at the same time, nothing.
You are beginning to feel numb. Nothing makes you happy anymore. Most days you are hiding your discontent under the façade of a smiling face.
You have no one to turn to for happiness. So you try to find the answer yourself.
You have already read so much on “happiness” that without me telling you anything, I guess you already know what to do.
You understand you are very fortunate. You know you have a better life than most people. You know you should be grateful.
You need to think positively. You know negative thoughts attract negative outcomes.
You think too much. You know excessive thinking is bringing you down.
You have to live in the present moment. You know presence is all there is to life. It is the infinite source to joy and enlightenment.
You know happiness comes from within. You have to find a way to become “happy” despite of your circumstances.
So you read and read and read. You look around for “happiness”. Your search continues.
But it is nowhere to be found.
“Can I Ever Be Happy?”
I am going to be honest with you.
If you really want to be happy, none of this is going to work.
I used to be just like you. No matter how hard I try to think myself out of unhappiness, no matter what techniques I try to trick myself into becoming more present, more positive, more grateful, I did not become happier.
In fact, all this was giving me more stress. I was always thinking about becoming “enlightened”. I wanted to become perpetually “happy”. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to have fun. I wanted life to be full of joy. I wanted to be free.
But “happiness” eluded me.
What I didn’t know was what happiness really is. Now that I realize the truth of happiness, I no longer have this problem. I am a happy man.
And I am going to reveal this shocking truth to you right now.
Are you ready to hear it?
If you are, read on.
The Shocking Truth About Happiness
Happiness is not what you think it is.
The “happiness” that we know – smiling, laughing, feelings of joy and ecstasy – is just a good mood. A good feeling. Nothing more.
We can watch a comedy and laugh our asses off. Is that happiness?
We can look at the fine weather and smile. Is that happiness?
We can take drugs, get high and even ecstatic. Is that happiness?
No. They are just good feelings, some fleeting emotion like every other.
If you mistake good emotions for true “happiness”, then your “happiness” will be completely determined by the external events that happen to you.
When good things happen to us, we are going feel good. When bad things happen to us, we are going feel bad.
Why wouldn’t we? We are human, after all. Those who say otherwise are just delusional. There, I said it.
Say you just lost someone very close to you. In the first few days, there is absolutely nothing you can do to make yourself feel “happier”. No amount of meditation and spiritual practice is going to work. I know, because I have been there. At that point, wallowing in grieve and sorrow is your only option.
Or, say you just won the lottery. Big time. Like a billion dollars. Can you imagine yourself acting like you are the Buddha or something? Can you really say “I don’t need this money”? You know, instead of thinking of how to spend it?
If you think about it this way, you will realize we actually have no control over our emotions whatsoever.
Your level of “happiness” will always fluctuate because it is always dependent on outside events. And because outside events are unpredictable, your mood will also be unpredictable and subject to change.
And nope, you can’t ever stop your mood from being influenced. Ever.
I can already hear the objections: “Happiness comes from within! Happiness doesn’t change! It doesn’t depend on anything! You are just not living in the present moment!”
Tell this to a person who just lost her husband of 20 years and her 31-year-old son within a week. I am sure you’re helping.
This Is the Real Happiness You Were Looking For
But then it begs a new question:
If our “happiness” is always dependent on externals, then how can we ever be truly “happy”? How can we ever end the cycle of pain, sadness and suffering?
To answer this question, first you have to know what happiness really is.
True happiness doesn’t fluctuate. It is not influenced by outside forces. It is eternal. It is always within you.
True happiness is the peace that lies deep below the writhing sea surface that is your ever-fluctuating emotions.
You don’t need to get rid of your negative thoughts, nor do you need to seek positive ones, because true happiness lies within your every thought, positive or not.
You don’t need to stop thinking, because true happiness lies within your busy mind.
You don’t need to be successful, because true happiness lies in your life situation, right now.
Yes, you don’t really have any control over what will happen and how you will feel. But there is one thing you can control.
And that is how you interpret these ever-fluctuating emotions.
You only have to remind yourself that all these emotions are just something exterior. All the while, your real nature – your Buddha-nature – remains unchanged, and at peace.
You Can Awaken Your Inner Buddha
One of the sutras I always refer to is The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. I highly recommend you read it and study its wisdom.
In the sutra, it introduces a concept called Buddha-nature.
Buddha-nature exists in all of us. Buddha-nature is what governs our perception of the world. Buddha-nature is peace. Buddha-nature is true happiness.
From the Buddha-nature derives the six organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.
Then from the six organs derives the six senses: sight, sounds, smells, tastes, physical feelings and thoughts.
Whatever you feel, be it joy, laughter, sadness or anger, is aroused by interactions between the six organs and senses, which are themselves derived from your Buddha-nature.
In this sense, all these emotions are essentially the same. They are all manifestations of peace, and true happiness – because they all come from the same root.
We tend to get caught in the phenomena aroused by these interactions between our organs and senses. We got too distracted to realize the origins of all these mess actually comes from a place of eternal peace.
It is like we are fixated on the surface of water, thinking it is all there it is to the vast, deep ocean.
When life doesn’t go well and your thoughts go wild, the only thing you need to do is to remind yourself of this truth. That your Buddha-nature has never changed, that it is at peace, right at this moment.
How to Be Happy (Even If You Feel Bad)
So how do you actually do it?
Accept everything. Embrace every thought, every emotion, and every feeling. Bad or good. It doesn’t matter.
The more you fight your negative thoughts and emotions, the more you will become obsessed by them, controlled by them. You will amplify what you fight. You will become what you fight.
On the other hand, if you mistake “feeling good” for “happiness”, then “happiness” will become very elusive. The more you seek it, the more it will elude you.
You may be feeling good and smiling right now, but the moment this “good feeling” passes, you are back to square one. You will feel empty again.
Naturally, you will want to feel good again. So you go and seek more stimulation.
In the end, you are only chasing a fleeting “good feeling” that was never in your control.
So stop chasing good emotions. Stop fighting bad emotions.
Accept that you are angry. Accept that you are sad. Allow yourself to feel bad. Allow yourself to be human. Fully embrace your situation, and work around it while embodying what you feel.
At the same time, do not get attached to good feelings. Obviously, allow yourself to feel good, and enjoy every moment of life. But stay alert, and recognize it is just another passing emotion. Don’t mistake it for true happiness.
The problem though?
This is much easier said than done. After all, we humans are creatures of emotions. We always act on our emotions.
It is very hard for an angry person to come to himself, remember this truth, accept his anger and work around it in the heat of the moment. The same applies to the grieving woman I mentioned earlier.
For this to work, you need to be sensitive to your emotions at all times. The time you let your guard down, is the time you get possessed by your emotions. And you will fall into the same cycle all over again.
One way to achieve this is to practice meditation. You will become more introspective with training. You will learn to be more aware of your thought process. With this also comes improved self-control.
With higher awareness, you will be able to identify emotions when they come up. And you will have the opportunity to apply the concepts you learned reading this article.
And instead of being consumed by your emotions blindly, you will know what is really happening.
You will be able to embrace all your emotions. And like an autumn leaf floating down a mountain stream, you let go, in the understanding that your true essence of peace and happiness has never left you.
The Secret to Enlightenment
I hope I described what true happiness really is in a simple enough language.
Buddhists say that Prajñāpāramitā, or true wisdom, is something that cannot be put into words. And I agree.
All words spoken are only fingers pointing to the moon. In the end, it is your path to realization. You have to do this yourself.
By giving you some actionable pointers, I sincerely hope you will come to this realization soon.
And when you do, you will realize nothing in this world can give you any trouble anymore. You can let yourself be sad, lonely, miserable, happy, joyful – and you will be okay. Sure, you will still play along with these emotions, but you won’t get attached to them.
It is then you will realize you have become invincible.
So let’s do it, shall we?
Meditate. Introspect. Be aware of your emotions and feelings, and embrace them fearlessly. Read the Platform Sutra if it’s your thing.
Most importantly, make your life a practice. Remind yourself that every moment is in itself the materialization of peace, that every second of your life enlightenment.
And you will always be truly happy in life, no matter what happens to you.
What to Do Next
I summarized the main concept and the how-tos of this post into a short action list called 4 Simple Steps to Be Happy (Even When You Are Not).
With this action list, you will know exactly what steps you can take right now to realize your Buddha-nature and true happiness from within.