When I decided to begin my exploration of happiness I quickly began to realize that the word had hundreds, if not thousands, of definitions. Most of them tied to an emotion. I don’t know, maybe it just seems that way to me, because it’s what the word happiness has evoked in me.
The First Type of Happiness
In her article, “A History of Happiness,” Meghan Keener, a positive psychology major from the University of Pennsylvania, shared her research on “a definition of happiness.”
She found that, “Happiness” is a word with a thousand definitions. When most people today use the word, they mean positive emotion or positive affect. It’s also a shorthand for satisfaction with life, or general well-being. We could liken the emotion of happiness to joy, but joy is sometimes thought of as more spiritual than happiness, which can feel more simple and cheerful in nature.
The last part of Meghan’s quotes begins to sum up my approach to understanding happiness.
I’ve come to embrace the Eastern wisdom traditions view point which teaches that there are two types of happiness. These wisdom traditions described them as “conditioned” and “unconditioned.”
The first kind of happiness, conditioned happiness, comes from things turning out the way we’d like them to. Happiness needs a reason. We say to ourselves, (I know I do) “I’m happy because things are going well for my family,” or “I’m happy that I received that raise at work,” or “I’m happy because I get to go on vacation next week,” on and on it goes.
This kind of happiness, like a shooting star, is inherently fleeting because it depends on external reasons which can change in a moment.
I know that I’m as good as the next person, when it comes to denial, and conditioned happiness is all about denial.
We deny that we could lose our home, our job, our savings, our health, and our loved ones at any time. We deny that all we own, are and love are temporary, external sources of happiness that will drift in and out like an ocean tide.
The Second Type of Happiness
The second type of happiness is an internal state of consciousness, it is unconditional. It allows us to be happy for no reason at all. It’s independent of the circumstances, events, opinions, people, and things in our lives.
The second type of happiness arises from the realization that our true self is not bound by space-time. It is beyond our body, thoughts, emotions, personality, accomplishments, relationships or possessions.
Our true nature known as the field of infinite possibilities is pure and unbounded consciousness. We experience the attributes of this field through love, happiness, compassion, creativity, wisdom, silence, grace, and a sense of the infinite.
To know happiness in the world requires being happy with ourselves. Being happy with ourselves requires being happy with our feelings. Being happy with our feelings requires being happy with our thoughts. Being happy with our thoughts requires being aware of their ever changing and impersonal nature. Out beyond the duality of change is non-change, where we meet our most primordial, essential and natural state. It neither flows in or out, it is always present and it is the place of true happiness, joy and peace in all conditions. It is unconditional.
We awaken to Happiness when we focus on experiencing the happiness that already exists within us. To connect with our inner happiness – which like the sun can be hidden behind the clouds and become obscured by our unconsciousness, limiting thoughts, and emotional drama – requires practice.
Again quoting from Meghan Keener article, “A History of Happiness,” Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, says that with “effort and time” we can develop the skills needed to connect to our true state of happiness.
Neuroscientist and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard teaches that durable happiness as a way of life requires training the mind and developing qualities like inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love. The Dalai Lama agrees, describing happiness as a skill requiring effort and time to develop an understanding of the true nature of reality.
But no matter how long we’ve been lost and a drift in fear and limitation, we can, with “effort and time” we can develop the skills to rise above the storm clouds of our conditioning and awaken to the source of happiness within us.