Taxonomy of Happiness Part 2
Here’s some thinking related to the conditional forms of happiness.
First of all, it is part of the human condition – that is, something we are physiologically and culturally inclined towards – to attempt to create an environment for ourselves that is as pleasant as possible. There is no problem with this as such. In fact, it can be a beautiful exercise in creativity. The endless challenges and opportunities are delightful as long as you can manage to keep the right perspective, which, by the way, ain’t easy.
In the Buddhist tradition, working to maintain a healthy and harmonious worldly existence is a never-ending practice (or slog, if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment). That is, because the conditions of the world (our families, our society, our bodies, the tax code, technological innovation, available flavors of fizzy water, the cost of a decent haircut, etc…) are endlessly changing, we cannot expect to master them in any permanent way. We will do our best to establish a good life, and we will have some triumphs and some let downs, and we will adjust (or not) as things change, and we will keep on going and keep on winning some and losing some until we die. This is how it is.
What will not happen, and both Buddhism and each of our lives testify to this unequivocally – is this: we will not, after however many decades and however many hard-won lessons, arrange the details of our worldly lives (our job, our relationships, our shoe rack, our whatever) just so, such that those conditions will finally satisfy our souls and we’ll know anything even remotely resembling real peace.
My point here is that we cannot expect to actually achieve lasting happiness through this type of tinkering. Because we are curious and creative animals, we have always tinkered, tinker now, and will continue to tinker with our professional, social, and political identities, our physical health, our entertainment regimen, our hummus recipe, and so on. We will have successes and failures in each of these things, and none of them will be permanent or reliable. Regardless of how amazing success in any of these efforts may feel for the moment, that feeling will fade. The elation and satisfaction and happiness will, probably sooner than you’d imagine, be replaced by something else. Every single time. Bar none.
Unless we wish to be constantly at the whim of conditions beyond our control for our sense of well being – unless we wish to pin our emotional ups and downs to an utterly unpredictable funhouse game which is apparently being run at times by a 6 year old with a questionable sense of humor, it behooves us to invest at least some portion of our energy into developing some unconditional happiness.
Meditation is really the best way I know to actually do this. It’s simple and effective and requires little or no money and has been field tested for centuries and is just generally a good thing in lots of ways. Interestingly, it often has the added feature of making improvements in worldly endeavors more likely. But that’s not the point. The point is to develop an abiding sense of tranquility – a form of happiness so deep and so pervasive it remains present and accessible regardless of your tax bracket, waist size, school district, or even marital status. And not only is this possible, it has been done many many times in many cultures and is being done now, even as we speak, all over the world. It does require patience and a willingness to be kind to oneself. It can be difficult at times. But compare difficult (meditation, at times) with impossible (achieving real peace through landing the right job, mate, or whatever) and difficult is actually much easier.
So, the moral of the story is that even difficult (at times) is easier than impossible, and real peace is not impossible.