On Recognizing Happiness.

We go through life in a state of “suffering”. I’m not trying to be dramatic; this is really the human condition. Buddhists say that life is suffering or dukha, commonly translated as “dissatisfaction” or “unease”. We spend our lives trying to work through this “suffering”. It doesn’t mean life is grim, painful, empty and therefore not worth living. That’s a really pessimistic view and I don’t think that was the Buddha’s intention. It just means, I think, that we feel a lot of pain, fear, anxiety, and stress in life because life according to the Buddha is impermanent and ever-changing…and human beings don’t deal with this well.  We have to learn to live our lives in a way in which we don’t get as affected by this pain and suffering.

I’m someone who knows “suffering” all too well. Ever since early childhood I have been highly prone to worry, anxiety, depression and acute stress. It’s taken me years of self-therapy, and more recently a combination of receiving acupuncture, meditating, doing regular exercise, adopting a healthier diet, and developing a stronger understanding of mindfulness in order to be happier and chill the fuck out. I know, all those things I mentioned sound so cliche and new-agey, but I can’t attribute to my generally more balanced state these days to anything else really.  It doesn’t mean that I’ve achieved a permanent state of happiness or anything. Only three weeks ago did I write about being moody and irritable. Two weeks ago as the weather started to get colder and darker I told a friend of mine I was feeling kind of “blue.” It think it means that I experience those upsetting emotions much less often than I used to.

I think what’s helped this shift is that I’m much more aware of how my depression, stress and anxiety manifest in my daily life. I think when you start to practice mindfulness, and pay attention to things like your relationships, your diet, your daily habits and patterns, your environment and how these affect you physically, emotionally, spiritually, you become much more aware of your “suffering”. In becoming more aware,  you learn to manage the “suffering” much better because you are able to recognize contributing factors and make subtle shifts and changes. And ultimately, you experience “happiness” on a much more consistent basis. “Suffering” and “happiness” co-exist. Without one, you can’t experience or know the other. Being aware of how they both feel and manifest, and what you can do to have more of one and less of the other, is a really good way to go about your daily life.

So, how do I know I’m generally “happy” or in a good place in life? What does it look like for me? Here’s my list:

  • I watch less TV.
  • When I listen to music, I really hear it.
  • I am content cooking a delicious meal by myself and slowly eating it quietly.
  • I masturbate less.
  • I journal less.
  • I spend less time on Facebook and online dating sites.
  • I feel less interested in indulging in drinking.
  • I worry less about my future.
  • I feel really grateful for the time I spend with friends.
  • I want genuinely want to reach out to others.
  • I think of my parents fondly without traces of anger and resentment.
  • My body feels lighter.
  • My hips are more open.
  • My bowel movements are regular.
  • I generally have more energy.

What a great list right? And because I recognize these things, soon as one of them changes (i.e.: I start worrying about my future, I notice that two hours have gone by with me perusing men’s profiles online) I can check myself.

Recognize it, name it, don’t let it take over, and do something about it. That’s how I’m learning to “suffer” less and be happier.

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