When someone asks what the meaning of life is, it might be really easy to answer, “find happiness,” but that answer only poses more questions. What is happiness? Why does everyone strive for it and how does one obtain it? Is it even obtainable? People can be happy one moment and sad the next. Is there a logic behind happiness? How do we prevent these emotional roller coasters? These are all questions people have tried to answer throughout time, but I’ve never been a philosophical person. I’ve always brushed off these topics in favor of more practical ways of thought that had concrete answers. That is until I encountered the topics discussed in this mindfulness class. It was comforting to know that most, if not all, people struggle to wrap their minds around the same concepts of happiness. We all want it, but don’t know how to get it. According to Chodron (2016), “We do not meditate in order to be comfortable. In other words, we don’t meditate in order to always, all the time, feel-good”. The key to feeling happy is mediation, but as everyone probably knows, it is hard to get into the habit of meditating. By thinking about abstract ideas through meditation and mindfulness, we become better acquainted with the ideas themselves, what they mean to us, and how to happiness through this process of meditating.
Literature has shown that meditation, especially a type that encourages mindfulness, can improve many aspects of our lives. One might ask what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is defined as observing your surroundings and being aware of the changes that are happening without judging. It is the act of being in tune with yourself and your surroundings. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, can improve mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. Overall well-being pertains to your happiness, connectedness to others and the world, and clarity in the mind.
These definitions make it abundantly clear why mindful meditation can help us achieve happiness. In order to even start looking for happiness, one should be aware of what makes us sad and how we feel when we encounter different things in the world. This is why I believe that the first step in achieving happiness is to become in tune with the world and to be mindful, even of the seemingly mundane things in our lives. Meditation is so powerful because “meditation gives us the opportunity to have an open, compassionate attentiveness to whatever is going on” (Chodron, 2016, p. 5). Meditation is not only about making you feel good about yourself but also about being aware of your emotions and knowing how to gain control of your emotions. Per Chodron’s words:
Whenever you make time to sit down and practice meditation, you bring something along–you bring your thoughts and joys from the day with you, your disappointments, and your concerns. The idea isn’t to just plunk down and start your timer and block out everything that you’ve brought with you. So first, have some sense of where you’re at. Ask yourself the questions: What am I feeling physical? What is my mood? What is the quality of my mind?
In order to be happy, first, you need to be aware of your feelings and come to terms with those feelings. While I agree with these ideas about mindfulness, the next step to Chodron’s description of mindfulness is being aware of people around you and thinking about other people. It is true that you need to be aware of your surroundings and your feelings, but I think it is also equally important to be aware of the people around you and their feelings. We do not live in a bubble by ourselves; we interact with other people. Just as they have an impact on our feelings, we directly impact their emotions as well. Everyone does things for a reason and we need to try to figure out the intent behind these actions in order to understand other people and ourselves better. Knowing, or just consciously thinking about, the intent behind others’ actions and our own makes us more aware of why we do things and will help limit impulsive actions that may harm ourselves or the people around us. When we act impulsively, sometimes we do things we normally wouldn’t do that are out of character. In addition, it will foster thought on how others will perceive our actions, whether we want people to judge us by our impulsive actions rather than our true self, and how we can correct misconceptions. Mindfulness not just about ourselves but about the people around us will help us understand everyone better and consequently, help us in our ultimate quest for happiness.
For all the hype around it, happiness is nothing more than mere emotion. Chodron describes emotions as “the arising of the natural dynamic energy of life…Emotions don’t have to be so evil and scary; they are just energy. We are the ones who ascribe the labels of “good” and “bad” to our emotions” (2016, p.87). From this description, we see how emotions are universally shared amongst us and more importantly, that we are in control of our own emotions. We are the only ones that can judge what emotions are good and what emotions are bad. We can control how we feel about different situations. By practicing mindfulness meditation, we learn to be more consciously aware of our emotions, what triggers these feelings, and how to act when these emotions arise. Chodron points out that, as people, we know:
How to strengthen the old habits of anger, and everyone knows how to feel resentment and self-pity. We’re very good at it. But at the same time, you’re the only one having that emotion, and even though your friends and relatives might tell you what you’re thinking and feeling, actually you’re the only one who thinks those thoughts and feel those feelings (2016, p. 87)
I agree with Chodron that everyone’s feelings are unique and valid. By meditating, you are making a conscious effort to be aware of your situation. While your feelings are legitimate, you also need to realize that you may be the only one seeing a situation in that way. Being angry or sad may not help the situation and will not benefit you in the long run. Therefore, it is better to use meditation to train yourself to control your emotions and to see things in a different light. However, I disagree with Chodron in that I don’t believe you are the only one that sees your emotions or feeling a certain way. As I mentioned before, I don’t believe that it’s possible to live in an isolated world with just yourself. Your emotions affect the people around you and you are equally affected by the emotions surrounding you. Bad emotions, whether from you or from others, can affect everyone. Shantideva once quoted, “All the suffering there is in this world arises from wishing yourself to be happy. All the happiness there is in this world arises from wishing others to be happy” (Dudley, 2019, Slide 16). The loving-kindness and compassion you spread to others will be the key to attaining your own happiness because it doesn’t rest on bringing others down. Rather, it encourages you to give and build others up, which will, in turn, help you grow as well. Thus, it is important to address all the emotions that you feel or that the people around you feel and work towards channeling it into something positive in this world rather than suppressing it.
I particularly related to this topic because I feel like everyone talks about “happiness,” but no one has a clear answer on how to be happy. Everyone feels sadness at some point. In fact, depression rates have been steadily rising in the past years. Learning to be aware of our emotions and how to control them is very important so that we can see the world more positively and ultimately, become happier people. There is a Chinese saying that goes. Growing up, my parents would always tell me whenever I wanted something or expected something, that the more we hope, the bigger our disappointment. We should never put all of our eggs in one basket. While it may seem like an odd comparison, I feel like the underlying message of this phrase applies to our never-ending search for happiness as well. We always expect happiness to be some sort of end goal that we will just have; so obviously, when we don’t get there, we are disappointed. And that’s not to say that we can’t feel sadness or other emotions besides happiness. But mindfulness meditation gives us the outlet to learn to be aware of what makes us happy (or sad) and how to channel our emotions in certain ways, which will make us happier overall. Being sad is just another day in the life, and being happy is just another day in life. There is no difference except how we label the day so why not learn to control our minds to make every day a happy day. If we consciously think about what makes us happy and how we can be happier, we can then change our mindset to see the happiness in all the little things we do every day.