Yin and Yang is a concept that I have found to universally be true. In all good there is a little evil – in all evil there is a little good. For there to be good then evil must also come and that to have one will eventually lead to the other.
It is the plight of the modern western world that we place happiness as the highest achievement we should achieve, at yet seemingly provide every possible road block to our pursuit of it. It may not seem like this initially seeing as our entire civilisation is aimed squarely at providing a spectrum of all things hedonistic in this quest, and yet this may be the sole thing that is driving our demise in terms of actually achieving happiness. It is the strange perception of what happiness is that leads us constantly chasing dead ends all over the place. To mistake excitement and passion for happiness instead of a long burning contentment that so many desperately crave. Many think that happiness lays just around the corner, something they can buy, earn it with enough wealth or work based brownie points, and yet, that seems to be the absolute opposite of what we should be doing.
Happiness is like a cat, it is nice when it comes up to you willingly – but force an interaction and you will have an unpleasant time.
I do not have the answers for how to achieve happiness but there are a few things that can be applied to ones life to at least try and improve their situation. I have used an analogy before in my writing but in other contexts, other people can point the boat of the mind in the right direction but only you can blow the wind with intuition.
It is one of the key ideas of Buddhism, expectations creates desires, desires create unhappiness. So by reducing your expectations you can also increase your happiness. And yet to say to people nowadays "lower your expectations" is the equivalent of swearing at their mother. In a society that approves of productivity over everything else, where people are put in the position of 'constantly hustling' and the idea of working at any point possible regardless of their personal situation, this proposal of doing less or even nothing will seem counteractive to most people. To that point I also suspect that a lot of people will reject it immediately off of hand.
And yet, the reduce expectations is one of the biggest challengers that most people will face. Look at Julius Caesar, this is the man that ruled an entire empire that was feared by many nations, had the largest army known at the time, there is even a month on the calendar named after him (July) on of the longest ones to appease him and yet he considered himself to be a failure. Why? Because he was comparing himself to the legend of Alexander the great. When expectations misses compared with reality, that is when people can start to feel like they are missing something in life. When someone is trying to compare them with someone else they have put on a pedestal, they are setting themselves up for failure.
The expectations of material wealth is seen as the answer and yet almost always it isn't. The extremely rich people of our world keep exploiting others so that they can simply have more - more stuff to fill the void inside of them. To try to fill the void as it is described in Buddhism - an impossible act to achieve, like trying to eliminate everything to falls down. Do you think they are happy? I don't think so and that is a shame to see. It was actor Jim Carey who said it best "I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.". The problem is that most people will never have the privilege of the wealth he gained to figure out this lesson. Some folks figure this out without the wealth but that is not the path that most people take. The intuition that is needed to to strive for this kind of change only comes from within after the external world has pushed them into this position. This can be a hard lived life or merely one that does not live up to the expectations they had set out. Everyone has their own path, it is up to them to figure out if it is worth taking.
The idea that if only we manage to have more of X,Y or Z then they can truly be happy. More money, more stuff, more sex, more... whatever. It is things like this that have lead to some (but by no means anywhere near all) of the issues related with drug abuse in modern times. That people try a drug to relieve some pain and they get a temporary fix. So the next step for them is to try and up the dosage in the hopes that they get an even bigger fix – instead they just give themselves a new problem on top of the old ones they already had. In try to grasp happiness, they end up creating a fresh hell.
This does not mean, do nothing. On the contrary. Work still needs to be done and there is much to be gained in terms of personal and societal growth from setting out to do a task and achieving it, it is when one depends on this for the single source of happiness that things go awry. There is great joy in making something and having it completed, or close enough for you to consider it done. These writings I am doing are a great example. I like to do them and yet if I suddenly found myself unable to do this, well then so be it. It was a personal luxury while it was here, but I will not cling to it in any serious manner.
Something that I have been saying for a while is, the beginning few steps on a trip of many miles is to use less energy, have less stuff and have less stimulation. It is in that idea that I think we can lay the ground work to a better world in which more people are happy even if there are less people around to be happy.
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