The Happiness Myth



Yesterday I was reading through one of my favorite books, “Buddhism:  Plain and Simple” and came across some notes I’d written in the margins on a particular chapter relating to the search for Happiness.  For context, let me begin by saying that I began reading this book some time last year in part of a search for peace.  I had become so consumed with the day to day hustle and bustle of life, constantly grinding and working toward tomorrow that I found myself unable to enjoy my present.  As a result, I’d become terribly discontent with life as I knew it.  To be clear, I wasn’t sad or depressed or angry… I just wasn’t as happy as I’d have liked to be and it bothered me.  I was wandering through one of my favorite bookstores in Columbus and found this book in the spirituality/meditation session.  One of my friends had suggested that I take up meditation as a way to alleviate some stress, and so I’d decided to explore this idea.  I came across Plain and Simple and, though I was not Buddhist, liked the premise enough to begin exploring.

Spoiler Alert:  It was easily one of the best books I’d ever picked up.

What resonated with me so much about this book was that, instead of teaching me about a religion, it taught me about life and a new way of looking at things.  There were very few chapters dedicated to the religion itself, and even those that were did not spend much time talking about the concrete portions of the practice.  Instead, the book spoke volumes about being present and being mindful in each moment of every day.  There were many valuable lessons that I took away from reading this book, but the most profound was the one regarding the balance of happiness in our lives.  Below are my notes from reading this portion of the book:

“Discussion with Matthew on Happiness vs. Sadness –

It is arrogant to think of happiness as a choice, and naïve to think of sadness as inescapable.  Our lives are in a constant state of flux and n either of those things are permanent. 

Malcontent arises because we are foolish enough to think that we can control how much happiness or sadness we have.  Life/the Universe has a way of balancing us so that neither option every really outweighs the other. 

The difference is in the focus.  “Happy” people are those that pay more attention to the good, and “Sad” people are those who give more credence to the bad – but neither has more moments than the other. 

It’s all a matter of perception.”

I remember being so proud of myself for having this epiphany – for finally understanding what seemed so simple once I gained the clarity to look at it.  The author of Plain and Simple says that life isn’t about telling ourselves stories (referring to other religions), but about investigating actual experiences.  And when I took the time to investigate my own actual lived experiences, I began to understand the balance between happiness and sadness, and realized that I only experienced true discontent when I was too stubborn to allow myself to feel things without needing to control it all.

I want to encourage you today, to stay in the moment.  Whether you’re feeling dramatically happy or sad emotions, or you’re somewhere in between, just allow yourself to feel them and try not to put too much stock or weight on what you’re feeling in that moment.

Understand that you will feel overwhelming happiness.  Understand that you will feel overwhelming despair.  And understand that both will eventually pass as your spirit returns to its equal balance – just like the rest of nature.

Love and light,


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