A Million Different Things, Noon, Meditation #6

Meditation #6 is from the middle section, Noon, in this free serialization of my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man, and concerns itself with happiness, what it is, what we know about it and how to get more. A full index for the articles so far can be found at: Gift of A Million Different Things

David Stone, Writer

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Meditation #6, Happiness

It’s not what we think. The truth, I mean.

We take for granted that everyone wants to be happy. They don’t, no matter how much ground we give up in the definition. Happy is a hopelessly squishy term to begin with, but let’s try to define it. Happy means contented and able to enjoy ourselves easily. It’s that vibe we have when we’re in a groove. Now that I’ve employed a few more squishy terms, I’ll leave it that, for each of us, we know it when we feel it.

Whatever it is is momentary. Whatever causes us to feel happy must be dense enough to persist or we glide immediately to something else. My motivation might be the warmth of the sun on an early spring day, the penetration of deep blue sky through robust green leaves, my wife’s mellow smile, the opening chords of Mozart’s g Minor Symphony, and many more. I have a million happiness influencers, and each can fly away after a few seconds.

As I get used to the sun on my skin, for example, the exhilarating contrast lessens. A commitment to being happy requires that I look always for the things, many of them new, that start the chemistry swimming in my brain and beyond. When it’s really good, I can feel happiness down to my toes and extend it across the universe. A master seeks to sustain the buzz.

As unique individuals, we all have our own personal hot buttons. Some we learn through experience but not enough to keep us rolling.

To be routinely happy, we must also be inventive, insightful and observant. Invention powers every cell in our bodies. We are born to manipulate nature. Without going too much farther, let’s first acknowledge that some are more inventive than others and many influences, including childhood reinforcement and cultural values, come into play. Nevertheless, happiness is heavily dependent on the acceptance and development of individual inventiveness.

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Insight is an even tougher nut because it has two components that are difficult to manage. First is the willingness to honestly look, and second is the voluntary acceptance of what we see. There are people we meet every day who are delighted by terrible things. If no one ever thrilled at slaughter and mayhem, we’d never have another war, let alone the faux violence so effective in selling us movies and television shows.

Many gravitate toward violence, most never openly admitting their passion for it. The same is true for more moderate, but quirky components in human nature. Some people, it seems, can get a sexual turn on from almost anything. Since sex is one of our most enjoyable activities, this seems like a treasure of evolutionary success. We can get hot over somebody’s shoes. Great. Yet, telling ourselves the truth about it isn’t easy or direct. Insight requires navigating some tricky landscapes on the road to wisdom, and at least openly, most of us are not brave enough to march easily into a universe so foreign.

Finally, observation. On the whole, we think we take in the stuff of our worlds competently. We see realities around us, milling, passing or standing still. We take them in. So much happens automatically, while we daydream or use our cell phones, that we’re often on the borderline of not observing much at all. Multitasking and, generally, doing takes away from our ability to watch. We really don’t know much about the world around us because we are too involved to see and absorb.

Indifference or neutrality takes over as the default reaction to passive disengagement. This characteristic has become worse, epidemic really, as we have allowed ourselves to be manipulated by the mass media. Our inclination toward action has been perilously augmented by the injection of vicarious involvement. We are now ballplayers and action heros even as we sit in our comfy chairs.

Our decrease in awareness can help explain why, in the earliest days of a practice in meditation, we often feel like we’ve been reborn. We’ve so lost the benefits of reflection that getting them back is like quitting a mind-numbing drug. That drug is mindless action and reaction.

When I was in my early teens, a teacher who’d taken an interest in me because I wanted to write devoted a few lunch hours to informal counseling. I clearly remember Mrs. Blochberger’s using Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea to teach me symbolism, but another lesson that stuck was her wistful idea that the world would be better if everyone took fifteen minutes every day to ask themselves, “Where am I going?” I’ve never been great with symbolism, but I took to that practice like others take to chocolate cake.

An interesting thing to try might be a practice of pausing regularly to ask ourselves, not simply about direction, but about what we want, which is the thing that flavors directions. Don’t take too much for granted, and be honest with yourself. Nobody else is in the room. Getting the details of why may be as important as any speculations about where.

Initially, I think the answers might be simple. Leonard Cohen, a favorite poet, in an early poem, has made me laugh with is clarity: “Let me have her,” he once wrote. Each of us knows the truth somewhere in ourselves, and my suggestion is that, from persistently asking, we can pull up more truths. What do we really want–after the smoke has cleared? We might surprise ourselves. No, take the “might” out. We will surprise ourselves. It’s guaranteed, if we make a vow to pay attention to our own voices whispering inside us.

Once comfortable, I’d add a complementary question. What am I seeing out there? Forget the defaults and automatic conclusions. Take a look and go one step further. Listen for the silent information coming in from everything around us. Others are telling us things they will never put into words. There may not even be words available to describe the signals we are receiving.

David Stone, Writer