We all want to be happy, don't we? Isn't that why we do what we do, because after all the endless toil we'll eventually reach a place where we're happy?
The expectation of and the striving for happiness is an obstacle.
Happiness comes and goes. It's not something to chase or even aspire to.
Contentment is a word and a concept that I prefer and is a healthier ideal to pursue (Although once again it is best not to pursue it!).
There's a technique I use with Hypnotherapy clients called scaling. When you come to see me, at some point, I'll ask you a question: How happy are you on a scale of 0 to 10?
In fact, that's the question I used to ask, now I ask: How content are you on a scale of 0 to 10?
There's an important difference between being happy and content.
Contentment is my baseline. Most of the time I feel reasonably calm, everything's fine just as it is. Happiness, sadness, anger and worry all float in and float out of my consciousness but they don't hang around too long.
Ask yourself this: what's your default setting? Is it one of permanent agitation or are you fairly calm most of the time?
Words are an imperfect way of measuring our emotional state. What's the difference between Joy and happiness for example. I think that there's a fundamentally fleeting quality to all emotions and if we can't accept that, we're bound to suffer.
If you've ever taken MDMA you'll be familiar with the extreme highs and lows one can experience. You feel so amazingly joyous and full of life that when that feeling starts to fade it can be pretty unpleasant. You want the party to go on forever but it can't and eventually, you have to go back to normality. What that normality is, is the important thing.
In Chinese medicine, they would say that too much happiness relates to an imbalance of the heart. To be too happy isn't considered a normal healthy way to be. If you know anyone that suffers from bipolar disorder you will probably understand.
Human beings are the most analytical of creatures. We put labels on everything and get so used to this way of viewing the world that we confuse our conceptions for reality.
If I say 'I'm happy' what the hell do I mean? I'm merely labelling the particular sensations I'm experiencing. The same can be said for anxiety, stress and depression and this is a very useful way of looking at things. You may be experiencing some unpleasant feelings but that's all they are.
The first noble truth of Buddhism is that there is suffering. It is neither a good thing nor a bad thing it's just how it is. I read somewhere that the Buddha emphasized suffering to counter people's expectations of Happiness. He could equally have made the first noble truth 'There is joy'.
Our attachment to things causes problems and the acceptance of this can be a life long endeavour but you don't need to become enlightened to be content.
To feel fairly calm most of the time is a more realistic goal and that is certainly achievable.