“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” ~Norman Cousins
“What is happiness?” What a completely dense and loaded question this is.
During my studies in psychology, one of the main principles we learned about writing a manuscript is the importance of defining what you are discussing. If I were to write a paper about happiness, I would then need to operationally define happiness in terms that allowed everyone to understand what I was referring to.
The problem with this, however, is that we then merely repeat the best definition we come by, thinking we understand the meaning while never truly questioning our own thoughts on the matter; therefore never truly experiencing it.
I believe this happens in the majority of circumstances, and know that I did this for many years. It is much simpler to just go along with life rather than ask yourself those true and deep questions that will rattle your world.
My whole life I have been searching for tranquility, to feel at peace within myself, for “happiness.”
After a traumatic adolescence, I spent my life in fear, seeking control to make up for that which was taken from me. This brought me an abundance of pain and so much confusion.
But I thought I would no longer be hurt if I could control everything around me. This, for obvious reasons, never worked, and I couldn’t seem to understand why.
A special person in my life always taught me to question what I’m told. On the subject of happiness, he said that he had never heard a definition that made sense to him, and therefore, didn’t believe happiness existed.
This was the saddest thing I have ever heard. It inspired me to find a definition that would touch his heart.
Unfortunately, like with most things in life, this relationship ended, and I was never able to give him my definition. But I was still very much determined to define it, if not for him then for myself.
It wasn’t until I began writing a research paper on death and mortality for my master’s studies that I truly understood what happiness is.
My research was investigating the effects of mortality salience—simply put, how humans react to the realization that we are perpetually vulnerable to permanent obliteration for reasons that we can never anticipate or control. This was quite the handful to absorb, and many people whom I talked with experienced great difficulty coming to terms with the principle.
They frequently told me that doing a paper on death would make them depressed, and things of that nature. I had a different experience: The more I read on death and mortality, the calmer and more peaceful I found myself.
It took a few days for me to realize that this tranquility I was experiencing was the happiness I had been searching for all along; this fear of death and happiness are very closely related.
If I could talk to that person again and explain to him what I think happiness is, I would explain to him that it is the coming to terms with this inevitable culmination.
I believe happiness is the complete mindful attention and bliss found in the present moment; the present moment is beautiful and fundamentally perfect. Therefore, one must choose to be happy right now in the present, because this is all that exists.
Many years ago, I read a quote by the Dalai Lama, which I think is very applicable to this. He reported that when something is wrong, you can either fix it, and therefore it will work out and there is no need to worry, or there is nothing you can do, and therefore worrying about it is moot.
When one truly and with every fiber of their being accepts death and the mystery of the future, there is nothing left but to appreciate the present moment. I believe this is where happiness stems from because it really puts things into perspective.
I have been experimenting with this, and as a person who frequently worries, thinks too much, and feels often overwhelmed by life, I have found immense peace and tranquility from this acceptance.
For me, it completely shifted my perspective on everything. I have been able to stay calm and resilient in situations that would normally bring on a panic attack or devastate me.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that my life is now all roses and butterflies, but that this new perspective aids me in gauging situations and reacting to them as I think I should rationally, not instinctively.
Ultimately, there is no way to know how your life will play out in ten minutes, and hour, or a week. Happiness is the value of every moment and the full attention paid to it.
Hopefully, one day, people will stop looking at death with fear and use it to make their life more valuable. Knowledge is power, and this, I believe, is a true key to happiness.
Photo by mindfulness