“Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” ~William Shakespeare
I thought I knew what happiness was. I experienced it, and did so for a while—that is, what I thought was happiness.
What I was calling happiness was merely an emotion. Emotions, feelings that arise in the body, come into existence when we have thoughts related to them.
When I have certain thoughts having to do with anger, then I will feel, actually physically feel, angry. When I have thoughts that are positive, then I will feel the feeling, or emotion, that we call happiness.
In the past, whenever I felt that feeling, I thought, well I am happy. And how sweet it was. The world seemed perfect, in harmony; nothing needed to change. And I felt it most of the time. When I did, everything was good. But then the feeling would leave. The world wouldn’t seem so balanced or peaceful anymore.
The feeling would be gone, and I wouldn’t know why.
I would be able to guess why—maybe I had spent a lot of money recently and didn’t have much left, or a relationship with a woman I liked a lot ended, or maybe I was feeling fearful of the future for whatever reason. I would guess that things like these were the reasons for my lack of happiness.
I looked closely at my mind. I tried to figure out the patterns. But they weren’t so clear-cut. Sometimes, good things were happening in my life, yet I didn’t feel happy. And then sometimes when things weren’t go so well for some reason, I felt that everything was all right.
It didn’t make sense. To add to the mess, I couldn’t always control if things were going well or not. Sometimes, I did everything I could, the same things I did when I was happy, and yet the feeling of happiness would escape me. The patterns escaped me until I read an article that told me to look toward thought.
I looked at what impact my thinking had on my happiness. The article suggested that the thoughts arising in my head were only thoughts and to let them quiet softly.
I practiced this and new patterns emerged.
This time, the patterns were easy to see. Every time I was down, it was because I was thinking so much. The voice in my head would ramble uncontrollably, and I would listen to everything as if it were fact.
The thoughts would pressure me to live and act in a way that would benefit me in the future. They would focus on things I needed to do, things that I wanted, things that would make me happy if I did or attained them.
They would tell me that I was uncomfortable, to change this, to change that; when I was driving, to drive fast so I could hurry up and get to where I was going; when somebody said something mean, the thoughts would be about how awful this person was.
But sometimes I would meditate. I’d become aware that thoughts are only thoughts and let them quiet.
I set time to meditate, but also I tried to do it when I was amongst the regular activities of my life. When I would do this, there would be a period of time when my thoughts became slower, less loud, and they didn’t seem so important that I needed to listen and obey them at all costs.
Those were the times when I was happiest.
But then again there were some times in my life when things were going really well. I was on fire. I was killing it in my career; I had good relationships with friends and a woman I came to love. Everything was great. When things went well, I would feel happy for sure.
I had a hunch, however, that I shouldn’t get too happy just because things were going well. I knew that they could easily change, and they would often; and when things weren’t going great, I would feel miserable. I didn’t want my happiness to become dependent on the circumstances of my life.
Still, it was hard. The way things were going made me feel happy or didn’t. I couldn’t help it. They would bring about the way I felt.
When I looked closely, I saw that this was because my thoughts reflected how I was doing. I realized that however I was doing, if I let go of the thoughts about the circumstances of my life, the feelings would go away. I tried to do this even when things were going well and I felt happy.
I did this because I felt that the happiness that came from the times when I quieted and slowed my thoughts was deeper and more complete than happiness based on my circumstances. It felt more real and less easily shaken.
And so that brings us to the present. I still struggle to stay centered and avoid becoming connected to my thoughts.
I struggle to not worry too much about making sure things are going well. When they do, I feel happy, but I try not to get too excited about that happiness. I have seen circumstances change in my life so often that it seems silly to be too caught up in them.
I see others who seem to be going through the same cycles. They seem to get wrapped up in their thoughts, which affects their moods. I see friends whose normal states of mind I know, but when they get caught up in what is going on in their lives and start thinking about it too much, they seem to morph into different people.
We are all in the same boat. We all have this struggle to stay centered instead of responding emotionally to life in a way that pulls us from the present moment.
But if we can try to remember that our thoughts are just thoughts, they will fade away and grow silent, and we’ll be filled with a deep feeling of peace and joyousness.
Photo by Visit Greenland