(This is part 4 of a four-part series on experiencing happiness and freedom in your day-to-day life. Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be found here.)
Being mindful, not just of the quality of the immediate happiness that results from a desire’s fulfillment, but also of what surfaces when that happiness fades can help you hold your desires lightly. Yes, a fulfilled desire can create happiness, but it is a dependent, nervous sort of joy that has the tendency to fade quickly and leave you wide open for new desires to come up to start the cycle all over again. In a way, you can compare it to an addiction. The search for your “fix” is often fraught with unhappy, tenacious striving, worry and all-consuming ambition, whereas the ultimate rewards are meagre and quick to die off. Often, you need to step out of this all-too-familiar cycle to see it for what it is: bondage.
For clarity, anger here subsumes the whole spectrum of not wanting something, just as desire includes all kinds of positive wanting your experience to be different from how it is right now. Anything from a mild dislike or annoyance to full-blown rage.
With anger, there can be a sense of isolation, of feeling that you are justified in being angry, even if no-one agrees with you. A strong energy is often present, directed at avoiding, rejecting or confronting the object of your anger. The whole thing can be as habit-forming as the chasing of desires. Giving free reign to your anger, whether it is directed in- or outward, is generally not a good idea.
A more skillful way of relating to anger when it surfaces is to acknowledge its presence, to understand where it’s coming from and to allow it to subside on its own, without necessarily buying into the thoughts and judgements that may amplify the anger. And also without suppressing it. Suppressed anger will move underground, only to show up at some unspecified time in the future – generally when you least expect it. In the mean time it may subtly influence your perception of the world, leading to all sorts of unwanted phenomena, such as a sense of victimhood, learned helplessness and depression. Don’t fall into this trap. Your anger is merely a messenger, telling you that reality as you perceive it does not conform to the way you think it should be. Once you’ve received the message, you can dispense with the messenger, but not before.
Another trap you can fall into with anger is allowing your thoughts to amplify it, this typically happens by allowing thoughts of honour, ethics and lawfulness to persist. If you do this, you practice something of a dark art. By allowing yourself to spiral into greater anger, you PRACTICE anger. And, knowing how good our minds are at learning, practice makes perfect. You invite anger into your future. If you want to be happy and free, stop practicing anger and practice love instead.
Then there’s worry. You probably know that worrying does not help. That’s it. Stop worrying. Know when worry is present and actively divert your attention elsewhere. Worry is rooted in a desire for increased control, which in turn is rooted in an unhealthy form of caring. Note that it’s not the caring itself that is unhealthy. It’s the lack of trust in a good outcome that fosters worry. Practice having faith that things will by and large take care of themselves, with or without your worrying. View worrying as the unhealthy mental habit of small-minded people, blind to the innumerable ways in which their environments take care of their every need and single-mindedly focused on how one relatively insignificant thing might not work out. Simply view your worry as superfluous mental activity – a result of the positive act of caring, but unhelpful and unnecessary nonetheless. Worrying never changed anything, nor has it ever gotten anyone the results they wanted. Don’t judge yourself for worrying, just don’t give it any importance.
With all these three kinds of experience, note in as much detail as you can how they influence your happiness and sense of freedom in this moment. With practice, you will most likely become proficient at dropping these habits like the hot coals they are.
Notice when happiness or a sense of freedom is present or absent
In the same way, notice how light and pleasant happiness, joy and freedom feel. Take every opportunity to realize that your happiness in this moment is pleasant, and that it results naturally from the absence of strong desire, anger and anxiety.
Do these things, and your mind will naturally gravitate towards happiness and freedom. Not through eliminative monasticism or mystical notions of enlightenment, but through seeing clearly how your mental and emotional habits shape your experience.
I hope you’ve gotten the gist: that happiness and freedom are within reach in this very moment. That you don’t have to DO or NOT DO anything to be happy, or to feel free. That all it takes is an honest and clear appraisal of what is going on with you right now. That happiness and freedom are choices you make, effective immediately, rather than outcomes to be strived for or, worse, benefits to be bestowed by fate, another person, or some other force.
You are the one who is responsible for your own happiness, and making it dependent upon conditions outside of your control is tantamount to ceding sovereignty over your life to those conditions. The sooner you realize that nothing should have this much power over your life, the better off you will be.