It's All in Your Head
Thursday, December 2, 2010
“I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.” Thich Nhat Hanh 2010
Dear Still Water Friends,
There is little more uplifting than this simple sentence. It tells us that our happiness does not depend on others or the conditions of our lives. Our happiness is simply up to us and nothing else. Despite this, we spend a lot of our lives not liking things:
When we think of it, the list of things we do not like is really long. No wonder we are upset in life so much of the time. We have created a really long list of dislikes. But what do we usually do about the things on our list? Most of the time we have one of three simplistic solutions:
In short, we either try to change the conditions or we just live unhappily with the conditions we do not like. What we consider fixed and unchangeable are our likes and dislikes. “I just do not like to mow the lawn (or I do not like my hectic life style or I hate taking out the trash) and that somehow is just me, and it is unchangeable.” We believe that our happiness is inextricably dependent on the conditions of our life. We think the conditions MAKE us happy or unhappy.
Yet what Thay is telling us is that this is not true. Our happiness is not determined by the conditions but by our response to the conditions. We can feel happiness in the presence of just about any conditions in life. The opportunity for happiness is everywhere. What he is saying goes far beyond simply being satisfied with our current material possessions. It is much more than saying that we should be satisfied with our old Honda even though we would like a new Lexus. He is saying that everything in life is a mixture of things that can be appreciated and things that are problems. Our happiness depends mostly on how we focus our attention and not on the external conditions themselves.
From simple things like making the bed to big things like our jobs, we can choose to focus on what we do not like about them or on the things that are rewarding. If we think about it, for nearly everything we dislike, some other people find pleasure with them. Imagine snow, for example. Some people look out at a snowy day and imagine being unpleasantly cold and getting tired shoveling the sidewalk while the next door neighbor takes out his cross country skis and revels in the white stuff.
This aspect of the practice can be both promising and upsetting. The idea that we can achieve happiness without having to change the conditions around us sounds great. The idea that to do that, we have to change the way we see the world does not go down so easily. The good news is that much of the time it just requires the will to change.
This Thursday, we will discuss the quote from Thay and we will have an exercise in which we practice looking differently at things we do not like.