To Seek Or Not To Seek Happiness
Want to be really happy? Start by realizing that it cannot come from externals. That it must arise from within you, without you seeking it.
Unhappiness is a feeling that arises when we make a sense contact to which we have an aversion. Happiness, in the conventional use of the term, is a change in feeling from a sense contact for which we are aversive to one for which we have an affinity.
Looking closely at our mind, we see that conventional happiness is a reduction in suffering based on a shift in attention from one external object to another. Because we have an affinity for the contact and its attendant external object, this type of happiness must by its very nature leave us with some degree of uneasiness. The uneasiness (dukkha) is based on a fear of not being able to sustain the feeling or of not knowing if we will be able to get more of the object. Anger arises when we fail in our desire for more.
The illusion of being happy, ironically, is the source of fear and anger in our lives.
The happiness that arises from within when we develop a mind of compassion, when our views and intentions are right, when our actions are pure, and when we are mindful and concentrated, is real happiness. Real happiness needs no defending and no protecting, and is not based on desire or change. Real happiness arises in its own from a life lived right.
A key practice that will allow happiness to arise from within, from our factory or default setting, is the practice of mudita–sympathetic or unselfish joy. Mudita, the happiness born of shared love, shared satisfactions, shared delights in another's success, and shared delight in other’s spiritual progress, surpasses in every way the meager selfish conventional happiness that arises from the momentary affinities. Further, unselfish joy multiplies exponentially the more it is used, so quite apart from its purifying effect on our own lives, it moves us further along the path to real happiness.
As Venerable Nyanaponika Thera wrote: If our potential for unselfish joy is widely and methodically encouraged and developed…the seed of mudita can grow into a strong plant that will blossom forth and find fruition in many other virtues as a kind of beneficial "chain reaction": magnanimity, patience, generosity (of both heart and purse), friendliness, and compassion. When unselfish joy grows, many noxious weeds in the human heart will die a natural death (or will, at least, shrink): jealousy and envy, ill will in various degrees and manifestations, cold-heartedness, miserliness (also in one's concern for others), and so forth. Unselfish joy acts as a powerful agent in releasing dormant forces of the good and wholesome in the human heart.
We know very well how envy and jealousy–the chief opponents of unselfish joy–can poison a person’s life. Therefore, isn’t it obvious that we should cultivate their antidote, which is mudita?
While compassion is the inspiration for charitable and social work, for being of benefit to others, acts that free us from our self-centeredness and allow happiness to arise, mudita vitalizes and ennobles those acts and serves as their boon companion. In those who practice acts of altruism, of selfless giving, the joy they find in such acts enhances and supports the doing of more and more of those acts, and this self-perpetuating ethical unselfishness naturally guides us to a better appreciation and realization of the Buddha's central doctrine of No-self or Non-Self, which the foundations of real happiness.
Children readily respond by their own smiles and happy mood to smiling faces and happiness around them. If we are to realize real happiness, we must learn to do exactly that.