TLDR: Do you want to feel more happiness and less anxiety and worry? There are 3 practical ways you can try to always find happiness in the little things in life.
Would you like to experience consistent happiness on a daily basis compared to worry, anxiety and stress? I think most sane people would answer yes to this question. But despite the many books written on happiness, why are we not getting happier but instead feeling more depressed? It seems our happiness is easily toppled. Just take away travel, social gatherings and nightlife, like what we witnessed during the pandemic, we tip over to mental dis-ease away from well being. Is consistent happiness really attainable? Here are 3 ways to always find happiness.
Changing Our Perception
If the title of this article sounds too good to be true – it is! Happiness, like attaining wealth, comes with work. Happiness does not come on a platter given to us by someone. All of us do not want to suffer. But yet we do. The culprit, or, the cause of our suffering is our mind’s constant clinging to feel secure. Security is finding safety from death and being loved unconditionally.
This article does not deal with finding security from death or unconditional love. Instead, suggestions are made here to help us change our perception in our daily life, so that we can continuously find opportunities to lift our minds.
Some of us cling onto perceptions that keep us suffering. Such as being upset at having our plans thwarted to feeling righteous and annoyed whenever we are challenged by another.
If we can change our perception little by little, we begin to feel that nothing is thwarting our life plan and it is not always necessary to have everything go our way.
1. Stop Comparing
We make comparisons everyday. We compare restaurants, the weather to fashion, movies and people. Making comparisons causes us to accept one thing and reject another. Although acceptance and rejections are of varying degrees, we nevertheless make up our minds about something and reject its opposite, unless we already have an open mind.
Making comparisons can make us miserable. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been difficult to visit the public pool as and when I like. So I joined a club pool and was very happy to bring my nephew along. I jumped into the pool, grateful. But my nephew was gloomy. The reason? The pool isn’t up to his standards compared to other pools where there are toys and slides for children to play with. He was happy he could sneak out of the house to play in the pool but yet was unhappy at the pool. Does this make sense?
My nephew is not behaving weirdly, rather he is only showing the reason for the constant lack of contentment in our hearts.
If he had remembered his fortune at being able to sneak out for an hour to relax by the pool, rather than to be stuck at home submerged in schoolwork, maybe he would be happier. He was making wrong comparisons.
Being wise is the ability to make sensible decisions based on experience and knowledge. To discern wisely is to be able to have good judgment of the quality of your own thoughts and those of others.
If we can discern wisely instead of making endless comparisons, we might be grateful instead of feeling discontented with our lives. Not comparing others’ characters does not mean we befriend everyone who could be a bad influence. Being able to discern wisely means we can judge others’ character and qualities with compassion. Instead of comparing if this or that person is good or bad, we can instead help those who are willing to listen to adopt good qualities such as kindness and love instead of indifference and anger. As for those who already have good qualities we can also befriend them to incline our own minds towards joy.
Being able to discern also means we are grateful for the food we are offered or we choose to eat, even if it does not meet the taste and standards of another restaurant.
2. Accept Things as They are
Look at your life so far. You may find that most of your expectations were not met (unless you have a very contented mind). We get married and expect to be happy-ever-after. But how many people find that? We may have pictured our lives to turn out a certain way, but did it all turn out as we had visualized?
What you plan in a day may not even turn out the way you expected. You could be planning a lovely day for your partner and his or her level of surprise or happiness may not match your expectation. You may think doing something for your child today makes him/her happy but they end up sulking.
Truth is, everything that comes our way can be joyful.
Learn to change your mind
One of the weekend mornings I was looking forward to meditating for 3 to 4 hours. I did manage 1.5 hours but found my helper unwell. She was hired to help out with looking after my father who has dementia. I stopped my meditation and went out to buy the day’s necessities. When I came home, I found my father ill as well. It turned out I went out too early and the food shop had not yet opened. So I made 2 trips to buy food. I also realized my father was having diarrhoea, so he could not eat all the food I bought. I could have been upset that my plan to meditate was upended and that I spent more than I should.
But I have learned through mindfulness that happiness does not come from outer events but from what I think about them.
Ayya Khema said, “Don’t blame the trigger,” and this has made a deep impression on me. It means that if I no longer have anger within me, it is not possible for anyone to trigger this state of mind.
We need not keep anger, discontentment, or sadness in our minds if we keep replacing them with joy and happiness. Instead of being upset that my plan is not going accordingly, I was grateful to be able to serve my helper and father. It made me happy.
3. Everything is Already Broken
The third way to always find joy is to realize that everything is already broken. A beautiful flower is already on its way to wilt. A sunny day does not last forever. Civilizations rise and fall. Our minds are mostly joyful at new things. From a baby to a living flower, to a new star or a new home. We hide aged and dying people, and quickly repaint or mend a crack in our homes to cover the ugliness.
Most of our lives are spent covering up the fact of life – that death is already within everything around us, including our own bodies.
No one likes to grow old and sick, because we know how society treats decay. Read the news and see how our society abhors death. Death is always perceived as unfortunate, when the fact is, we all know, no one can live forever.
Treasure What is and Let Go
Knowing that everything is already broken does not mean we become indifferent. Indifference is not joy.
Seeing that everything is fading teaches us to be present to whoever we are with. It allows us to appreciate the flower that has not yet decayed.
But when it dies, we are not sad as well because we have given it the attention it needs.
Understanding that everything is coming apart also allows us to accept things when they are broken – from relationships to a favourite broken antique vase. We know the lively home we have now will not last forever. This helps us love everyone (including the unlovable because they are a part of our lives) and everything for that moment, with mindfulness to let go of every moment. There is nothing we can hold onto, not even the universe we live in because it is changing and moving towards a black hole to be devoured.
Our world and the universe are always changing.
Our bodies are heading towards decay, but it does not mean we cannot always find joy in the little things in life.
To change your perception, it is helpful to meditate for at least 10 mins a day.
Be grateful for what you have, so that external factors have lesser control over your moods.
Learn to see that doing things for others is the same as doing something for yourself because serving others can bring joy to your heart.
One of the things we need to educate ourselves is the nature of wanting. Because if we don’t understand wanting, and we are directed by the misunderstandings around wanting, then, the results will be suffering.
Studying the nature of wanting
If we understand wanting, and understand the nature of wanting, then, we can liberate the mind from suffering. Studying something means you have to reflect, and studying something is not the same as believing something. If you believe that wanting is wrong or bad, that’s not study. That’s just an opinion that someone has maybe given you. Or if you think that just by following all your wanting is going to give a result, and you don’t watch cause and effect, then, that also wouldn’t be study.
The capacity to study is also the capacity to reflect.
Not only can I do things in the world, participate in the world, I can notice how I am participating in the world.
Not only can I feel inspired, I can notice that I feel inspired.
Not only can I feel disappointed, I can notice that I feel disappointed.
Without awareness and reflection, we are simply reactive animals. We get some stimuli, like and dislike, we react to that. There’s no real freedom. But reflection isn’t the same as just thinking about something. I think it’s more profound. It’s actually observing cause and effect, and the flow of things.
What are we seeking?
So, the question would be:
Are we seeking the fulfilment of our desires?
Is that what we are seeking and can that ever work? And are we looking to always have what we want?
Well, I would suggest that what we are looking for is the end of wanting rather than an object. You notice when you get what you want, is it the object that is bringing peace or is it the end of wanting? I would suggest that it is the end of wanting and the object is actually a distraction.
So, you get the object, the experience, the emotional experience, or the relationship or whatever, and for some moment, wanting falls away, and you think it’s the object.
Because you think it’s the object, you try to pursue the object again, but then you can’t get it.
Wanting that stems from ignorance
Wanting can be intelligent or it can be ignorant. Like my body, it is body with wants. Its biological nature is that it desires comfort, it fears pain, it needs food, and emotionally, it likes companionship and love. That’s the kind of biological make up. So, wanting is not wrong. But wanting, of course, has its limits. So if I think that my fulfilment comes from fulfilling my wanting, then what do I do with the reality of life? I’d feel frustrated. I’d feel averse, or fearful, or whatever.
But if I study wanting, how it works in the mind, how it operates, then you become a witness to Dharma — the Dharma of wanting.
One of the analogies in the text, which I found useful is the analogy of a skin disease. It is about ignorance.
Say, in Ontario where I’m from in Canada, we have a plant called the poison ivy. The ivy has a chemical, liquid form, that comes on to your skin. When it comes on to bare skin, it creates a toxic reaction on your skin, and you’ll get rash. When you scratch it, it rips open the blisters, and the blisters spread, and you get more rash, and it will itch even more.
So, I’ve had poison ivy, and it (my skin) really itches. Then, I try not to scratch it. When I have a shower, it would drive me nuts, and I would scratch it. And you know, it felt so good. Of course, after the shower, I looked. Oops! Now I’ve got more of the disease; now I have more itching than I had before.
So, I made the determination, I put some calamine lotion on I said, “I’m not going to scratch.” Of course, an hour later, I forgot. And then, I scratched again. “Ah, it’s so good.” At that time, my desire was fulfilled. I was getting what I wanted – I got the end of itching. But! Oh, oh. Now it’s all on my arm.
At some point, in this little drama of the itching and scratching, I have the insight that I need to forgo short-term satisfaction and pleasure, for long-term end of the disease. I have to forgo, the short-term pleasure of scratching, if I am going to put an end to the disease.
And that takes determination, and intelligence. Now, the itching is still there. That’s the problem. Just by saying to myself that I will not scratch, it doesn’t put an end to the itching. So, the temptation is to scratch, scratch, and scratch. “Come on. Just a little bit.” But the insight, and the renunciation of that would say, “no, I’m not going there.”
Now, the thing about wanting that is not based on wisdom is that the mind is always going out into objects. Thoughts, emotions, gadgets, relationships, memories, and the desire mind then, seeks fulfilment and satisfaction in objects.
And I would suggest that objects can never satisfy desire because their nature is transient, and they are out of your control. They arise depending on causes and conditions. So, then you have the insight that true freedom must be the end of wanting, not by getting what I want, but by forgoing the pursuit of wanting for the long- term end of the disease and that we’d call Nibbana.
Luang Por Viradhammo is the most senior Thai Forest monk in Canada and currently the Abbot of Tisarana Buddhist Monastery in Perth, Ontario.He was ordained as a monk in 1974 by Ajahn Chah at Wat Nong Pah Pong monastery and became one of the first residents at Wat Pah Nanachat, the international monastery in north-east Thailand.
TLDR: Everyone has a different take as to what they think is important in life. Three things that matter most to me are love and kindness, personal growth and development as well as purpose.
Disclaimer: my answer to this question is based on my personal experience and reflection. Everyone has different takes on this matter. Please treat it with a pinch of salt. Thank you:)
Once, I asked my dad if he had ever blamed my grandparents for not sending him to university. Out of the eight siblings, only my Ah Pek (paternal elder uncle) was given the support to pursue higher education. What made me feel indignant was that my Ah Pek did not take the opportunity to complete his degree.
On the other hand, my dad had to give up his dream of becoming a doctor. He had to take on the role of an ‘oldest’ son (Ah Pek was the oldest). This gave Ah Pek the opportunity to further his studies. My dad was a smart boy who always scored first in his cohort despite having to work after school and during the weekends when other kids were playing.
He was also a kind brother who always gave in to his siblings. I just found it such a shame that he did not get the opportunity he deserved. However, his answer to my question was a no. I was perplexed.
As a young girl, I grew up feeling jealous of my older sister. She was always the priority. From the presents that my parents got for us to enrichment classes she was sent to, she always had the best.
Even the main reason why I was sent to study in Singapore was to accompany her (we are from Indonesia). We are only one and a half years apart but she seemed to always have more than me. I drew so many parallels between my dad’s life and mine but why did he respond so differently from me?
He explained to me: “there is no reason for me to blame them. The condition just was not right.”
“I was glad that at least your Ah Pek had a chance to go to college.” He shared.
“He had good kamma. Think about it, if it was not for our family’s financial difficulties, do you think I would work hard to be where I am right now? I could pay for your Ah Gou’s (aunt’s) education, help to build the temple, and send you and Jie Jie to Singapore. Life is about making the best of what you have and being purposeful with it.” He added.
Going back to the topic of this essay, what really matters in life?
From this short story, we could derive three main lessons:
1. Love and kindness
My dad’s love for his family was the strength that kept him going despite all the challenges that he faced. It was definitely not easy to combine work and study at such a young age. Yet, he did not complain and remained hopeful.
He did not see his choice of helping the family as a sacrifice, but rather, a privilege to show his love and care for his family.
Because he sees life from the lens of love and kindness instead of hatred and resentment, he lives with contentment and peace. He also gained people’s trust as well as love and respect from his children.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Lao Tzu
2. Personal Growth and Development
No one is born perfect and that is the beauty of it. When we are aware of our weaknesses, we learn that there is no reason to be conceited and proud.
Looking back, the reason why I was often jealous and dissatisfied was that I held on to the fixed view that I had to have more to be happy.
I blamed everything on the outside world, thinking that everything was unfair. My life was in a downward spiral as I held on tightly to my victim mentality.
After learning about the Four Noble truths, I came to understand that the source of my suffering was craving. Not getting what I want to result in so much anger and hatred. The mind’s nature is to always seek a more pleasant experience. However, the more things that I wanted, the more pain I got. That is why drug addicts find it challenging to overcome their addiction and need higher doses over time.
Meditation is so helpful in training the mind to be more mindful, peaceful, and aware. Although I am new to meditation, I put in efforts to be a better practitioner. After all, personal growth and development is a work-in-progress right? *Wink wink*
“Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.” – Dhammapada 103
We may seek the meaning of life, but there is actually none. That is why as Buddhists, we practise working towards the end of Saṃsāra (cycle of rebirth).
However, it does not mean that we live a dissipated life. Instead, we create our own meaning of life.
Meaning in life can include developing kindness, compassion, and love. In other words, we make peace with our lives by having good relationships with ourselves and with others. We can practise this anytime and anywhere.
“Better it is to live one day strenuous and resolute than to live a hundred years sluggish and dissipated.” – Dhammapada 112
Thank you for reading my reflection on what matters in life. I hope you gained something out of it.
Learn to not confuse perception from truth. This is because perception is subjective and may not depict the story accurately. Clinging to perception causes one to become infatuated, leading to more craving and suffering. (MN 149)
Practise the four brahma-viharas (loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity) to lead a happier life.
Be patient with yourself. Every process takes time and there is no timeline for you to follow.
Mankind has dukkha. Each one of us has it. But, the wonderful teaching that we have is that there is a way to get beyond it.
There, we have to change our thinking a hundred and eighty degrees.
We are operating on an illusion. It is the illusion of being an individual, an identity.
You can feel it. “That’s me getting up, that’s me being dissatisfied, and it’s me having dukkha.”
The Buddhist great enlightenment explanation was not that dukkha can go away, but this delusion can go away, and then we’re beyond Dukkha.
There are moments when we feel a deep inner peacefulness. When we see a beautiful sunset, a rainbow, we hear exquisite music, watch a happy baby, and we think and immediately make up our minds that the lack of dukkha at that moment is due to the fact that there was a rainbow or a happy baby.
We are externalising. That isn’t that at all. It’s because in those moments, we were totally concentrated on what is happening that we forgot about ourselves. That’s why these moments are without dukkha. But externalising them means that we are in this case, praising the trigger. In other cases, we usually blame the trigger. They are all outside of us. What is happening within us, that’s our life.
We usually try to arrange our outer life so that it is convenient and comfortable, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do that. But do we arrange our inner life so that it is convenient and comfortable?
Have we ever given that any thought that it is actually possible to do that?
The promise of the Buddha that we can all get beyond dukkha is something we have to take on (with) faith at this moment because we haven’t got beyond dukkha yet. If we take such a promise, all it means is that we’re willing to try. And that’s all the Buddha asked people to do. Try it out. Try out the methods, Try out the instructions, and see whether they help.
We don’t get pass dukkha immediately. Nothing of the kind. Meditation can take dukkha away temporarily, but how long does anyone sit in meditation?
What we need to know and what we need to experience is the possibility that through seeing things in a different light, seeing ourselves in a different light, seeing dukkha universally instead of individually, we have a chance to have a totally different relationship to everything that happens in our life.
“All things are not-self” — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.
TLDR: Is Metta Meditation really beneficial? Jin Young shares his own personal practice and his relationship with loving kindness meditation. A 30-min guided meditation is included. You’re invited to test it out for yourself.
When you don’t know what to do, try out metta or loving kindness meditation.
Encountering Metta MeditationMy first encounter with metta was listening to Imee Ooi’s “Chant of Metta ”. Imee’s voice was angel-like, saccharine and soothing. I especially enjoyed her chanting of the Metta Sutta in Pali language, albeit not knowing much about the actual meaning behind those words back then.
My mom would sometimes play the CD around bedtime, and I guess it must have had some sort of sleep-inducing effect, much like lullabies for babies.
Lighting My Fire Of Metta
When I was fifteen, I sat through my first metta meditation under the guidance of Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn explained that the cultivation of metta is analogous to starting a fire. You can’t start a fire by lighting up a huge log.
Rather, you need kindling, easily combustible materials for starting a fire such as papers or small little twigs. Once the fire is started, one then adds on larger and larger twigs before moving on to solid pieces of wood.
When the fire is well maintained, you can further grow it until the passion of loving kindness is strong enough to embrace the whole universe and even your worst enemies.
But first, we need to start with kindling. Ajahn told us to visualize someone whom we can readily feel and send loving kindness to. For me, it was my late grandmother who had taken care of me when I was young. She showered me with unconditional love.
“The door of my heart is open to you”
“I will take care of you”
“May you be safe, well and happy”.
With these words, I felt my chest and heart glowing with love and warmth. We then proceed to send similar thoughts and wishes to our other family members, friends, acquaintances, animals, and all sentient beings.
It was an empowering experience to meditate on metta with Ajahn Brahm. The flame of “metta” was passed on from Ajahn to us, and from us to our loved ones and on and on.
Keeping the Metta Flame Glowing
Since then, I’ve tried my best to keep this flame alive wherever I go. In Selangor, I joined the Buddhist Gem Fellowship and attended a weekly guided metta meditation by Datuk Seri Dr. Victor Wee, another lay-teacher and compassionate mentor.
Dr. Wee’s cues were slightly different from Ajahn Brahm’s, but the spirit of loving kindness was the same.
I brought the practice of metta meditation with me to Japan and China, where I studied abroad for four years. Whenever I missed my family, encountered negative events, or felt like I was stuck in an uncertain and helpless situation, I turned to metta meditation for help.
I like to believe that by sending my thoughts of loving-kindness to my family and friends, they are protected by my wishes, and become well and happy.
By sending metta to a professor or a superior, he or she would give me an A+ or a pay raise (I’m only half-kidding). By sending it to someone with whom I’ve had a negative encounter, relationships will slowly turn for the better, enmity and ill will shall be transformed into love and light.
No, Metta doesn’t Solve Everything
Of course, there’s no guarantee that metta will always convert “negativity” into “positivity”, nor is it a panacea for everything in life.
However, I believe that it can help transform the state of one’s mind – To face life’s suffering and problems with a heart of loving-kindness and gentleness.
Over time, as I became a yoga teacher and started leading mindfulness retreat expeditions to the Himalayas, I’ve developed and come up with my practice and cues for leading metta meditation.
These cues are of course consolidated from the various teachers mentioned above. During this pandemic lockdown, I decided to record a 30-min long guided metta meditation. I share it with anyone keen to explore and integrate this practice into their lives.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” This quote is often attributed to Laotzu.
Can we make metta “loving-kindness” the character and destiny of our life?
If you find it hard to send loving thoughts in your mind, find a safe space and utter them out in words.
Make it a habit to randomly wish someone to be well and happy each day, whether it’s mentally towards someone you love or to random strangers on the streets.
Meditate at least once a week to reset yourself energetically and spiritually.
This teaching is extracted from a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Achalo, the abbott of Anandagiri Forest Monastery in Thailand. The talk was given in one of the meditation retreats. View the full talk here.
The following is a transcript of the above video with some edits.
Many times, what we want from religion is somewhat superficial. Many people want to make offerings so that they can be rich, and many people are not so strict with upholding the precepts. There are even many people listening to Dhamma talks with the want to notice which list of Dhamma that Ajahn talked about – if it’s the 37 wings for awakening, or the 5 powers, or the 5 hindrances, and then they think that’s the lottery number. They’d take down the number and wish to win the lottery. Ajahn Chah sometimes said all these people who come, and they are making the wish: “may I be rich, may I be rich, may I be rich”, he said all they are doing is wishing for more suffering.
A lot of rich people have a lot of suffering. When you become very wealthy, and you’d get a big ego. When you have a lot of stuff, some of them please you, some of them displease you. You can be very attached to comfort, such that the slightest bit of discomfort is very irritating. Hence, being wealthy, being successful doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in happiness. It does give one a certain amount of freedom, but it gives one a lot of headaches as well. Other people want your wealth, you don’t know who you can trust, even your children would be fighting over their inheritance. It can be quite ugly sometimes.
The Buddha taught that greed is like a river. He said, “There is no river that floods like greed.1” It can be boundless if we feed it.
One of the dangers of being too wealthy is that you can feed your greed all the time.
So, the world is a dangerous place in terms of increasing delusion, in terms of increasing kilesa2. And the Buddha taught the middle way – knowing the right amount, knowing moderation, training in contentment. When we train in being contented, it’s like, “Oh! This is what it feels like to be content. It’s really nice, actually.” Actually, contentment is a bit nicer than getting what you want all the time.
When we get what we want all the time, there’s a kind of heat to that, a dizziness, and intoxication. Not very much mindfulness, and there’s a big sense of self. It’s vulnerable. When you get what you want a lot, what happens when you don’t get what you want? A lot of suffering.
There’s a growing understanding that that which knows suffering isn’t suffering. And, there’s a growing understanding that if you really maintain your mindfulness consistently that you’ll start to experience a tremendous sense of peace. And then, if you cultivate wisdom and start to understand the worldly Dhammas you’d understand that praise is just praise, blame is just blame, pleasure is just pleasure, pain is just pain. Fame is just that much. Ill repute is just that much. And you’d find that there’s much less reactivity and more wisdom, and then you realise, “Oh, this is really valuable. This is really worthwhile.”
The Buddha says peacefulness is the highest happiness3.
When the hindrances are weak, when a bad mood evaporates, when you notice impermanence, when you can be with pain with patience, when you can observe things that you used to react to that you’re not reacting to, it’s really nice. A real sense of relief, a sense of coolness, a sense of fullness. That’s why we do these contemplations. They orient us to take responsibility, to contemplate the truth, and to really have a good look inside, and to find that refuge. And when we do that, we’d find that it is very rewarding in a very cool, simple, and natural way.
1. Dhammapada verse 251 – There is no fire like lust; there is no grip like hatred; there is no net like delusion; there is no river like craving.
2. Kilesa– affliction; distress; especially that which afflicts, that which stains; an affliction, a defilement; a defiling passion, especially sexual desire, lust
3. Dhammapada verse201 There is no fire like lust and no crime like hatred. There is no ill like the aggregates (of existence) and no bliss higher than the peace (of Nibbana).