Cultivating Happiness Is An Inside Job

We all want to be happy; why is it that some find happiness and others fail?

According to a growing number of psychologists, happiness is a choice, not something that happens to you or that you find on the outside. Happiness is an inside job: you can choose to be happy by making the effort to cultivate a life where happiness resides.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

In other words, inner alignment precedes outer success. The pursuit of happiness consists less of looking for it out there, and identifying what it is that gives you a sense of purpose and fulfillment from within. We can boil that inner alignment down to four basic principles: belonging, purpose, transcendence and narrative.

In other words, happiness is not a gift that falls into our laps; it is a state of being that is earned. In Manuscript Found in Accra, author Paulo Coelho puts it this way:

     “I fell asleep and dreamed that Life was only

     Happiness.

     I woke and discovered that life was Duty.

     I did my Duty and discovered that life was Happiness.”

Happiness, then, is the fruit that grows on a tree where four distinct branches are dutifully nurtured and cultivated: belonging, purpose, transcendence and narrative. The more we cultivate these, the more bountiful the harvest of happiness it bears.

Belonging

The need for belonging is hard-wired in our genes. From the earliest history of homo sapiens on the planet, humans have sought out communities and tribes to belong to. It affirmed their sense of identity and offered a sense of safety. But in the context of happiness, I am referring to more than superficial, tribal membership and groups based on belief systems.

The true sense of belonging I refer to here comes from understanding who you are as a soul and what your purpose and place is on the grand stage of life. Knowing your place in creation brings the realization that you are made of more than the stuff of belief systems and memberships; you are a unique soul who chose to embark on an earth life and become an integral part of the family of mankind. And as mankind goes, so do you.

In this larger context of identity and belonging, there is no place for petty grievances over race, gender or status. Instead, there is a shared purpose and destiny that we either fulfill and benefit from, or forfeit at our peril as some ancient civilizations had learned.

Purpose

A true sense of purpose requires of us to align with that destiny that is larger than the sum of its parts: the call to awaken to our true purpose in life and embrace the opportunities for growth. It beckons us to uncover and develop our unique gifts, skills and strengths, and then to apply them in service to a cause greater than our individual comfort and existence.

True purpose requires us to step off the pedestal of privilege and instead of asking what others can give to us, to ask how we can be of service. It requires commitment, loyalty, discipline, effort and staying power, yet there is no joy greater than being part of serving the greater good.

Transcendence

Transcendence calls us out from the daily drama and petty battles on the surface of life to a Field much higher, much more powerful and much more meaningful than our individual ego identities.

All spiritual traditions speak of transcendence as a way to rise above the mundane into ultimate partnership with the Divine Creator and the Field of Consciousness. This Field holds the possibilities of all that was, is and can be. It is sometimes referred to as the presence of All That Is.

As we align with this Presence more and more, it slowly permeates our understanding so that we awaken to the process of personal growth and so transform our own consciousness into higher levels of being. Transcendence calls us to this higher way of living: it invites us to expand, grow and reach beyond the mundane in order to fulfill our highest potential.

Narrative

Narrative refers to telling our story, and how it defines us. We can learn much from listening to the way someone speaks about their life; what they focus on and how they cast themselves in the plot.

Are you telling your personal story from the perspective of a victim or a victor? By breaking free from the limiting narratives of your life that constrain and disempower you, you will find freedom to create a new narrative for your life: one that honors the truth of your soul’s limitless potential, filled with deep meaning and satisfaction.

Together, these four principles form a solid foundation for a life well lived, blessed by happiness and fulfillment.

Finally, it is helpful to remember that all good things take time to develop – patience is perhaps the first quality trait needed on the journey toward self-mastery and happiness. In the book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it this way:

“He who wishes one day to fly, must first learn standing and walking and running and climbing and dancing. One does not fly into flying.”

About the Author

©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit https://www.adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.

Manufacturing Happiness

One of the most common yearnings expressed by individuals in the West, is the desire for happiness. The founding fathers of the United States declared that the American people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And pursue it we have!

Hollywood advocates that that we will find happiness when we are rich enough, find true love, or encounter some magical event. We are conditioned to look for happiness somewhere else: in the future, in someone else, or in some outside situation.

Question is: how well has it served us?

When we look at the sky-rocketing levels of addiction, breakup, depression and unhappiness that run rampant in this society despite it being one of the most affluent in the world, it is clear that chasing after happiness outside ourselves, does not work.

You see, happiness is not out there; it is an inside job. And that means that you and I have the power to be happy right now, right where we are. If we are unhappy, perhaps it is time to take a look at the nature of happiness so we can stop dreaming about it and take practical steps to become happier. Yes, happiness is not something we stumble upon; it is something we create, something we become.

Researchers have found that we do not need to always get what we want in order to be happy. We can be just as happy if we don’t get what we want, as we’d be if we do actually get what we want.

In fact, we can manufacture our own happiness – and if we desire happiness, it is essential that we learn how to do this.

Researchers distinguish between two kinds of happiness: natural and synthetic happiness. Researcher Dan Gilbert defines them this way: “Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted.” 

Natural or spontaneous happiness is what we experience when things are going our way and fortune smiles on us. This is the kind we are most familiar with, but it is also fleeting, unreliable and intermittent.

Synthesized or manufactured happiness is the kind of happiness we create when we change the way we look at things; the happiness we synthesize when we learn to make lemonade from the lemons in our lives, and it is every bit as real as spontaneous happiness.

In fact, when we fixate on finding spontaneous happiness, we miss the opportunity to manufacture happiness with what is already in our lives, and we become miserable!

A good example would be looking at how the two types of happiness interact in relationship. In dating, we look to find what we want; in marriage, we need to find a way to like what we’ve gotten!

New relationships are marked by spontaneous happiness; whereas the challenge of marriage is to learn how to synthesize happiness with the person and situation we have chosen. Chasing after the next fleeting experience of spontaneous happiness won’t last; it is the process of manufacturing happiness within the constraints of our situation that brings lasting fulfillment and joy. Ironically, this process of synthesizing happiness works best when we are totally stuck or trapped!

Synthetic happiness acts like our psychological immune system. It works to keep us happy. In his book, Stumbling upon Happiness, author Dan Gilbert describes it as a system of cognitive processes, largely non-conscious, that help us change our views of situations so we can feel better about the situations we find ourselves in.

Author Wayne Dyer put it another way when he said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at, change.”

Our brains are notoriously bad at predicting our happiness. Experiments have repeatedly shown that we overestimate both anticipated pleasure and pain. Our prefrontal cortex simulates that getting something we want, is more important than it really is – it exaggerates the impact of events on our happiness, whether positive or negative.

For example, we overestimate that winning the lottery will increase our happiness or that losing the use of financial security or becoming a paraplegic will completely ruin us. In reality, individuals test at similar levels of happiness one year after winning lottery or becoming a paraplegic. In other words, both our desires and worries are overblown.

We can manufacture our own happiness from within – right now, with where we are and what we have. When we learn to synthesize happiness from within, the very events and outcomes we dread, can turn into new opportunities for happiness.

Studies further indicate that freedom and choice can negatively impact our happiness. When we have choices, we worry about opportunities lost. Think about that the next time you are in the grocery aisle trying to select a product!

Freedom is the enemy of synthetic happiness. While freedom can bring about spontaneous happiness when it offers what we want, it robs us of the opportunity to synthesize happiness. You see, we only learn to like what we have when we have no choice! It is when we are feeling stuck that we have the opportunity to create happiness from within by learning to appreciate what we do have.

Most of us tend to have a basic level of happiness that we revert to. Not everybody ascribes to the “bullying cheerfulness” of false happiness, as physician Andrew Weil describes the prevalent cult of happiness in America.

In his book, Spontaneous Happiness, Weil says that there is an inverse relationship between affluence and contentment: The more we have, the less contented we seem to be. In America, the cultural expectation that we’re to be happy all the time and our children should be happy all the time is toxic, and it gets in the way of true emotional well-being.

Mahatma Ghandi perhaps put it best when he said: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Genuine happiness comes from within, and is synthesized by a lifestyle that integrates personal values, gratitude, laughter and forgiveness. In the long run, these qualities allow us to synthesize happiness as an enduring form of contentment and serenity, independent of external circumstance.

About the author

©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit https://www.adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.

The Search For Happiness

Everyone in the world wants to be happy; and yet everyone suffers in some way. People the world over eagerly search for happiness as if it were a highly treasured secret.

The search for happiness has led many to explore religion, because all wisdom traditions teach that virtue is a precondition of happiness. Virtue may be defined differently by various traditions, yet the search for it invariably calls the seeker to personal introspection and self-honesty.

Times of social upheaval often serve as a catalyst to ignite this individual search for meaning and happiness. It is when the known certainties of our lives crumble, that we start looking for deeper answers. We may embark on this journey to find meaning in the death of a loved one, mourn the loss of a job or relationship, or survive the turmoil of financial instability.

Seekers often believe that the source of meaning and happiness lie outside themselves. They may seek for it in words, books or teachings from those who have been anointed by modern society as the guardians of spiritual truth.

Buddhism takes a contrasting view: it teaches that true knowledge and meaning cannot be found in any outside power or agency. Instead, it is found in the deep knowledge of truth that resides within each of us, even when we try to hide from ourselves.

Why would we want to hide from our inner truth, you may ask? Because we do not want to see our flaws, faults, weaknesses, and excesses. We fear that they’d make us feel too vulnerable and guilty. We are ashamed to admit to ourselves that some of the things we want are forbidden, illegal, unethical, or fattening.

We also hide from inner truth because we are afraid to face our fears. Although we may appear to be self-confident, we are all vulnerable to failure, defeat, humiliation, loss, pain, and death. We fear these things and so we repress those fears. And so we struggle to repress the truths within that we are not able to face, until it seeps through our defenses to haunt us in nightmares, anxieties and everyday worries.

This unwillingness to see things as they are, is the primary obstacle to happiness. It is the chief cause of our self-inflicted suffering; a form of self-denial that the Buddha called ignorance.

If ignorance is the underlying cause of our self-inflicted suffering, then awareness is the remedy. The keys to the kingdom of happiness lie in becoming self-aware. True self-awareness enables us to change the things we can, to accept the things we cannot change, and to know the difference.

Self-awareness can be cultivated through meditation, introspection and reflection. It requires us to witness our inner state of being without reacting to it. The very act of honest self-observation gives us the necessary insight to change our habitual patterns of thought and action.

When we embark on the journey within, we learn to access the truth that offers true happiness. As we come to understand our own resistance to truth, we learn how to transform it. We learn how to change our habits of negative thinking, repressed emotions, and fear-based action into courageous openness, honest awareness, and joyous equanimity. We learn to accept and relax into existence as it is, rather than to anxiously reject and fight it.

We begin to see how we, ourselves, are the primary cause of our own sorrow. And we come to understand that we can also choose to be the cause of our own release and happiness. We learn to find harmony between our inner being and our outer environment, so that peace and happiness flow.

This process of diligent and honest introspection has the potential to radically change our lives from within and restore a true sense of happiness.

©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.

How To Live A Life Without Regrets

How To Live A Life Without Regrets

While most of us aspire to live a life we won’t regret, many do express regrets at the end of life. If we could address the things we may regret now, we can focus on living the remainder of our lives with greater satisfaction.

I believe that regrets really stem from a lack of courage. We tend to regret the thing we did or did not do, because we lacked the courage to do it. We may have been too afraid of consequences, or the unknown, or what others may think. And so we settled for less, compromising our potential to live small lives of quiet desperation, as Henry Thoreau said, dying with our song still unsung within.

Regret-free living takes courage: it is as simple and as difficult as that.

Our lives are shaped by either courage or by fear. When we live a live true to ourselves, there will be others who judge us; voices that criticize us for stepping out of the box or label us as crazy. Fear of this dissonance often holds us back. To live fully and without regrets, we need the courage to follow our hearts, even when others may not understand our choices.

In fact, it is none of their business! Each one of us is fully responsible for our own lives and choices. When we choose to go beyond the comfort zone of the collective in order to grow and realize our full potential, that is a courageous decision that deserves support, not criticism!

It is this courageous process of stretching that develops elastic in our souls so we can extend further, believe more, and accomplish better outcomes. Courage to commit to our unfolding path is essential for a satisfying life. And nobody knows better than you what that means!

We need courage to break with norms, to expand beyond the confines of our tribe, and to let go of external expectations and pressures. Courage empowers us to fully live from our hearts, and to stay in touch with our true compass and purpose.

People at the end of life can teach us valuable lessons about living from their perspective at the end of the road. Bronnie Ware, an Australian caregiver who worked in hospice care, identified five core regrets among dying patients which can teach us a lot about living well.

  1. Not staying true to self

Look at a person disempowered and miserable about their life circumstances, and you will most likely find someone who never had the courage to break away from dysfunctional family dynamics. And if we lack the courage to make that primary break away from dysfunctional caregivers, we will end up staying put in jobs we dislike, putting up with abuse and lack of respect in relationships; we will ultimately abandon the opportunity to fulfill the purpose of our lives. To break free from any dysfunction, the discomfort of doing what is needed to be true to oneself must always outweigh the illusionary comfort of avoiding risk.

2. I wish I had not worked so much

People who work all the time develop no identity outside of work. Workaholics have no time to develop in other areas of their lives and when their work drops away, they have nothing else left. Developing healthy interests outside of work allows us to refresh ourselves; it also brings renewed energy to our work lives. Finding that space outside of work is an essential, enriching aspect of life often seen only seen in hindsight.

Deriving status and identity from our work can trap us into a role defined by society rather than by our individual truth. My mother was convinced that I should become an actuary – can you imagine how miserable I would have been in a profession that would have locked me into my left brain?? Another trap is buying into the scarcity thinking of the ego and never feeling as if we have enough money to follow our dreams or step away from a job we despise. Do you have the courage to let go of what does not bring you joy, so you can move toward what does?

3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings

Many dying people long to express their feelings to loved ones, yet never had the courage to do so. Fear held them back. They were crippled by fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood, or fear of being vulnerable…. The list goes on. We need courage to speak our truth – and when we do, we free ourselves to live from our core truth, regardless of how others may react. Having the courage to be honest with oneself, is vastly more important that how others receive it because it gives expression to our vital life force. Suppressing our truth ultimately suppresses our life force.

Expressing our truth in a compassionate and kind way, creates space for healing and compassion. We don’t have to make another wrong just for us to be heard. We simply need to express our truth – not for justification or to attack others, but for our own healing. Everyone is at a different place on their journey; at times, it may be helpful to write out feelings to another because it allows us to distill our truth while giving others the opportunity to revisit our expression when they are ready.

Expressing ourselves also requires us to become good listeners, because communication is a two-way street. Our honesty and vulnerability can allow others to feel safe enough to express their feelings. Being present with others in a kind, non-judgmental way allows them to share without fear. Can we listen deeply to the people in our lives? Can we find the courage to say the things that need to be said?

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with friends more

At the end of life, memories of happy times and friendships enrich one’s life. And yet, most people’s lives start narrowing down after kids leave home. The comfort of confining themselves to the same routines, friends and circles can lead to stagnation. Stepping out of earlier roles such as parenting can be a stepping-stone toward broadening relationships and connections, rather than narrowing them. If we expand our friendship circles throughout life, we can offer enrichment to one another even as old friends and relatives drop away.

Sometimes, the desire to maintain a safe personal comfort zone prevents people from getting involved in the messy business of true connectivity. I have seen people withdraw from opportunities to help because seeing another in a difficult situation, made them feel too uncomfortable with their own tenuous sense of stability. Life is messy and true connectivity requires the willingness to get one’s hands dirty! True joy is found in real life connections; not on social media or from the comfort of our easy chairs. When we have the courage to connect with people face to face, we ultimately experience enrichment and joy.

5. I wish I had let myself be happier

This regret stems from not understanding that happiness is a choice. We often look for happiness outside ourselves with self-imposed conditions: if I lose 10 pounds I will be happier; if I could just find the right partner, or make enough money, I’ll be happy. The truth is that happiness is a choice. It is an empowering internal decision that we can make regardless of where we’re at in life!

When we choose to honor the truth of our Being, we will find happiness.

We are in this life for a limited time only. This life is going to end, and it is the only life we will ever get to live as these unique beings that we are. This life is precious and sacred: how can we then live to make it really count?

Our greatest joy, highest power and ultimate fulfillment lies in facing the fears that hold us back. We can muster our courage and live from the truth in our hearts. Imagine how much we lose out on while operating from fear and other people’s rules!

To live a courageous life, we’ve got to stretch in ways that may be uncomfortable. Perhaps you’ve heard this from a fitness trainer or yoga teacher, because it’s true in all areas of life: we need to stretch to grow, improve and get strong. And growing in courage means taking risks in the very areas where we feel afraid.

Everyone already has times in life when they’ve been courageous. You may have displayed great courage in a relationship or a job. Perhaps you didn’t recognize it as courage at the time; you were merely doing what had to be done. Yet in every situation where your acted courageously, you valued the discomfort of change more than staying in the comfort of the status quo. You might have been terrified, but you did it!

You can take courageous action again. One you know what motivates you, you can do it again. Let your core values motivate your courageous actions. Practice letting your courage ripple out into more and more areas of your life, and you will live a life without regrets.

About the Author

©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit https://www.adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.

The Search For A Perfect Life

The Search For A Perfect Life

Of the many things that cause us pain, our expectation that life should be perfect, is one of the primary causes. The idea that there exists a perfect Shangri-La somewhere that we can somehow locate, is a form of magical thinking that sets us up for false expectations and disappointment..

It creates dissatisfaction with the life we have and pulls us out of the present moment into an unending search for perfection out there somewhere. It also leads to frustration when our efforts fail to create the perfect outcomes we think we need, deserve or desire.

If we truly desire inner peace, we need to trade this magical thinking for a more accurate version of truth.  Zen teaches that to find peace of mind, we need to “think of life as a series of imperfect facts.”

I have used this helpful reminder in countless ways in my personal practice.

This phrase reminds us that our reactions and outrage often stem from an unconscious belief that life should be perfect – or that our individual lives and outcomes ought to be perfect for us to have peace.

Because this limiting belief operates beneath the surface, we may be unaware of it. If I were to ask  you, “Do you expect your life to be perfect?” you would almost certainly say no.

And yet, we get upset when our lives do not match our idealized dreams! This process is known as cognitive dissonance – the conflict between what we want and what actually shows up.

It is worth checking how often you become angry or frustrated when something relatively minor goes wrong, or when events don’t turn out the way you wanted.  You may even feel outraged when life refuses to follow your commands!

With some mindfulness, we can turn such moments into Zen moments: we can think of life as a series of imperfect facts. And know, too, that sometimes those apparent imperfections are really blessings in disguise.

In the same way that we can become outraged when life “goes wrong,” we can sometimes react very harshly when people let us down, or when our expectations are shattered by some very human behavior.

Our relationships do best when we can accept that people sometimes will behave badly, inconsistently or thoughtlessly. Sometimes they will let us down.

As long as this doesn’t happen all the time and does not put us in danger, it is healthier for everyone when we can see these behaviors as part of the big picture and get over the smaller disappointments.

When we focus on let-downs and disappointments, our relationships weaken and may even disintegrate. By choosing instead to see others as flawed as we are, yet generally doing their best, our relationships with all of life become easier, more relaxed and far more rewarding.

Mother Teresa reminded us of that when she said:
 “People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

When we can see the perfect unfolding of life as a series of imperfect facts, our acceptance of what is, brings freedom and joy.

About the author:
©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit https://www.adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.

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