Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happiness and Love

“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.”
Eleanor Roosevelt
Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others.

Jack Kornfield

When all your desires are distilled;
You will cast just two votes:
To love more,
And be happy.

Recently a friend said to me, “Your only real mission is to be happy and give others the love that is in your heart.”  That comment gave me pause.  Is that our mission, our purpose?  To be happy and love others?  Yes and no. 
A couple of years ago I damaged a relationship over a misunderstanding.  I told a friend that all I wanted to do was work on being happy.  The friend misinterpreted the comment to mean that I was going to be selfish and act hurtfully towards others.  My friend then told others and I was treated with indifference among a group of people without ever knowing why.  Eventually someone told me what had happened.  Besides the unnecessary loss of relationships, what hurt was two incorrect assumptions.
The first incorrect assumption my friend made was that I was talking about specific relationships or situations.  In fact, I was talking about my attitude towards life in general.  I wanted to stop complaining, stop being negative and start looking for the good.  I wanted to practice more gratitude and less grumbling.
The second, and more troubling assumption made, was that being happy is the same as being selfish.  I’ve said this before:  “Being happy is often the most loving and least selfish thing one can do.”  When I’m happy, truly happy, I am more, not less, aware of the needs of others.  In fact, it’s often when I am working to meet the needs of others that I am most happy.
Sometimes, to make a point, people say, “I’m going to be a little selfish and take care of myself for a while.”  That’s not selfishness; that’s common sense.   Not taking care of one’s self is actually the more selfish act.  I once knew a man who died from complications from diabetes.  He would often say, before he died, “It’s my body and it’s my business.”  Perhaps he didn’t realize the stress, grief and pain he was causing when he got part of his leg amputated (twice).  Perhaps he didn’t realize the cost he was incurring with emergency phone calls (this was before the advent of the cell phone) or when people had to fly out or take time off to go to his funeral.  Taking care of one’s self often assures us that we will live longer, perhaps, but certainly better. 
Taking care of one’s self probably helps keep one happier, too.  In the past, when I have allowed myself to get rundown, I was extremely unhappy during those times.  Being unhappy made me self-absorbed and often, unable, to see the needs of others around me.  Being unhappy often made me unable to see past my own unhappiness.
So, yes, it is part of my life’s mission to be happy.  The thing to remember though is that happiness is not a goal, but a result.  It is a result of the second part of my friend’s equation.  It is a result of being more loving.  While many can (and do) argue that it’s wrong or selfish to want to be happy, few people will argue that it’s wrong to be more loving.  But they go together.  The happier I am, the more I love.  The more I love, the happier I am. 
Is this simplistic?  It’s not always, but it can be.  Sometimes I can be miserable and still do the loving thing.  Or I can be so happy that I’m oblivious to the needs of others.  To be happy and loving at the same time requires a third factor – to be present in the moment, to be aware of the needs around me.  To be more loving means to be more present.
Presence combined with happiness combined with loving kindness is a formidable combination.  I can Get Started and Keep Going for a long time with those three attributes.