We all have a clear idea of what makes us happy.
We know our own tastes in people, food and events – what we like, what we don’t like. We know what stresses us out, and what calms us. We know what irritates us, and what we are attracted to. We know what we approve of, and what we disapprove of.
Or do we?
THE FEELING TEST
The thing is, sometimes we forget our true selves, and it pays to expose ourselves to new things and notice the consequences.
Each year we live, our body and mind are replaced with, essentially, a different body and mind. The ‘you’ that you are now, is not the same as the ‘you’ you were last year, or even yesterday. Yes, there are similarities and consistencies. But your tastes change and develop, and it’s wise to build a life that can accommodate those changes.
Knowing how you feel, from moment to moment, can help this process.
THE IMAGINARY FOOD TEST
One test you can do, is go through an experience, and then closely examine your real reaction (not the one you think you should have).
An interesting test is what we might call the ‘imaginary food test’. After a conversation with a person, for example, ask yourself ‘If that interaction had been food, what would the food have been?’
After speaking with some people, we might be left with a ‘sour’ feeling. Or perhaps we feel as though we have just eaten an over-rich cake. Perhaps we feel empty. Or perhaps we feel comfortably satisfied.
The aim is not to judge people or situations, but to get a better idea of how we really feel as a result of the interaction.
AN EXCESS OF MATERIAL THINGS TENDS TO MAKE YOU UNHAPPY
A related aspect of self-development, is learning to moderate what you do in accordance with ‘enough’ rather than ‘excess’.
For example, have you ever had the feeling of eating too much cake, or pizza, or ice cream? It might feel uncomfortable, or it may feel like regret, mixed with a sad appreciation of the amount of work you will have to do to compensate for the imbalance you have just created.
This applies to food, drink, alcohol, and very many things that can feel good in moderate doses, but cause unhappiness when taken beyond that.
Given a lifetime, you have ample opportunity to find out what works for you, what makes you healthy or unhealthy, and what leaves you with a feeling of happiness or regret.
SOME THINGS THAT KEEP YOU HAPPY, HOWEVER MUCH YOU HAVE
From a mindfulness perspective, there are perhaps one or two things that help to generate happiness, however much is taken.
Compassion is one of them – it seems to be the case that warmth and compassion are protective, even in large doses.
Wisdom is another. The ability to take a wide perspective seems to be protective too, as long as it is married to compassion.
I would say this wouldn’t I, but whatever else you indulge in, a healthy amount of compassion and wisdom is very helpful. The beauty of it is, you can’t take too much of these two things, when twinned together. That’s why they have become the foundation of an entire spiritual approach to life.
Just for today, observe what you do, and how it makes you feel. Observe, as though it were food, every single little reaction you have to things.
You will notice that you are constantly changing, and that what worked for you yesterday may not work for you today.
You may also notice the happiness that is consistently generated when you extend beyond your selfishness to be compassionate to others; and the happiness that comes from mixing that compassion with a wide and wise perspective.
Try being quietly aware of what is going on from moment to moment. The worst thing that can happen is that you fall asleep! Everything else is a bonus.
You may think you know what makes you happy, but remember, you are a living, breathing being whose tastes change day by day.
Don’t expect the pleasures you seek out to be there for you all the time. They are not reliable, and, when taken in excess, eventually cause unhappiness.
In contrast, practicing compassion and wisdom is pretty harmless, and an excess of them is not likely to land you with unhappiness. You may, even, find yourself happier, because you have extended your world beyond your own selfishness, and extended your cognitive perspective beyond your own narrow views.
Use your experience of life to get to know yourself. Don’t make yourself into a cartoon of yourself by making assumptions about what you like and don’t like. Try things out. You may find new things that make you feel calm, peaceful and satisfied.