It is very easy to slip into the feeling that the world owes you happiness. To a degree, it does. We all have human rights, and asking for these to be respected is reasonable. But, beyond that, ironically, the need for happiness can create unhappiness.
THE UNHAPPINESS CYCLE
You wake up in the morning. Your body surges with discomfort as you remember your current difficulties. ‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this,’ you think. And so you try to resist the feeling of unhappiness. Your body replies with more discomfort. You reply with more resistance. And before you know it, you have a full blown panic attack on your hands.
The mechanism is a bit like trying to stop the clouds raining by placing huge groundsheets underneath them. All that is created is a great sense of heaviness, followed by a sudden collapse as, eventually, the held back rain breaks through. This is analogous to what we describe as breakdowns, when, finally, the pressure becomes too great.
THE HAPPINESS CYCLE
Alternatively, we can forget our own need for happiness, and focus on others’ happiness. In particular, we can think of other people with the same type of suffering as us, and focus on relieving their suffering instead of ours.
This can give a purpose to your suffering. Instead of thinking ‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this,’ you can think ‘feeling like this gives me a great motivation to help others who are suffering in this way.’ Viewed in this way, our own suffering can act as a springboard to motivate us to try to alleviate others’ suffering.
This may seem strange, but it is actually the foundation of compassion. Instead of being sorry for ourselves, we realise that we have been given a gift: the understanding, through experience, of other people’s problems. This, in turn, enables us to help others more accurately and specifically, using our understanding of what they must be going through.
Think of the biggest problem you face at the moment. Then, once you have defined it, think of all the beings in the world experiencing that same problem. Allow yourself to empathise with them, and feel compassion for their plight. Resolve to show goodwill towards them in whatever way you think best. This could be by meditating compassionately on their plight; or it could be through something practical such as contributing to a charity, or directly assisting a sufferer. It’s up to you.
If we need too desperately to be happy, this can be counterproductive. We can end up in an ‘unhappiness cycle’, where we resist our own unhappiness, and end up in a battle with it. This battle often ends when the weight of inner tension becomes too great.
Alternatively, we can convert our own suffering into something useful. We can analyse our suffering, and then think of others with the same problem. We can regard our suffering as a gift, in that it gives us acute insight into the lived experience of those with similar problems.
Our biggest problems can be the greatest foundations of our future compassion.
Instead of needing to be happy, and resisting our suffering, we can try focusing outwards, and using it for good. Ironically, we can be happier this way.