Being happy despite everything

Happiness starts with our own minds. Photo by michael joiner on Unsplash

We all go through our lives wanting to be happy, but happiness seems to escape us. We say ‘Just let me sort this one problem out, and everything will be fine.’ But that ‘fine’ day never comes, that ideal day when everything is sorted, and we realise:

Happiness is not about building the perfect day. Happiness is about accepting the imperfect day.


When we meditate, we find it difficult, because our usual thoughts keep invading our mind. We spend ten seconds with a clear mind, and then some old story comes in to haunt us. We rehearse problems in our heads: about our home, our work, our finances, our relationships, our health.

Our minds are very subtle. It is as though we are sitting in a library, and our minds are special information assistants, keen to remind us of things. Oh, have you thought of this? says the mind. It’s trying to be helpful. When we’re in problem-solving mode, it really is helpful. But not when we are in peace-making mode. Then, we need ways of not being so reactive in our minds.


When we are in peace-making mode, we are practising being happy despite everything. You know that problem you are obsessing about at the moment? Being peaceful is realising that it really doesn’t matter – that the problem is in your mind. Of course you believe the problem is ‘out there’, in someone else’s laziness, or unkindness, or slow response. But, really, all problems are only problems because we label them so.


So how can we be happy despite everything? How can we lose the anxiety in our heads, while still engaging with the world every day? It’s hard, of course it is. That’s why monks often separate themselves from a normal social life. They know that it’s hard to be enlightened while engaged in a busy modern life.

But it is possible. It involves unhitching our cart from the horse of personal interest, and then re-hitching it to the horse of simple awareness. In other words, instead of always thinking ‘what does this mean for me?’, we don’t think, we simply are aware of how it is. We become less intense, less obsessed.


Does this mean that we become ‘happy bananas’, just accepting everything everyone throws at us, and having no impact on our surroundings? Absolutely not. But it does mean that we replace a selfish motivation with a motivation based on awareness.

How does that look in reality? Well, have you ever seen someone fuming in their car, made angry by the traffic around them? They are only really fuming because they view themselves as being held up in their intentions. Their aggression is just redirected anxiety, caused by their frustration. This is selfish motivation, and it causes arguments and wars.

When we replace that selfish motivation with simple awareness, we can sit in our cars, in traffic, and just be. We know that our plans are being changed by the delay, but we accept change, even embrace it. We don’t tumble into a fuss of perceptual over-focus on minutiae, such as whether the car in front edges ahead one metre or two. We stay aware of many things around us, and our peace doesn’t change, because we are not so desperate to protect ourselves, to be right.


How can we practice being happy despite everything? Here are some tips.

  1. In our meditation, we can sit with our problems, allowing them to float around our minds without us trying to grab them and sort them out. We can allow them space, but become much more spacious ourselves, so that the problem is like an ant in a cathedral.
  1. When in conversation with others, we can practice going with the flow. Instead of trying to win every argument, or show off, or correct everything, we can simply listen and participate. Instead of behaving as though we are in court, defending ourselves, we can realise that the other person cannot fundamentally affect our mental integrity unless we allow ourselves to behave angrily or anxiously.
  1. We can learn to laugh much more often, conscious that it’s really absurd how much effort everyone makes to treat themselves as ultra-important.
  1. We can practice compassion. Compassion is the mental opposite of self-defensiveness, and so is a great antidote to self-interested anxiety and anger. When we care, we forget ourselves.


In short:

  • An unhappy person is allergic to problems. A happy person accepts them, and so can handle them with peaceful awareness.
  • An unhappy person tries to win in every interaction. A happy person simply listens and participates with integrity.
  • An unhappy person loses their sense of humour and tries to be important. A happy person laughs, and sees the ultimate absurdity of importance.
  • An unhappy person is self-defensive. A happy person is compassionate, and self-forgetting.


Just for today, I will smile when I become too full of myself and my problems. I will remember that they are only ‘my problems’ because I label them that way.

I will become more accepting, listening, laughing and compassionate.