What Is True Happiness?

The Path to HappinessI sometimes have doubts about using the word “happiness” in the tagline under my blog title.  I don’t want to give the wrong impression!

“Happiness” can easily be taken to mean a state of constant joy and bliss.

Or organizing the externals of your life so that everything runs perfectly.

Then there’s the idea of  focusing on attracting only the positive into your life.

That’s not what I mean by happiness at all.  So I use the word “true” to modify happiness and hint at a deeper meaning.

What Do I Mean By “True” Happiness?

When we take a moment to look at those around us, we can see that the simple wish to be happy and to avoid suffering is the common denominator that unites us all.

“Looking at the world today, we might easily forget that the main purpose of our life – you could call it the heart of being human – is to be happy.  All of us share the same wish, and the same right, to seek happiness and avoid suffering.  Even following a spiritual path, or the religious life, is a quest for happiness.” – Sogyal Rinpoche

But often we confuse happiness with a momentary state of pleasure or passing feeling of joy.  We look to experiences or material possession to bring us satisfaction.  While this is sometimes the case, the sense of pleasure is never long lasting.

For example, I enjoy my new Kindle tremendously, but I can assure you it’s not the source of true happiness.  When it runs out of juice, it quickly becomes the source of minor irritation.  Likewise, when I’m unable to access the internet to purchase a book.  Should it break or wear out – as all composite things do – chances are I will feel disgruntled.

The same thing with a sumptuous meal.  It might delight for awhile, but it doesn’t lead to a deeper happiness.  It may even cause indigestion.

Let’s not even talk about relationships, which are typically fraught with ups and downs, and are, by their very nature, impermanent.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English “happy” means feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.

We can immediately eliminate the word “pleasure” from the definition of true happiness.  As we have seen, pleasure can never bring a long-lasting sense of happiness and it often brings suffering in its wake.

The word “contentment” contains some of the same meanings as happiness.  However, it is also defined as a sense of “ease.”

Take a moment to think of someone you know who exudes contentment.

  • Don’t they seem unruffled by the winds of life?
  • Don’t they seem to have an inner strength of being?
  • A simple wisdom that carries them through all the chaos and drama of life?

This comes far closer to what I mean by true happiness.  It’s not a momentary feeling of joy, but a perspective and a way of being.

Two Approaches to True Happiness

Happiness comes about in two ways.

1. On an ordinary level, there are many ways we can train our mind in happiness.  For example, we can choose loving thoughts, words, and actions.  The more we cultivate love, compassion, joy and impartiality, the more we will become a vibrant source of happiness for others.  And for ourselves too.

2. On a profound level, when we are in touch with our true nature – our innermost essence – joy naturally arises.  We don’t have to do anything in particular to create it.  It just flows up when we abide in our natural mind.  Other emotions may arise like sadness, anger, worry, or fear, but they won’t necessarily stick if we become accustomed to simply resting in the clear and open space of our original mind.

“So, where do we find this lasting happiness?  In the realization of the ultimate nature of ourselves.  Everything is here within us.  The truth is within us.  Happiness is within us.  True happiness and peace of mind cannot be found in anything external; it can only be found within.” – Sogyal Rinpoche

These two approaches to cultivating happiness are interconnected.  Actively engaging in positive thoughts, words, and deeds brings us closer to our true nature.  When we are in touch with our true nature, these positive qualities spontaneously manifest.

Most of us are not even aware of our innermost essence.

We spend all our time embroiled in our thoughts and emotions.  We think thoughts and emotions are the real self.  But thoughts and emotions are simply like clouds passing by in the open, clear space of our original mind.  Sometimes the clouds are white and puffy.  Sometimes they are stormy.  But they are never permanent, nor are they our true essence.  All our suffering comes from confusing the clouds for the sky and holding on to them ever so tightly.

“When the mind goes beyond the thought of ‘the me,’ the experiencer, the observer, the thinker, then there is a possibility of a happiness that is incorruptible.”  – Jiddu Krishnamurti

How Do We Find True Happiness?

These days, so many people are wondering how to find happiness again.  Yet the path to happiness is a simple one:

  1. Eliminate negative attitudes, actions, and words.  All the ones that cause suffering for self and others.
  2. Adopt positive attitudes, actions, and words.  All the ones that cause happiness for self and others.
  3. Reconnect with your true nature – the wellspring of happiness, inner peace, and a better world – through the practice of meditation.

It’s not about “good” or “bad” in a moralistic sense.  It’s about looking deeply to see which actions actually bring true happiness on the long run, and which ones are bound to bring suffering upon suffering.

Simple doesn’t mean easy.

We have a lifetime of bad habits to counter.  There’s the hyperactive mind to pacify.  Or the dull mind that needs to wake up.  Happiness requires discipline and effort.  But nourished by happiness, discipline becomes joyful and effort becomes spacious and relaxed.  It’s becomes a self-seeding cycle of ever-growing calm, clarity, and insight.

“Dig within. Within is the wellspring of good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.” – Marcus Aurelius

Ultimately, we can be free of suffering.  There is a path to true happiness and freedom from suffering.  The key is to start walking now.  The good news is:  there are guides to show you the way and you never have to walk alone.

What does true happiness mean to you?

Recommended Reading on Meditation and the Nature of Mind

  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
  • The Joy of Living, Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
  • Rebel Buddha, On the Road to Freedom by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

I’m so glad you’re here! If you liked this article, please subscribe for free updates by email and connect with me on Facebook.  If you can take a moment to share this post on social media, I would be very grateful.  With love, Sandra

Comments

  1. says

    Lovely choice of topic, Sandra, relevant for everyone, and concisely presented. The only thing I could possibly add is that proper physical maintenance is also important in order to sustain happiness, at least as long as we exist within flesh. Hunger, thirst and pain can distract even those who maintain the best attitudes. Correct bodyset is part of correct mindset, since our understanding comes to us via biological filtration.

    • says

      Hi there,

      I agree ~ for us ordinary folks physical well being definitely adds to overall well being. It’s not a good idea to either neglect it or be overly obsessed with it. Thank you for adding this point.

      At the same time, ultimate happiness is not conditioned by the body or the brain. There are some people who are physically degenerated but are still able to radiate love, happiness, and joy. It’s quite a path to get to that point, but it’s something I wish for everyone.

  2. says

    I love how you broke down this term for us! I’m learning what you listed for #1- Eliminate negativity! I have to constantly remind myself of the positive things because it’s so easy to get caught up in everything negative. Thanks for sharing :)

    • says

      I am so happy to “meet” you Lakia. I love what you are up to on your blog ! living, loving and laughing! Negativity can indeed by like a tumbleweed. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

    • says

      You’ve got it! Absolutely, I fully agree about the sense of contentment. Of course, there is physical suffering, but we create so much of our suffering with our mind. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. says

    Well, you know I love this post! I, too, wonder about the impression I give by using “happy” in my blog title/description. The word “happy,” like the word “love,” has meanings across a whole spectrum.

    Your observations about happiness arising naturally remind me of “fruits of the spirit” in the Bible. Joy is listed as a fruit of the spirit. Joy or true happiness is central to many faith traditions. How interesting that people of many faiths find faith based reasons to hate and condemn when the essence of their faith is to be truly happy and to love others.

    “Rebel Buddha..” You have to love that title! Makes me want to read that book!

    This was a disjointed comment full of random thoughts, but there you have it!

    • says

      Galen,

      I love the image and idea of joy being the fruit of the spirit. I’m so happy you shared that here. It is interesting the way that qualities like joy are unified among all faith traditions. It makes you think there’s got to be something to this faith stuff! :)

  4. says

    I love your look at happiness – this is how I see it too. It is not constant euphoria or ecstasy, as some would wish it to be. It’s a simple sense of contentment, impermanent, and therefore so valuable. A quote by Alfred Souza really enlightened me to the idea of ‘happiness is the way’:

    For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to still be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment that you have. And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time and remember that time waits for no one.

    • says

      Lynn,

      This is such a beautiful quote. It truly captures the phenomena that occurs to most of us on a constant basis. That sense of never being quite content and looking to the next moment. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. Happiness is the way! I love this way of thinking.

  5. untroubledmind says

    did already like your post ‘Happiness is an inside job’ very much. for me it’s also rather contentment (which is beyond happiness) than happiness, but though i did choose happiness as my topic because it’s more common to resonate with most peoples mind.

  6. says

    Sandra, as a pastor, I counseled people who had committed to marrying each other, and when I would ask them why they wanted to get married, they would almost always give me the troubled answer you’re probably already expecting, “Because he/she makes me happy.”

    When I really began to study relationships (internal and external), I got more and more troubled by this answer. Our happiness may be fueled by external things – the kiss of a lover, the Kindle with our favorite books (wink), and the wind on our face – but it’s not where happiness arises. In fact, to some extent, it seems sort of an arbitrary concept, doesn’t it?

    But to even think thoughts that make us smile comes from within us as well. And to this end, I am left to think about what it means to be happy the rest of the day. :) Thanks for another great read.

  7. says

    Wonderful post!

    Inner peace is the ultimate source of happiness and joyfulness. ~ Dalai Lama

    Happiness is not in things, it is in us.

    Our mental state has a tremendous influence on how we experience our daily life. The greater our peace of mind, the greater our ability to enjoy a happy, joy-filled life.

    By re-training the mind, we can transform our entire outlook on life, and our approach to living, in a way that adds to the daily happiness in our lives, even if nothing in our external situation changes.

    The way to greater happiness and peace of mind is basic, just three steps:

    1. Identify those factors which lead to happiness, and those which lead to suffering.

    2. Eliminate those that lead to suffering.

    3. Cultivate those that lead to happiness.

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/the-art-of-happiness/

    Namaste!

  8. says

    Sandra, this was a powerful post and and even more powerful look at that ‘emotion’ we’re all striving for– real happiness.

    The older I get the more I start to understand Frankel’s view on happiness– that it’s up to us, despite our conditions and environment. Thus, each and every day, I’m trying to choose happiness…and it works. :-)

    Thanks again.

    Marcus

    • says

      Marcus,

      This is so wise: “The older I get the more I start to understand Frankel’s view on happiness– that it’s up to us, despite our conditions and environment.”

      And you are wise to try to choose happiness each and every day. Thank you!

  9. says

    Happiness for me is inner peace. I can only reach it through forgiveness and nonjudgment. Oh I like to catch myself desiring something and then I let it go. I don’t want to suffer!

  10. says

    Hi Sandra,
    You write the most gorgeous posts! Your 3 tips on creating happiness is exactly right. Nothing can make us happy. We have to create it. I’ve seen people who seem to have so many wonderful blessings and they are negative, bitter people. Being able to recognize and appreciate our blessings will take us to happiness. Thanks Sandra!

    • says

      Dandy,

      You really touch on the heart of the matter. It’s so simple in a way. I wish everyone could find this peace of mind and well being. Thanks for your thoughts.

  11. says

    Hi Sandra,

    I love this article on finding true happiness. The reality is indeed that we all want to be happy. But not all our actions and choices in the pursuit of what we think will make us happy is for the best. If what we do does not bring us true happiness, it pays to examine what it is that we are chasing after. Pleasure as you say, can never bring lasting happiness to our lives.

    Contentment is the way to go because it is a lasting way of being. I have always enjoyed reading about sages who maintain their calm and composure throughout the challenges they face. That is something I have always strived towards. But to attain such a way of being requires a multi-prong approach. This is why I love your 3 ways to find true happiness. One more way I would like to add is the need to constantly nourish our minds with philosophies and readings that will remind us about true happiness.

    I always found that actions termed “good” and “bad” fall short of the mark. It is a superficial view of things. Sometimes the greatest harm can result from the best or good intentions. I believe we should always look more deeply to see the consequences of our actions and whether it will bring true happiness in the long run.

    The road to true happiness is simple, but not easy. But if we are willing to put in the effort and approach it from multiple angles, we will get there. I fully agree with you that happiness requires discipline and effort.

    Thank you for sharing this article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

    • says

      Irving,

      This is the fundamental problem isn’t it > our actions aren’t in accord with our goals. We want to be happy, but we choose actions and attitudes that bring the opposite. You are so on target when you say that we need to pay attention to what we are chasing after.

      I fully agree with your addition: “the need to constantly nourish our minds with philosophies and readings that will remind us about true happiness.” This falls under positive actions in my book and one of the most important ones! Thanks for spelling it out.

      Thanks for your enthusiasm and thoughts.

  12. says

    Hi Sandra,

    You’ve beautifully stated the macro “hows” (eliminate negativity, adopt positive attitudes and reconnect with your true nature) to finding happiness but for me it’s the supporting action that makes it happen: practice or repetitive behavior,
    meditation, journaling, stepping out of one’s comfort zone etc. For me if an insight doesn’t lead to action that enhances my life then I question the value of that insight. This comes from a person who has read way too many self help books looking for some insight that would replace hard work and the inevitable set backs that always occur on the path to success.
    Riley

    • says

      Hi Riley,

      Good point! The next step is indeed figuring out what those micro steps are and sorting out what are positive actions and what are negative ones. A question that’s not always easily answered. These are wonderful methods that you are using. Thanks for your insight.

  13. says

    Hi Sandra. Great post on a very challenging topic. As I was reading it the first thing that came to mind was a quote of Jeasus “The Kingdom of heaven is within. In the Gospel of Thomas it is a little different. ” The Kingdom of heaven is within and without.”

    This is amazing how both Buddha’s teaching and that of Jeasus are so often if not the same then very similar.

    I see that contentment brings true happiness but our outer experiences can reflect our inner state of being.

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful post.

    • says

      Hi Gary,

      I also marvel at the commonality at the heart of most religions and spiritual paths. This is a profound quote from Jesus and St. Thomas. They are both very meaningful. Thank you for sharing them here.

  14. says

    thanks Sandra for the insight into true happiness.

    I think we definitely look to fleeting pleasures to find our happiness. Sure it does bring joy and smiles to our faces, but it doesn’t last.

    I think that true happiness comes not from a comfortable life without problems and hardship, but rather a life in which you live out your dreams.

    • says

      Hi David,

      I think it’s OK to enjoy fleeting pleasures as long as we realize them for what they are, don’t cling to them, don’t indulge in them, and make sure they aren’t harming others. Now, when it comes to true happiness and living the life of our dreams, doesn’t that depend on what the dreams are?

      Thanks for adding your perspective.

  15. says

    Nice post. I have been thinking of writing about happiness myself… for my blog, but didn’t get around to doing it yet. This entry adds perspective to my thoughts. Thanks.

    ~Sherma

  16. says

    Hi Sandra,

    For my case, I would believe true happiness will take place when you have both time and money to spend with your family and making a difference in people’s lives.

    Regards,
    Edmund

    • says

      Hello Edmund,

      Time and money can indeed afford us more freedom on one level, but what we find in developed countries is that there is a stunning prevalence of unhappiness and anxiety among people that have more. So for many, it doesn’t seem to be the magic formula. It would certainly be wonderful if everyone had what they needed! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  17. says

    Hi Sandra,

    To me, true happiness is the ability to live freely with loved ones. However, due to the structure of our society, we cannot just do whatever we want. Yet if you are rich, there are a lot of things you can do. Maybe that’s why everyone wants to be rich and have the freedom everyone dreamed of. As sad as it sounds, it’s just the way our world works. You need to work hard to have happiness, it may not be true happiness…but at least you are happy.

    Best regards,

    Chet

    Come visit my latest blog on Tattoo Removal
    check it out and give me your opinion, thanks again~!

    • says

      Hi Chet,

      Being able to live freely with loved ones is a beautiful aspiration. It’s true, we can’t just do whatever we want. I feel like a part of happiness comes from respecting others too. Thanks for sharing your view of happiness.

  18. Jim says

    I am not my mind! For me, there is me or myself and there is the mind or mental activity which is often unsatisfactory and painful. My latest solution to being in my painful, troublesome “mind” is to stop thinking. When rotten thoughts come up, I say to myself “no mind” or simply “stop” and the mind and it’s thoughts disappears which leaves me right back here: in and as my self WITHOUT mental activities. I first saw this concept in Eckhart Tolle books but, somehow, it is becoming a reality as I see over and over that I am not my mind but can easily become it when I accidentally go into my mind and it’s quicksand pool of ideas, feelings, attitudes, thoughts, etc. which gobble me up. It’s wonderful to realize that I am me and NOT my mind or it’s troubling activities. This is not about fighting with or killing my mind, just about the separation from it to be in and as my peaceful self, free of mental TORTURE!

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