Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

The Paradox of True Happiness

Yellow Daffodils

Stop looking for happiness!  That’s the paradox of finding true happiness.

When we stop seeking so strongly and allow life to simply unfold, a sense of humor, spaciousness, and relaxation gradually begins to emerge.  Ironically, it’s all the wanting, needing, and calculating that brings about suffering in myriad forms – from frustration to disappointment to anger and despair.

The great spiritual teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche exuded an extraordinary sense of warmth and playfulness fully penetrated by clarity and wisdom.  When it comes to happiness, this is what he advised:

“Generally speaking, happiness or sorrow, whatever arises, see that it does not have any truth, it’s like an illusion.

When suffering comes to your heart, don’t see it with aversion.  When joy comes, don’t go after it with more clinging.  Both in their true nature, the state of emptiness, are the same.  When they manifest as suffering, the purpose of suffering is to purify your negativity.  Let this be the arousal of your compassion, the hook of renunciation.  When happiness comes, without any spacial craving for it, leave it, simply in the natural state of mind.”

What does it mean to see happiness or sorrow as an “illusion”?  In the midst of a dream, terror or elation seem vivid and real.  But, on waking, we understand all the activities and emotions experienced in the night were just passing moments of dreamtime.

Life is like that too.

I remember how all my normal worries and anxieties were momentarily shocked away when I learned my father was dying.  What I took to be so real in one moment became insignificant in the next.

Moments of happiness and moments are sorrow come streaming by.  We can embrace the fullness of life, but we don’t need to latch onto every thought or emotion that suddenly appears.  When we stop chasing happiness, we allow space for true happiness and freedom to arise.  That’s the paradox of true happiness.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra




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  1. So true, but so hard to maintain in practice.


    • Yes, I hear you! It’s challenging because we are so conditioned to seek pleasure and avoid displeasure. These impulses seem to arise so automatically and arrest us so suddenly. At the same time, I find that life itself is practice and the beauty of practice is experiencing moments of letting go, showing us that change is indeed possible.. Thank you for your thoughts, Zen Presence!

  2. rhonda mitchell

    I’m trying to learn to just accept what comes to me without conplaining. I still have trouble about worrying about tomorrow

    • Hi Rhonda,

      That’s a huge aspiration! It won’t necessarily happen over night, but just turning in that direction already seeds positive changes in life. I’m inspired by your willingness to make the shift. Worry about tomorrow is a habit I have too, but it’s slowing dissolving away. Good luck!

  3. Luis F Amato

    I really enjoyed your post today Sandra!


  4. jean sampson

    Life is Earth School and this is one of the big lessons that one may learn (and learn and learn 🙂 I notice that I am less attached to little things, little worries, little annoyances. But the bigger things, issues of aging, health and finances as I age, are still present. I would love to be able to release them. As for happiness, what I notice now is that I love to stay in the neutral center emotionally—-neither way UP nor way DOWN. That doesn’t mean I am emotionless, I just do seem to not have as great an attachment to things I once thought I HAD to have. Or how things HAD to be. It gives me a lot of peace.

    • Jean,

      I love the “Earth School” idea! That’s really interesting about the neutral center emotionally, especially that it’s not flat or emotionless. It’s really true though that when we really get how it’s all just a passing phenomena, the little things don’t send us reeling on the emotional roller coast. I really appreciated hearing your perspective.

  5. This is a pretty subtle concept to try and explain isn’t it? Good for you for trying, Sandra. I experience peace in detachment, but I’m also less resistant to surrendering to happiness or sorrow when they occur. I’m trying to be present in the moment to allow a full experience of it, even though all things, moments and moods will pass. That’s the orientation of an artist. I see through that filter, even though I know it’s stained glass.

    • Hi Mike, I have to laugh because starting out by saying “stop looking for happiness” isn’t exactly subtle! You’re right, it is tricky because understanding this doesn’t mean that things don’t matter or that we’re not responsible for our actions.

      I think you have a good feel for the paradox. That’s an interesting comment about the filter. I think eventually we can see directly but for most of us there is the filter for now. The important thing is being aware of that. I really appreciate the depth of your comment.

  6. Thank you for this wonderful post. It is a very difficult concept to grasp at first as it is contrary to most upbringings and what our society encourages. (I know I did not learn this until recently. Better late than never!) However, you are so right that happiness lies in not trying to seek it or attain it in any way. It is always there to be uncovered within us.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if advertisers quit pushing this illusion on us every where we turn? According to them, happiness is a certain car, hotel room, vacation package, pocket book….whatever. You name it. No wonder it is the pervasive belief and a big cause of unhappiness.

    The example you give of your father is so fitting. Our priorities come right into perspective without any question when faced with something like this.

    • Hi Debbie,

      You really get it! It is a little challenging to realize how much we gain by letting go. And, even when we realize it, it takes practice to undo our prior habits of clinging. Thank you for expressing how it’s always there within us waiting to be uncovered. And it’s all the thoughts and emotions that cover it up.

      I won’t hold my breath when it comes to advertisers, but I will celebrate all the understanding I feel from the people commenting on this page! There is so much goodness here. Thank you, Debbie.

    • Ah, advertisers releasing the need to persuade… that would be something, wouldn’t it!

      I believe that the beauty of having a strong meditation practice is that at some point it can give us a lot of immunity to things like advertisements. We are no longer so easily hooked by the things of the world, and there is a great spaciousness and peace that comes with that.

      • Maia, This is so beautifully said. I love the idea of “immunity to advertisements”! Thanks for sharing this perspective on the power of meditation to bring us more spaciousness and peace.

  7. A great reminder, Sandra! Thanks! I definitely need to keep this in mind next time I’m about to lose my marbles. 🙂

    • Yes, that’s the best time to remember! Although, it might not be so easy when the marbles are spilling everywhere. I trying to start with the small things first. 🙂

  8. Stop looking for happiness and start being happy. Happiness is the journey, not the destination? Did I get the gist of your post:) ?

    Stop chasing happiness is a powerful statement:) Why chase it when it’s within us – we should access happiness, not chase it! thanks Sandra!!

    • Vishnu,

      That’s a great way to put it! To just start being happy. Of course, that’s not easy because of our previous habits, but when we see the possibility we can begin and then happiness is the journey. Or at least a relaxed, spacious evenness.

      Great thoughts! Thank you!

  9. Living in the moment, mindfully, is the key to happiness. I have a similar experience, Sandra. Each time my Mom was rushed to hospital, everything else paled to insignificance and the mind focused only on one thing. We subconsciously know how to prioritize life events. It is the same with any other crisis situation. Happiness, then, is a perspective most of the time. What brings immense happiness today may not do so tomorrow and vice versa, because life happens in-between, feelings come into play, we learn new things – making us change that perspective. Chasing it, therefore, is often a waste of time, because we might fail to appreciate what we have in hand.

    A lovely post – and I love the photo! Happy week to you, Sandra!

    Love, Vidya

  10. What a beautiful reminder, Sandra. Thank you for this. I love the picture as well! I think eliminating as much of the busy-ness in our lives as possible helps with this. Whenever I find myself overscheduled and overdoing it, it becomes so much harder to live this way.

  11. I seem to have to learn this over and over again–and your post is a great reminder. I struggle with expectation and getting caught up in it. And it never makes me happy because I end up disappointed, whereas if I’d just allowed myself to be in the flow it never would have happened. Thanks for this.

  12. As Vishnu said, I also was taken with your phrase about not chasing happiness. There is a quote by Hafiz about happiness chasing us! I think it is there all the time. We don’t have to chase it; we just have to open our awareness.

    Your contrast about what you thought was important one moment and then the next is powerful. When we see that it’s all relative, and therefore not objectively “real,” we can see how our evaluation colors our experience of any event.

    Lovely post.

  13. Sandra, I love the quote from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche… wow, right to the point and so profound!

  14. You wrote, “We can embrace the fullness of life, but we don’t need to latch onto every thought or emotion that suddenly appears. When we stop chasing happiness, we allow space for true happiness and freedom to arise. ” – This is detachment, or maybe we can call it “positive detachment”.

    Looking at your life, the events in your life, and at your behavior, with a sense of detachment, helps you accept everything more calmly. This attitude, in time, takes away fears and worries.

    When you develop an attitude of detachment toward yourself, your ego, and your thoughts, a sense of inner peace appears, and with it a sense of happiness. This happiness comes spontaneously, and is not dependent on external situations.

    • Greetings Remez,

      I agree with you completely about all the benefits of “detachment.” I don’t usually use that word since it can sound cold and unfeeling. But, I fully agree that the less attachment we have, the more happiness and freedom we find. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  15. Hello Sandra,
    Here’s a quote I’d like to share: ““Happiness is just an illusion caused by the temporary absence of reality.” — author unknown

    I was raised in a dysfunctional family and when I was a child happiness was the state of mind that was fleeting. As a teen I was a happiness chaser. Now as I move towards my senior years, I find myself reverting to chasing happiness again but only for fleeting moments. As Galen has said when I open my heart happiness flows into me, through me and out of me.

    • Hi timethief,

      Your quote gave me a smile! It reflects how it really is impossible to grasp onto happiness. Point well taken! I resonate with what you’ve said about growing up in a dysfunctional family. In some ways, it seems human to want to be happy and to avoid suffering. The irony is that we can only find true happiness from within and it probably looks a little different than we imagine! I’m inspired that opening your heart allows happiness to flow in, through, and out of you. That’s so inspiring and a testimony to your commitment to self-growth and development. I’m glad you are feeling better and sending you aloha!

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