I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote, that I’ve pictured above, since I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago. And it reminds me of one of Thay’s (Thich Nhat Hanh’s) teachings: there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. It is easy to first use our intellect to try to absorb teachings and then as we continue to practice we can deepen our understanding in order for our hearts to become involved in the process.
What does it mean to say, “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way?” I encourage you to take a few minutes and see what comes up for you. And as Thay talked about a few times during the 21-day retreat this past June, produce not a notion but an insight.
For me, when I think of there being no way to happiness, it means that happiness is available in the very here and now, that I don’t have to travel somewhere else to experience it. It means that I am the only condition that needs to exist in order for happiness to arise. And if I’m not happy in this moment it is because I am standing in my own way. Depending on the moment this can be difficult to admit. I can say, “sure, sure, I’m the only condition of happiness that is needed,” (using the intellect) and then when I am caught in anger or despair I can switch right back to blaming someone or something else for my situation. Saying “there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way” is taking control of our lives and our experiences and responses to it.
It was only fairly recently, within the last 1-2 years, that I understood fully (with my heart) that happiness, like anything else, takes practice. If we tend to be stressed out a lot, angry, filled with sorrow, pessimistic… these states of being took practice. We don’t tend to be taught that we are in charge of our emotions, we are more trained that our emotions are something that happen TO us from an outside source. So when we think about practicing emotions this concept may be very strange. Everything takes practice and we become skilled at what we practice. Happiness takes practice. We need to do what brings us joy. We need to cultivate opportunities to practice happiness in our daily lives so that we become more engaged with life itself, connected to the conditions of happiness that are available in each moment and better able to deal with conflict and difficult emotions when they arise.
This practice brings me joy – and it is simply one tool in my toolbox, it’s a big tool for sure but there are others as well. It’s important to keep in mind that no one tool can do it all, no one tool can build the whole house of our happiness. Some of my other tools are listening to, singing and playing music, being with friends, doing volunteer work, smiling, writing, working with kids, being in nature, hot springing, traveling, and dancing. If we only rely on one tool we will only be able to build part of our house.
What are some of the tools in your happiness toolbox? What will you do today to practice happiness?