Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Today is Wednesday, March 27, 2013. 

Like love, happiness is really something you DO rather than something you ARE.  It's a process rather than a product.  It has to be generated anew each day, and it sometimes takes a back burner to feelings of sadness, or grief.  

Happiness is something that I can feel, even when I'm beset by problems, as long as I am confident that I can eventually solve those problems, which I usually am, if experience is anything to go by.

When I looked up the definition of happiness, one of the synonyms listed was contentment, and that put me in mind of the qualities that ECKists know as the Five Virtues.  The Five Virtues are contentment (which includes gratitude), discrimination, tolerance (which includes forgiveness), humility, and detachment.  The dictionary would not define most of these virtues as synonyms for happiness, but when our actions express these qualities, we find that they lead to a lasting sense of happiness.

A quote circulating on Facebook says, "We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."  When we remember to count our blessings and practice the attitude of gratitude, we are well on our way to contentment, the feeling that all is right with the world.

The next of the virtues, discrimination, means the ability to make right judgment, and to choose actions which contribute to our spiritual growth, rather than those which feed our desires of the moment, but which don't have any lasting benefit.  It's fine to eat foods that satisfy our taste buds, but when we eat too much, or when we eat things that are not good for our bodies, we gain weight and our malnourished bodies become vulnerable to illness, all of which leads to unhappiness.  When we discriminate between having a glass of wine or a bottle of beer with friends, and drinking to excess, we learn that we can have plenty of fun without drinking to the point where we get sick, black out, or make it impossible to exercise good judgment.  People who drink too much get into fights, have car accidents, and get into trouble that can land them either in the hospital or in jail.  How happy is that?  Same goes for our sexual appetites.  People who are always seeking their next sexual "fix" rarely bother to get to know the person they end up in bed with.  I've known people who found out that the person they chose to "do it" with turned suddenly violent, or they got robbed when they weren't thinking straight.  I knew one young woman who was dared to break into a store when she was drunk and steal some things, which landed her in jail.  And, of course, there are a number of diseases one can catch from a sexual partner, all of which are uncomfortable, and some of them ultimately fatal.  How happy is that? 

It may seem like a leap of reasoning to equate tolerance and forgiveness with happiness, but if you think about the people in your life who are prejudiced and intolerant of others, you will realize that these people seem angry much of the time.  When we let go of our grudges and the need to compare ourselves favorably with others, we find that we spend less time complaining and arguing.  In election years, we are much less fearful of "the other side" and less apt to find ourselves wasting time in political arguments where neither side is willing to back down.  When we practice tolerance, we are less apt to allow others to disturb our peace.  That doesn't mean we have to condone what they do or say.  It simply means that we don't give others the power to make us miserable.  When we forgive others, we give them the opportunity to make things right, and if they choose not to do that, we have the option of walking away and letting them deal with their own negative karma, which will come due sooner or later.

The virtue of humility leads to happiness, as well.  When we feel that we are better than others, we get trapped in a cycle where we are always striving to be perfect, or to stay in first place.  Pretty soon we feel as if we are on a treadmill that we can't afford to get off of, because when we do, someone will surpass us, and that would never do.  When we exercise humility, we recognize that there are others who may be smarter, wealthier, more talented, or in some other way more fortunate than we are.  We don't feel the need to compete against them, so we are free to be happy for them, rather than be made miserable by our jealousy.  There's nothing wrong with having pride in our accomplishments, but when we practice extreme vanity, our arrogance tends to turn others away from us.  Besides, we all know that old saying, "Pride goeth before a fall."  Truly, the higher we go, the harder we fall, and just about everybody falls at some time in their lives.  There's nothing more miserable than grandstanding in front of others, then being made the laughingstock of all those we have scorned.  

The fifth virtue, detachment, doesn't mean the absence of emotion.  It means keeping our emotions under control.  When we exercise detachment, we acknowledge our grief, but rise above it.  When we exercise detachment, we can avoid allowing our anger to dictate a knee-jerk reaction that we may regret later.  Detachment allows us to pick ourselves up when we fall and move forward.  It allows us to respond effectively and appropriately to a negative situation.  It helps us to avoid the misery of jealousy and covetousness, where we experience a false sense of lack.  

All of the five virtues include another concept, that of balance.  As the Trappist monk turned priest, Thomas Merton, wrote, "Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony."  The Five Virtues described above all contain an element of balance.  When we are content, we avoid the extremes of frustration and want as well as satiety to the point where we feel bloated or have nothing more to achieve.  Discrimination also keeps us in balance.  It is the path of moderation, and the avoidance of too much or too little in any one area.  Tolerance allows us to entertain more than one point of view, even if we ultimately reject some of them.  It allows us to keep our perspective, maintain friendships with all kinds of people; it keeps us from one-sided, prejudicial thinking.  Humility means that even though we recognize our own positive qualities and take pride in our handiwork, we realize that there are probably some people who are more skilled or more knowledgeable than we are, even in our area of expertise.

As for the other qualities mentioned by Merton, order in our lives is always preferable, when we can maintain it, than disorder and chaos. Rhythm and harmony are functions of balance.  When we dance to the rhythm of life, when we are in harmony with Divine Spirit, we are happy.  :-)

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