The other day, on the way to Winnipeg to pick-up Kate, Joan and I talked about the nature of “happiness.”
We began by trying to define happiness. I remembered my work more than 30 years before and that for one to perceive they are happy, they must abide in unhappiness – this is dualism – more specifically the binary nature of knowing, which Alan Watts called “Zero One Amazement” for its power to evoke a peak conscious state. In order for happiness to be explicitly known, we have to know unhappiness. This “unhappiness” is tacit – held within consciousness – and is subjective. In the act of knowing, “happiness” is objectified and in a sense exteriorized.
Thus, if we are happy, are we aware of it? To know happiness is one thing, to be happiness – that is, in a state of happiness, is something entirely different. Simply – happiness exists when we are unaware of it – when we are engaged and present in our life, in whatever we are doing. The paradox is that when we reflect on happiness in the stream of consciousness happiness becomes inextricably tied-to unhappiness. Considerations arise, I am not good enough, this job is beneath me, I am on the wrong track.
Joan and I thought about our friends, particularly those we experience as “happy.” We could not remember them mentioning that they were happy. We remebered them talking about the work they do, ideas, the latest research in something that they are interested in. We couldn’t remember anyone saying, “Oh, yes! I am happy!” or “I’m a happy camper.” But we certainly know others who tell us that they are unhappy and then recite what they are unhappy about and why. We recognized ourselves in both groups – in the “happy” but seemingly unconcerned about happiness camp and the “unhappy” and very much aware of unhappiness camp.
Talking about ourselves we realized that generally we aren’t concerned about being happy….we rarely think about it, perhaps because we are busy with the Inn and our extended family. But does that mean that we are happy? And we wondered, what is the state when unconcerned about happiness? Joan explained that she didn’t think about happiness: that her experience was engagement in whatever she was doing.
“Doing,” is the key. We knew we might become unhappy when we thought about what we were doing. If what we are doing is something we want to do – and others would want us to do, then there’s no problem. But when we think about what we are doing and believe we should be doing something else, there is dissonance and its partner unhappiness.
When we think about what we are doing, we can alter the nature of the experience by coming into conflict with it: the conflict arising between what we are doing and what we think we should be doing. The should arises from ideas we have regarding the importance and value of particular activities.
What blocks the experience of happiness is actually thought – thought in regard to assessing one’s state. If I ask, is this job good enough for me, am I fulfilling myself, etc., how do I find the answer? I compare what I am doing with what I think I should be doing – based on what my expectations are for myself, or just as likely, what my parents expected, or Joan expects. These expectations are powerful. They are at the core of our identity – not who we really are, but who we think we should be, or our parents, educators, significant others think we should be.
And expectations prevent me from simply embracing my experience. Expectations block happiness. And the most paradoxical expectation is that I must always be happy!
However, expectations are helpful – guiding. We must be mindful of them – aware of their power, their driving force. And we must observe them, as they come to awareness – not judging, condemning, simply seeing them and learning as we do that in the very act of observing we free ourselves from their hold and “self” becomes more vibrant. And we become more spontaneous – acting without conditions, without expectation. It is in this action without condition that love arises. And with love happiness is moot.
This article was written by stanford