Many philosophers have pondered the question: What is happiness? And there have been many different answers. Most probably agree that happiness is not a constant state but a fleeting emotion. Yet there is still this idea in our society that this ‘happiness’ is something we can obtain; something that will last forever once we get it. People search for the right job, for Mr. or Mrs. Right, the perfect home in the perfect location. Once we get the right job, the right partner, the perfect life, we are baffled as to why we do not feel happy all the time. Even though we know logically that this is impossible, since in one day we can experience a whole range of emotions, the feeling of dissatisfaction remains.
What I think most people are seeking is satisfaction, not happiness. So far, I have discovered what I see as three levels of satisfaction: pleasure, contentment and fulfillment. At the very basic level is pleasure. Pleasure is satisfaction of the senses. We eat delicious food to satisfy our taste; we watch 3D movies to satisfy our eyes and we listen to music to satisfy our ears. At the next level is contentment. Contentment is being satisfied with our life situation and what we have. When we are living comfortably and most of our standards have been met, we have a sense of being content. Life is pretty good and we feel we can relax a little. Going up to the next level, we find fulfillment. Fulfillment is satisfaction due to developing our character and our abilities. As we grow, we find more challenging work, more intimate relationships; we explore new hobbies and new places.
The problem with just going after pleasure, contentment and fulfillment is that they are all dependent on being satisfied and humans never seem to be satisfied! It seems it is our nature to always want more. So what is the secret ingredient that is missing? What element is necessary to make these ‘enough’? How do we go from the feeling that we are lacking something to feeling like, “I am enough”?
My answer is –ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance cannot be separated from the present. When we are completely in the moment, acceptance is always there. Acceptance comes in different forms: there is non-attachment, gratitude and integrity.
Non-attachment helps us to accept the non-permanence of all things. It applies particularly to the concept of pleasure, but also to contentment and fulfillment. In terms of pleasure–The beautiful smell of spring flowers will pass and the last piece of chocolate cake will be eaten. With contentment, too–Our favourite shoes will get old and worn out and our bed mattress will become saggy and uncomfortable. Even fulfillment–Close friendships will fade out and our ability to run 5-minute marathons will eventually come to an end, too. This is the nature of life. Nothing lasts.
When we become too attached to things or people in our lives, it generally makes us feel sad or powerless or leads to addiction. When we can really be in the moment and smell the roses, love the comfort of our favourite runners and enjoy a conversation over tea with a good friend, then we don’t mind so much when these things pass. We know that around the corner is another moment with another opportunity.
With acceptance of this impermanence, we can really start to feel gratitude. When something appears to be always there, we sometimes forget to appreciate it. Gratitude embraces the fact that everything will come and go. And just like non-attachment, feeling gratitude brings deeper meaning to pleasure, contentment and fulfillment and I think it is closest to contentment. Rather than just thinking, “Yeah, I’m pretty happy with my life but I wish I had more sex, a bigger house or a better career”, gratitude is appreciating all that is offered in this moment.
Gratitude is accepting ALL that comes your way, including the things you may interpret as ‘bad’. Maybe a fight with your spouse isn’t pleasant, but you are learning something and you can be grateful for that. Having this health challenge certainly hasn’t been easy but I am grateful for all that it is teaching me and I am more grateful than ever when I do feel really good. In any situation, there is something to be thankful for.
The third one, and perhaps the most significant one, is INTEGRITY. Integrity comes from a latin word meaning whole. Integrity means aligning your actions with your highest and wisest inner self; it’s accepting yourself as a complete person, with good and bad qualities. There is an internal integrity which is strengthened when your patterns of behaviour are consistent with your values and there is an external integrity which comes from being authentic in how you present yourself to others.
How fulfilled we are definitely depends on how integrated we are and in order to be an integrated human being, we first must know ourselves.–Know Thyself! –That means digging down to your core beliefs and values and discovering what is really important to you. It means uncovering all those ugly pieces that you didn’t want to see and accepting that they are part of what makes you unique and beautiful.
Acting with integrity is something I am struggling with right now. I know who I am on the inside and I can imagine the person that I want to present to the world but at times I sense there are discrepancies. It’s kind of like trying to turn a t-shirt inside out. I feel like I am strong, confident, truthful, joyful, expressive, compassionate but how do I project these outward?
I know I need to be more gentle with myself and allow the variances to occur. I need to accept that I am not always going to appear to be the perfectly confident, joyful, expressive woman I see myself as. My words may not always come out quite the way I want them to and my actions may not always match how I feel inside but that’s okay– I’m always progressing towards wholeness.
The goal should be to narrow that gap so we express our authentic selves as much as possible and the best way to do this is to stay present. When we are in the moment, we can be in tune with our values, our needs and our intuition. Then our words and deeds are more likely to match our inner selves. Staying present also eliminates fear which means we will have the courage to show our true self to the world with worrying so much about being accepted. Being open like this takes tremendous courage. Think of yourself as a flower slowly blossoming. Have the goal everyday to act with integrity–to know your truth, to speak your truth and to be true to yourself.
If we search for satisfaction alone, we will continually be disappointed and dismayed. It’s when we strive to be in the moment and practice all three kinds of acceptance–non-attachment, gratitude and integrity, that we come closer to that elusive state of well-being that we all look for. I like the word WELL-BEING as opposed to happiness. If we reverse it, it becomes ‘being well’ which, for me, encompasses both the ideas of acceptance and being present.
And, in the end, what is it that we truly want? What are we really aiming for here? The thread which holds all of this together is what I believe to be our ultimate goal–SERENITY. It’s that quietness and stillness in the mind. It’s that calmness and peace of mind that we all want access to. And we do have access to it…at any time! Borrowing an analogy that I heard, serenity is the deep sea within you which doesn’t change with your current circumstances. At the surface of the water, our emotions may be stormy or things may seem out of control, but deep below is the ever-present sense of tranquility, a knowing that all is well.
So how do we gain access to the power of serenity? A few great ways are deep breathing, meditation, mindful body movement like yoga or walking, setting intentions for your day and having a mantra or an affirmation that can serve as your anchor. These can all be easily incorporated into your daily routine.
Do a 10-minute meditation in the morning, set your intention for the day as you drink your morning coffee (for example: “I intend to act with integrity” or “I intend to be compassionate”) and say it in your head as you begin your day. Do some deep breathing and stretching on your lunch break, repeat your mantra or affirmation whenever you feel stressed or overwhelmed (for example: “OM” or “I am open”), try another short meditation in the evening and go for a mindful walk on the weekend.
Sounds like a lot? Then try just one or two and gradually add more. After a while, you will begin to notice a difference. You will see that you are able to remain calmer in stressful situations. You will see yourself more objectively. You will complain less and appreciate more. You will feel a deeper connection with yourself and with those around you. You will be living with more awareness, more purpose and more enthusiasm.
Accept yourself and all that is…feel your deep sea of serenity.