The other day I was reading a book that expressed a common spiritual concept. To paraphrase, it said that while the idea of happiness is great and many believe it to be a goal of life, this is not actually true; we came here not to be happy, but to learn whatever lessons we need in this lifetime. Therefore, happiness isn't what we should strive for on our spiritual path. Rather, we should seek to understand why we are here and what we need to learn. And often, learning is not comfortable.
This made me think about what I believe. I think that, yes: in some ways, it is true that we are here for the lessons and not for "happiness." And yet, it is also not true.
I believe this because no matter how much people say that their goal in life is to be happy, no matter how hard people strive to get this happiness, most people almost never experience what it actually means to be happy—or, more accurately, have never really experienced it during the course of their lives.
Instead, all most people have ever experienced are rare and tiny bits of happiness, fleeting moments that come once in a while and are sparked by different reasons ranging from buying something nice (and then needing something different very soon to feel "happy" again) to falling in love (and feeling open and expanded, like a "better self", until that feeling inevitably dissipates in a few weeks, months, or years). There are all sorts of scenarios, but it is a human fact that this kind of happiness doesn't last. For most of us, that creates a great deal of fear, fear that is generated and embedded into every moment of happiness. We know the moment will not last and yet we long for it to, and so we grasp it tightly and cling to it in fear, hoping it will not fade away…but almost always, sooner or later, it does.
It is very rare to find a person who is happy over an extended period of time, truly and wholeheartedly happy without fear sharing space with this happiness. As you read this, you may even be asking yourself if extended happiness is possible…to which I say, exactly! If you are asking yourself if it is possible, is it because you have never experienced it.
In general, people are not happy. Or, to say it better, they are more unhappy than happy, often to the degree where they get so used to unhappiness that it become a norm that is perceived, almost, as some kind of happiness. But that is not true happiness, and it occurs only because we are very adaptable animals. We can get used to surviving in almost any condition, to the point where that condition feels "normal." But what I speak to in this article is a message of not merely surviving, but of living fully, in joy and happiness. And that is something most of us have no idea how to do.
We don't know how to do it because it is a difficult thing for most of us to understand what living fully actually feels like. When we get a tiny piece of happiness, it's like bread crumbs tossed to someone who has been hungry for months or years. Of course someone who has been deprived of food gets strongly attached to any crumbs they can get, not wanting them to end. At the same time, of course someone who has been deprived has so much fear that the supply of crumbs will end, because experience tells them that food (or happiness) always comes to an end.
After losing crumbs of bread or happiness again and again, we develop a defense from the frustration that inevitably comes when the bread is gone and we are still hungry. Most of us are so full of anxiety and fear and the knowing that the bread or happiness is not going to last that we come to each situation with fear already imprinted in our brains and in every cell, Then, when a chance for an extended happiness shows up, we cannot enjoy it fully even while it is happening. We are frightened even as we eat the crumbs, for how can we fully relax and enjoy if we know for sure that sometime in the next second, minute, or day, this will all stop? We become greedy, but at the same time extra cautious, so tense that the process of eating is not as pleasant as it would be if there were no fear of loss, or of the great pain that comes with it.
When it comes to happiness, we are like barbarians, like hungry cavemen: insatiable, greedy, fearful, defensive, and unable to enjoy, because our joy equals fear and the two are intrinsic parts of each other.
When we know or fear that pain is on its way, when we know the sober reality of loss will strike us, we build a defense in advance. Because of this, as soon as we see a glimpse, a promise, of happiness on the horizon, we are already terrified. We have already pulled on the defense of not opening fully to the experience of even the few tiny crumbs of happiness that come into our lives, so we cannot experience the happiness fully. And then, we never truly know what happiness is or how it feels. We never experience being happy without fear and defense, without the manipulations and calculations of our minds trying to figure out how to keep the happiness coming in order to prolong the pleasure.
With this in mind, I believe that the most important lesson for humanity at the moment to learn is how to experience, embrace, and live in happiness for an extended period of time, how to be in joy, without having fear and pain and greediness attached to it. And strangely enough, this is a lesson that many people cannot handle.
Let's face it: we are all pretty good already in tolerating and soldiering through the difficulties, the hard lessons, the pain and the fear. We are used to withstanding unhappiness. That is how we have lived our lives, generation after generation, in war with ourselves and others and life itself. We are used to living in fear and defense.
But when it comes to happiness and joy, it's hard for us to accept. We simply don't know how to yet, because we haven't have enough experience with it to learn how to deal with it in a correct way. But opening to happiness and joy and to others we love and who love us; dealing fearlessly with reciprocated feelings, freedom, and abundance without defenses, the manipulations of a fearful ego-mind, terror, or projecting our inner feeling of lack onto the happiness…this is unfamiliar territory for most of us, a road not yet properly discovered, a lesson yet to be learned.
The fact that we have still not learned this lesson is a sign that we are resisting our development, our personal and collective evolution. The times now require us to live in happiness and yet we are, like fearful spiritual kids, resisting. We are hiding behind our old, destructive mind-patterns of fear and smallness and not being worthy, or perhaps behind the extreme opposite of false confidence, power games, and false authority. Regardless of how it manifests, our resistance all comes from the same lack of self-worth, the same fears, the same inner smallness.
It is time to pay attention to how we can draw happiness to us, face it, look it straight in the face without an urge to run away immediately or cling to it in terror of losing it. Time to be able to face happiness with our arms wide open in welcome and our hearts wide open to receive, without the urge to contract back into our fearful selves. Time to fully embrace all of happiness' overwhelming joy and abundance. It is time for the lesson of nourishment and satisfaction, and for the mentality of a victim, of a poor, ever-hungry creature who dies from hunger and never gets enough food, to melt away.
The lesson of Happiness is the biggest lesson for all of us to learn.