I’ve been re-reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Being Peace. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and human rights scholar. During my second reading of his book, I’ve acquired a greater understanding of the correlation between peace and happiness. In this article, I’ll share some of my insights with you.
Happiness is a State of Mind – a State of “Being.”
If I were to ask you, “What state of mind would you like to be in for the Holidays?,” what words would you come up with?
I asked several of my friends and clients and here’s what they said: Peaceful, Relaxed, Happy, and Joyful. I’ve noticed that these words are often used interchangeably when talking about a desirable state of mind.
For Buddhist monks, there is a direct correlation between peace and happiness. And smiling is a way of actually “being” peace and happiness.
Have you ever noticed how often monks smile? Listen to what Thich Nhat Hanh says about smiling, peace, joy, and happiness:
- “Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.”
- “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile. But sometimes your smile is the source of your joy.”
- “Many people think excitement is happiness…. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”
- “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
- “I promise myself that I will enjoy every minute of the day that is given me to live.”
Happiness Doesn’t Ignore Suffering.
The Vietnamese monks didn’t take sides in the Vietnam War. However, they exercised what is referred to as “engaged Buddhism.” They saw and experienced incredible suffering. They listened carefully and worked hard to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner by communicating with both sides. Yet, they were often distrusted. In many cases, they were persecuted or killed.
Thich Nhat Hanh emerged from Vietnam’s nightmare not only intact, but radiant. In fact, he accepted the pain and suffering that he endured as an important aspect of his quest for peace and happiness. He learned that he could “be peace” and “be happy” every day, even while suffering.
If you were asked the question, “Do you want to be happy today?” you would almost certainly say, “Yes!” Yet, a difficult encounter with your boss or a breakup with your girlfriend might result in your saying, “I’m so bummed. I had a bad day.”
Most of our personal suffering is insignificant in comparison to global suffering. In some areas of the world, many people are suffering from malnutrition, homelessness, impoverishment, natural disasters, mass atrocities, and genocide. I wonder if I, personally, would be able to maintain a sense of happiness and serenity under those conditions. How about you?
Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow. ― Thich Nhat Hanh
Happiness is Internal, not External.
Research has shown that people tend to be unhappy when their expectations exceed reality. This is referred to as the “expectation gap.”
We expect to be happy when we get a wonderful Christmas gift or a big promotion, marry the person we love, win the lottery, or buy our first home. Yet, when we get what we want, happiness often doesn’t last. We want more. We expect more.
If we lose what we wanted so badly, we often find ourselves dissatisfied, disappointed, hurt, or downright angry. In short, we temporarily lose our peaceful state of mind – our happiness.
Lasting happiness comes from within. It doesn’t come from other people or other things. Lasting happiness is internal, not external. It’s sustainable in the midst of loss. It sounds so simple. Yet, it can be hard to achieve.
How Can You Find and Sustain Happiness?
Well, certainly not by just reading this short article! But, to get started, we have three suggestions:
1. Adjust Your Expectations.
- Do you have personal goals? If not, establish your goals. Without goals, you don’t know where you are going. Without knowing where you are going, you are more likely to find yourself aimless and unhappy.
- If you know your personal goals, take time to evaluate them. Are they realistic? What adjustments are needed? Are you happy with your progress toward your goals? Decide if your actions are aligned with your goals.
- Track how you spend your time. Is it how you want to spend your time? What changes do you need to make in your daily habits and activities?
- Is your life managing you or are you managing your life? Are you suffering from “Attention Deficit Trait – A Mental Health Traffic Jam?” Do you need help learning how to focus and be more productive?
- Are you always “overstretched, overbooked, and about to snap,” as Ed Hallowell writes about in Crazy Busy? If so, how can you “be peace”? And how do you know what’s “within”?
2. Process Loss and Move Toward Acceptance.
If you feel stuck due to recent or long-term losses, you may find yourself asking, “How Can I Get to Acceptance?” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross found that it’s important to move through the Grief Cycle to get to a state of acceptance. We agree!
Though “getting to acceptance” can be a long, slow process, it often leads to peace and happiness. Kubler-Ross’s model reinforces the Buddhist concept that both joy and suffering are inherent in mindful living.
For more information on how to process losses and move toward acceptance, please check out our article on “Acceptance – How Do I Get There?”
3. Establish a Daily Meditation Practice.
Meditation is the formal practice that teaches you how to know yourself better. “Going within” during meditation helps you get in touch with your body, mind, and feelings. You go to a quiet place where you simply “are.”
In meditation, you become aware of your thoughts and your feelings, but you recognize that your thoughts and feelings are passing. Your thoughts and your feelings are not you. Meditation produces a state of calm, inner peace, and well-being. And, guess what else? Happiness!
Meditation is also an exercise in listening. When you learn how to truly listen to your own thoughts and feelings, an added benefit is that you are better able to hear others’ thoughts and feelings.
We recommend that you start by scheduling just five or ten minutes daily to meditate. As your practice becomes established, you may find that you want to meditate for a longer period of time or during additional times throughout the day.
If you have a hard time focusing, or you just want extra guidance, try using the guided meditations on mindfulness apps like Stop, Breathe, & Think or Headspace.
What Are Your Ideas and Suggestions About Happiness?
Do these concepts about peace and happiness resonate with you? Do you have other thoughts? Please share your ideas and suggestions in the comment section below. We would love to hear your recommendations about ways to find and sustain happiness.
If you have not already done so, please sign up for our free guide, “How Do I Know if Coaching Will Help Me or My Young Adult Child?” Also, please contact us to schedule a free consultation to find out if coaching can help you find lasting happiness and meet your goals!
Our Christmas Wish for You
With Christmas just three days away, we wish you lasting happiness with these words from a familiar carol: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”