Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bliss happens: The non-pursuit of happiness

The past few days I have been thinking about what I wanted to write about for this post. I have a long list of topics I am excited to cover: how to prepare various grains, repairing your digestive system, natural remedies for sleep difficulties...... but none of them felt right for right now.

So, then I asked myself, well what are you thinking about right now in terms of your own wellness, Nora? And the answer is happiness.

This picture was sent to me by a friend.

I have long been interested in happiness. What makes a person happy? Why are some people happier than others?

I was pretty miserable in college. Just never really felt like I belonged. I would go to parties and sit there and watch everyone else letting loose and having fun. I would pretend that I didn't care and that I just considered myself above it all. And this was partly true, I did have different interests and ideas of what was fun. But at the end of the day, I couldn't escape the fact that these people were happy, and I was not.

Thankfully my 20's and now 30's have proved much more enjoyable for me, and I can say that barring a few rocky patches, I am a pretty happy person.

The past two weeks I felt especially happy, like I was sucking on a lozenge of bliss! I felt passionate and alive and like I am living the life that I want to lead.

Then suddenly, today, I woke up and just like that, the feeling was gone. In it's place were those familiar rumblings and judgments of my life... if only this... or if only that... Aargh! I hate those feelings! And the worst part is that they seem to feed on themselves, generating new criticisms and disappointments at record speed.

So today I have been trying to figure out, what makes for happiness and how do you sustain it?

About two or three weeks ago I was in Manhattan, on the phone, and ran across the street just as the light was changing. My timing was a bit off, and I narrowly escaped being run over by a taxi. It was close enough to scare me, but not so close that I suffered any post-traumatic stress.

Mostly, it left me thinking, "I don't want to die that way!" I was also flooded with thoughts and desires for wanting to see where my life would go... I remember feeling an intense desire to be a grandmother! To see future generations of me's grow, and to see what I looked like with gray hair.

I am not Buddhist, but I have been to a number of Buddhist meditations, and I know that meditation on death is very important in this tradition.

"Buddhist teachers strongly advise their students to meditate on death and impermanence, since they are powerful counter-agents to the short-sighted concern with the present situation and one's own transitory happiness."
From Chapter 10, of Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by John Powers Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 1995

Perhaps it was my nearish death experience that jolted me into those two weeks of bliss. In looking back, I do see that one thing that was different was that I was not asking my life to be different than it was. I tried to see the circumstances of my life, much like I see the weather. I may not be happy that it's raining, but I recognize that there is nothing I can do about it except get cozy with a book and cup of tea. With the weather, we accept it, and adapt ourselves to it. But when it comes to our life situations, we somehow think that our struggle and fight will do something to change it!

What I found was that in my few weeks of accepting life as it was, it opened up a space in me to feel more joyful. Instead of spending all that energy judging myself and my various life situations, I took the time to appreciate things more. Nothing had changed, and yet I was happier.

When I woke up today, I thought, "Oh no! I've lost it! I had it and now I've lost it!"

I have long had this fantasy that somehow I will just arrive at happiness and then I can coast through life from there...

I now realize that this is never going to happen. It's not going to be sunny every day, so when the rain comes, it is simply time to get cozy again.

Happiness takes work and discipline. Buddhists don't do their meditation on death once and then they're done! It's an ongoing practice. And meditate or not, we must each figure out how to remind ourselves of what is important on an everyday basis. We must learn to relish our moments of bliss, and figure out how to adapt to the rest.


Bonus: Food therapy!
New research is indicating that omega 3 fatty acids help to reduce depression! So next time you are feeling blue try eating salmon or walnuts ( walnuts also contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that supports the functioning of serotonin - a chemical in the brain that is associated with mood). Happy Munching!


Check out this workshop I am conducting next week at the fabulous Fit for Life NYC!

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