What made me happy recently? Walking in the park through the falling leaves and golden sun of late autumn. Sharing a delicious home cooked meal with family. Teaching a yoga class and seeing the glowing, relaxed faces smiling back at me at the end. There are many examples we could all think of – occasions, fragments of our days which conspire to make our lives happier, more fulfilled, enjoyable.
Of course these are fleeting moments – short lived events which come and go. And as life gets busier, we often ‘miss the moment’, inadvertently neglecting that basic emotional need to be uplifted. Maybe we’re on auto pilot – in Facebook, Tweet, What’s App mode, not taking time to smile and say hello to our neighbours, or to feel the fresh air on our faces. This head down approach can leave us feeling flat, joyless even.
Equally, we can get hooked and find ourselves chasing rainbows, constantly searching for something new, more pleasurable. Like the marathon runner who turns to triathlons for a bigger challenge/high or forever trying out different restaurants and cuisines to satisfy our tastebuds. When we consistently ride happy highs and lows, we get less pay off, leaving us to feel deflated. The upshot is even if we do have enjoyable experiences, reach our goals and generally get what we want – happiness can seem ever more elusive.
When we delve a little deeper, the psychology of what makes us happy is as complex and unique as a fingerprint; genes, upbringing, conditioning and brain chemistry all come into how we view the world. We can be logical about pinning down what we think makes us happy, spending our time enjoying sensual pleasures, making sure we tick the right boxes – even so, there’s a nagging feeling something is missing.
It’s only when we begin to question the idea of ‘happy’ as a commodity that we can contemplate a state of happiness which is natural and not dependent on the external (the basis of Eastern philosophies). That this deeper, innate state of joy or enlightenment – which Buddhists call Nirvana, yogis call Ananda – is our true nature.
Truly enlightened beings exude happiness and calm via their bodies and actions – think of the Dalai Lama’s infectious joyfulness. This can feel a long way off in our world of work and family life, yet we can all connect with our own authentic happiness simply by stopping – even momentarily – and going inside. It seems too good to be true, but with conscious, regular practice, you will feel it.
To sit still and begin to meditate is tricky when every minute of our day seems spoken for but it is worth it. The best way to start is to simply sit comfortably, close your eyes, feel your body relaxing and observe your breath – even if you can only manage a minute or two. You can also try the Savasana or corpse pose, the classic yoga relaxation posture:
Lie flat on your back, spine aligned, arms by your sides, palms facing the ceiling, heels hip width apart, toes falling out to the sides. Use a cushion or folded blanket to support lower back and neck if necessary. Close your eyes and allow your weight to drop into the floor. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, emotionally without judgement. Watch your body as it breathes in and out through the nose, belly rising in the inhale, falling on the exhale. Systematically scan your body from toes to the crown of your head, identify areas of tension and actively let go of it on an exhale. Allow the tension to melt into the floor, the earth beneath you. At the end, check in again and notice the changes physically, mentally, emotionally. Using this as a regular practice not only relaxes your body but increases awareness, making us more in tune with what’s going in order to acknowledge emotions and nurture ourselves.
Keep in mind that these practices aren’t magical solutions – they help create the conditions for us to experience happiness. So let’s allow ourselves to enjoy the ‘external’ moments of pleasure in our day, as well as making time to explore inner bliss. At the same time, let’s accept that opposites exist: light and shade; yin and yang; joy and pain. That we can’t be happy all the time and it’s perfectly normal that our moods vary.