Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Finding happiness?

This article I noticed on CNN yesterday coincided with some conversations and events recently and not so recently to make me think a bit about the concept of happiness. The article is a review of book that explores the history of happiness from the perspective of various great western philosophers. The German word for happiness is Gl├╝ck, which, significantly, is also the word for luck. The review states:

"The concept of luck is embedded in the very word happiness -- luck or fortune," McMahon said. "That's true in every Indo-European language. It's a really striking thing, all the way back to the ancient Greek and moving forward."
Happiness is linked to such words as happen and happenstance. Greek tragedies were filled with the idea that happiness was a matter of fate.
"The Gods are spiteful and capricious," McMahon said. "Just when you think everything's going well, they pull the rug out from you and send a thunderbolt down."
This begs the question of whether we have any control of our own happiness, or whether it's blind luck. The book doesn't explore eastern thought, but I believe the key to the question of whether we have control over our happiness lies in an eastern concept I've mentioned before. This is the concept of non-attachment. While I'm no expert on this concept, called vairagya in the yoga sutras, to me it means not basing my happiness on material things, situations, goals, dreams, etc. It means detaching myself to a certain degree from worldly situations. And although I don't think it's really a part of the concept, it also means being happy with what you have and where you are in life. If you're always hoping and dreaming and pursuing things that you believe will make you happy, you'll never achieve happiness. Not only are you linking your happiness to things that are difficult to control, but even once you achieve them, it's been shown time and time again that people are not satisfied and start going after something else. One attaches one's happiness to something external, and the goal is to practice non-attachment. But non-attachment doesn't mean passivity:
To practice nonclinging does not mean forsaking what you value—that would be indifference. Instead, it means practicing nonattachment to outcome. There is a subtle distinction between indifference and nonattachment, and it is crucial to understand this distinction if you are to have genuine happiness in your life. If you are indifferent, you have no value base—you literally don't care how life unfolds. This is cynicism disguised as "cool" or karmic apathy. Nonattachment means that you act from your values but are not fixated on the outcome. This perspective is taught in most spiritual traditions.
So where am I going with this? I don't know. I've just has some thoughts bouncing around in my head for a while and I thought I'd try to put them in some kind of order. Not sure whether I've succeeded. And these thoughts don't really have anything to do with the actual nature of happiness, but rather allowing it into your life. Maybe I'll be inspired to pen some thoughts on those things and people that we allow into our lives to make us happy on another day.