Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Practice of Happiness

"Rose Colored Dawn"

I often go online and browse through the many blogs and posts about the topic of “spirituality.” Lately I’ve noticed how often I come across the word “happiness” on these sites – somehow the pursuit of a spiritual path is supposed to lead to happiness. Actually I agree with this, but I’m not at all sure that happiness means the same thing when used in a spiritual context as it does in popular culture.

For most people, being happy means feeling contented and personally satisfied. You feel happy after a nice meal, happy when a long work-week comes to an end, happy when you receive a raise in pay or a good grade on a paper.  But spiritually speaking, happiness is actually something quite different from personal contentment - in fact it may be the opposite of this.

The Buddha and many Buddhist teachers talk about happiness quite often, and in doing so they make a clear distinction between happiness and pleasure. On a spiritual path you find happiness when you go beyond fulfilling the needs and desires of the “ego” and extend yourself for the welfare of others.

In fact, Buddhists teach that you find true happiness when you are able stop clinging to your life with such a tight grip. You find true happiness when, instead of always craving for the bigger and better and longing for personal fulfillment, you extend your life in service to others.

The Dalai Lama puts it this way:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

The Christian monk and author, Thomas Merton, observed:

When ambition ends, happiness begins

On a spiritual path, happiness is not so much a personal feeling as it is a practice, an action and a discipline like praying or meditating. The direction of happiness points outward rather than inward. You don’t feel happy, you practice happiness.

On the Christian calendar, today is the “Third Sunday in Advent,” traditionally known as Rejoice Sunday. On this day a rose-colored, third candle on an advent wreath is lit to celebrate the virtue of “joy, ” not “joy” because it’s almost Christmas but rather a “joy” that happens by living generously and promoting the dignity of every human being.  

As I reflect on it, perhaps the word “joy” is a better word to use when talking what it means to be happy on a spiritual path—when "ambition ends” and when we “practice compassion” we come to know what it means to be truly happy, we experience “joy.”

Priest and author, Henri Nouwen, once said:

Joy does not simply happen to us.
We have to choose joy and choose it everyday.

As rose-colored clouds lit up the desert skies at the beginning of this mystical Advent morning,  it felt like the whole cosmos was lighting a “pink” candle to celebrate “Rejoice Sunday.” As I sat in wonder at it all,  I vowed to choose joy.  

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