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  • Bill Petrie

Finding Authentic Happiness

Each of us, in their own way, wants to be happy but we tend to search for that happiness in many unhelpful ways.

We are taught, for example, by our culture that happiness resides in achievement. So, we get a new job and, after a year or so, it becomes just ‘my job.’ So, we get a new car but, after few months, the car just becomes my car. So, we get a new relationship and we find that the intensity that we enjoyed early on in the relationship dims over time. So, we decide to go on a dream holiday and find that a few weeks after we’re back it is as if we’d never been at all. So, we turn to psychotherapy and we work hard on our ‘issues.’ But, we find that we’re still unhappy about our relationship so we get some couples therapy and, sure, things improve but there is still a feeling that something is missing – that only if we became this or had that – that things would be OK and we would be happy.

Whatever we get, whatever we achieve, the result will never be a fundamental happiness. Sure, an achievement can make us relatively happy for a while (as can getting something we really want) but that will change. True, lasting happiness is not achieved this way. The nature of life is that there are good times and bad. Pleasures come and go. For everyone, this is simply the experience of life.

So, is there such a thing as authentic happiness – true lasting happiness? Well, yes there is. In fact, it’s right under our noses. There is a part of ourselves that is deeply content and quietly happy all of the time. The problem is that we obscure ourselves from this happiness by buying into what spiritual teachers call our ego’s – those thoughts, beliefs, experiences that we label as being ‘I’ or ‘me.’

The ego tries very hard to make us happy (and thinks it has that responsibility) but it never quite gets it right for long – ever! So, we get caught by worrying thoughts, we get embroiled in negative emotions and we get stuck in unpleasant moods and we never ever feel complete or fundamentally OK for very long.

Are there ways out of this mess? Yes there are and of the most effective of these is acceptance. The practice is to learn to accept – fully – whatever it is that you’re experiencing moment by moment. If you’re feeling down, then there are sensations, emotions and thoughts that you have labelled ‘down.’ Now, if you drop the label for a moment and feel your way into these emotions, sensations and thoughts, you may find a sensation of tearfulness behind your eyes. You may find a tightness around your heart. You may notice that there are critical thoughts – especially about yourself. You may experience your energy levels as being low. You may experience your body as being weak and heavy. Now, if you just accept – really accept – these emotions, sensations and thoughts (just the one’s that are there right now), then what happens is things begin to relax and open and it is as if these emotions, sensations and thoughts become occurrences in a vast field of awareness. The ‘I’ – to a greater or lesser extent – has been dropped. No longer are ‘you’ depressed, but rather, there are simply these emotions, sensations and thoughts. And, if one explores the experience further, one can notice that there appears to be something that is experiencing these emotions, sensations and thoughts. That ‘experiencer’ is a much deeper sense of self and that self can easily experience difficult emotions, sensations and thoughts and just be present with them. As soon as an ‘I’ comes into the picture, things get much worse: ‘I can’t bear this.’ I’m never going to get out of this depression.’ ‘I’m such a fuckup.’ But, come back to a deep awareness and acceptance of these thoughts (just as thoughts – not as ‘you’) and then things open again and that deeper you is there.

Now, if you deepen this experience of this more fundamental you, you will find that this you is perfectly content – perfectly happy – all the time and the ups and downs – the good, the bad and the grey of the ego world – just become like relatively small disturbances on the surface.

Realisation of this essential self is not necessarily easy. In fact, it’s not even possible to make it happen. But, there are many things that one can do to make it more likely that it will happen. The most important of these is some form of meditation that settles the mind and that builds one’s ability to be present with experience – just as it is. Certain forms of psychotherapy (such as Transpersonal psychotherapy ) can be very helpful, too – helping you to be less caught by your conditioning – your genetic predispositions and the voices of your education. Spiritual mentoring can be exceedingly helpful, helping you to develop a deep understanding so that you learn to avoid the many potential pitfalls along the way. So, there is much that you can do.

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