This week something awesome happened, something that I had been wanting for a really long time, something I was sure would bring me a lot of happiness. With the typical dramatic irony of the universe, it happened during one of my rare anti-Pollyanna weeks when I was ruminating on the fact that maybe nothing good was ever going to happen. (Melodrama seems to go hand in hand with negativity.) I know that happiness comes from within yadda yadda yadda, and for the past six months I have been all about listening to my own instincts and learning not to expect happiness to arise from anywhere but my own mind.
However, it seemed logical that working to create my own bank of natural happiness would in turn produce more positive outcomes in my life which would create more happiness. It’s practically a foolproof scientific equation. The only problem is that life is not always logical or scientific. And if karma exists, sometimes it takes such a long time to come around, its almost impossible to say whether it is karmic reward/punishment or simply random chance. Either way, its always nice to recieve a positive in life and I certainly had one this week. The strange thing was, immediately following my spontaneous happy dance around the room, my next thought was: “Now if only this would happen, and that would change and the other thing would turn around, then I would be so happy that I would never ask for anything else ever again.” Hmmm.
It’s the old cliche: I would be truly happy if I got a promotion/lost weight/got married/owned my own home/bought that dress … Buddhists call it ‘Attachment’, the natural human tendency to “grasp at a particular thing, person or situation, believing that this ‘thing’ will make us happy- a belief system that is fundamentally flawed.”* Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert claims that in almost all cases, within three months of experiencing a dramatic event – good or bad - it will have no significant impact on our level of happiness. In fact, he cites a study which has found that one year on from their life-changing event, paraplegics and lottery winners are equally happy with their lives.** Impossible to believe, right?
All of this got me thinking about happiness in terms of the kindness project, since when I really think about it the idea of spreading kindness is ultimately to increase happiness. It’s easy to do things in an attempt to make other people’s day a little brighter – this week I bought a coffee for someone, donated warm winter clothes to the homeless, took a bunch of flowers to a friend who was feeling down, bought lunch for someone and donated to Beyond Blue , the national depression initiative. But ultimately I have no control over how any of these people react to or percieve these kindnesses (as was so evident with The Flower Incident). Maybe the kindness would not make it onto their happiness radar because they have convinced themselves that the only way they will ever be happy is if they have a new handbag or a wealthy partner or are five kilos lighter… It seems that it’s only human nature.
So what object, person or thing is your happiness dependent upon? And, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for ya?” Are you happy yet?
* ‘Buddhism for Busy People: Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World’ by David Michie, 2004
** For more on this see Dan Gilbert’s TED talk ‘Why Are We Happy?’.