How To Experience Unconditional Happiness…

How To Experience Unconditional Happiness

Happiness is something of a four-letter word in Buddhist circles and with good reason. The second noble truth tells us that, “Suffering is caused by desire,” and the desire to be happy certainly hurts more people than it helps. And yet, after 5 years of diligent practice, I’m definitely happier than I was before I became Buddhist. My mind is clearer. I make better, more thoughtful decisions. And I’m kinder to my family and friends.

How is that possible? More specifically, how did ending my quest for joy result in my being happier with life?

As I think back, I realize that prior to Buddhism, my life satisfaction was very conditional in nature. I was joyful when I went to work if the day went exactly as I’d planned. I was happy with my friends and family if they behaved exactly as I thought they should. Of course, people and jobs never go exactly as we wish, so what little happiness I experienced back then was extremely short-lived.

Instead, I felt a lot of hurt and frustration with the world. At times, it honestly felt like everyone was out to get me. After all, was it really too much to ask that my coworkers be on time for meetings and that drivers use their turn signals? When I started Buddhist practice, however, I realized that, yes, this was too much to ask.

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At its core, Buddhism is a path of renunciation

We renounce our ideas about how things should be, and we learn to accept them as they are. We replace our conditional happiness with unconditional acceptance, and in this way, we find peace in even the worst of circumstances.

That is to say, it wasn’t my coworkers or the lack of turn signals that caused my unhappiness 5 years ago. Rather, it was my insistence that they should change based on my preferences. When I let go of my expectations and focused on working with life exactly as it was (not as I thought it should be), things became easier.

Case in point, my cat, Enso, is quickly approaching the 1-year mark. And he’s realizing that his claws are very good at destroying things. As a result, I have a lovely scar on my left foot when he attacked my sock, while I was still wearing it. And there have been several mornings where I walked into the kitchen to find the remains of a paper towel roll he murdered the night before. Naturally, this resulted in a bit of frustration on my part. In a perfect world, I could have a cat that never scratched me, and allowed me to leave paper towels on the countertop where it’s most convenient. But if Buddhism has taught me anything, it’s taught me this:

The desire for a perfect world is a great source of suffering

As a result, I’ve renounced my wish for a perfect world, and I’ve replaced it with an acceptance of this imperfect one. This mindset allows me to work skillfully with what lies in front of me without feelings of hurt or disappointment. Thus, I no longer play certain games with my beloved Enso because he gets too excited. And the paper towels are stored in a closed kitchen cabinet.

All is not right with the world, but I’m happy nonetheless. I’m happy because when I renounce my ideas around what will make me happy, I also renounce my ideas around what will make me unhappy. If the weather forecast calls for rain that’s fine. If it calls for sun, that’s fine as well. The only thing that changes is whether or not I need an umbrella.

Unconditional happiness is the result of unconditional acceptance.


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