We hear so much about “unconditional love” but hardly ever we hear term “unconditional happiness”. Can happiness be truly unconditional?
I stumbled upon unconditional happiness most unexpectedly. It is ironic. Let me tell you what happened.
I was in my early twenties and I was sitting outside of a hospital intensive care unit. Inside the ICU my father was battling for his life. I don’t remember how many days he was there. He was deteriorating and was going in and out of consciousness. The doctors didn’t have much good news for us. Everyday was excruciatingly painful.
So there I was, sitting outside the ICU thinking all the worrisome thoughts. Suddenly the door of the ICU opened and a nurse asked me “Are you his daughter?” . I nodded yes, fearing the worst. She told me “He is asking you to come in.” . I looked at her with surprise and said, “He is conscious?”. “Yes!” She said, “Just woke up and asked for you”. I went in preparing myself for seeing him in distress. Through all the tubes and wires sticking through him, I saw his face. To my surprise he was happy and smiling warmly. His face radiated glow of happiness. His eyes twinkled with joy as I came near him. He asked me “Have you eaten?” I said, “Don’t worry about that. How are you?”. He smiled a broad smile and said, “I am good. You need to eat and you need to rest. Go home.”
I stopped him, “You should not talk”. Through his uninterrupted smile he said, “I am fine. You go home. Go now!”. I smiled back and walked towards the door. I looked back and he was still looking at me happily smiling.
Outside of the hospital, I signaled auto rickshaw to start my commute back home through very busy Pune City. I sat there in the rickshaw worried, thinking about past and future. “What if he didn’t make it ?” Was the recurring thought.
Then after sometime though, I felt peace descending on me. My thoughts stopped and I was suddenly aware of the noises and sights of the busy city around me. Then I started feeling happy and then very happy for no particular reason. Happy thoughts started to flood my mind. “He is fine. Didn’t you see how happy he was? When was the last time you have seen him that happy?”. Truly, I hadn’t seen my father happy in a long time and never that happy. I sighed a deep sigh and smiled to myself. I wanted to get home soon so that I can tell rest of the family that he is fine and that he is happy.
The rickshaw stopped in front of my house. As I was paying the driver, I saw my relatives coming towards me with great deal of worry on their faces. I smiled at them and said, “He is much better now. Don’t worry.”
They stood there staring at me. “Don’t you know?”, somebody said, “He passed away. We got call from the hospital few minutes back”.
I just froze there. I still had that open happy space in me and I watched it being pierced with darkest of the dark sorrow. The sorrow quickly bled though the happiness and soon it was all dark. After working through the trauma of loss, when the things started to feel “normal” again, I often found myself wondering “How come he was so happy? What was the reason?”
I am certainly glad that my dad was blissful at the time of his death but the puzzling fact for me was that he had no external conditions to justify the level of happiness he radiated that day.
He was unconditionally happy! Genuinely happy!
He demonstrated that there is a way to choose happiness as inner state no matter how hopeless the external situation is.
Over the years I have been contemplating on this. Here are my insights.
1. True happiness is state of our being.
It is very important to know what real happiness is.
Happiness is not pleasure. It is not a thought, it is not even a feeling.
Happiness is what we are in absence of mental and emotional suffering.
Happiness is that blank paper of our being on which our life story is being continuously written. The story is often written in dark ink of suffering. The pauses in between the story is where we find happiness. Happiness seems fleeting because we do not experience long enough pauses in our otherwise steady stream of suffering.
All pursuits of happiness are pursuits to either end our suffering or to create pauses in our suffering.
2. Suffering has become a “psychological fashion”
It is understandable that living in this world will come with some suffering. Some amount of physical, and emotional pain is part of feedback mechanism to help us learn and grow. However the amount of suffering humans currently feel is disproportionate to what we may call a healthy dose. We are continuously sad, resentful and hardly ever happy even when external condition are pretty good. Why?
Somewhere in our cultural history we started glamorizing suffering. We have our favorite pet peeve to complain about. We show off our identities that were developed through past traumas. We identify with our stories so much so that we hardly have any awareness left to experience the steady current of happiness underneath it all. If we cant find fresh suffering in our stories, we supplement it through emotional dramas in books, TV shows, movies, and news. We literally buy and indulge in doses of suffering.
We are so much invested in unhappiness and suffering!
3. True happiness is either ridiculed or worshiped but never practiced .
In the continuous pity party of suffering humanity has got going, if you show up happy, it is like walking in naked into a glamorous gala party! People will look down on you and your happiness, even shame you. An unconditionally happy person is often considered “Childish, not having enough depth or seriousness. Selfish, mad, or mentally retarded”. Alternatively there are people who are unhappy and seeking external savior and if you walk into such seekers with your unconditional happiness, you will be put up on a pedestal. “Enlightened, spiritual, transcendent !” What if both of these perspectives are incomplete? What if happiness is as easy and accessible to all of us just like the air we breathe ? What if there is nothing inhuman or super human in being blissful ?
4. Make your happiness non negotiable.
Is your happiness fragile? There always will be many reasons we can find to be unhappy. Money problems, work problems, relationship problems, world problems. But there are many more reasons to be happy as well. So many things that are going well for us and have gone well for us in past.
Sun still shines and Earth is still hosting us. If nothing else, the fact that you are still alive and breathing, is that not worth being happy about?
Once you have glimpsed a ray of true happiness, let it guide you. Make being happy non negotiable. If you cannot retain your happy base state in a situation or around certain people, either work to change the situation or remove yourself from it. Don’t stay unhappy for too long.
Do you feel guilty about being happy when there is so much suffering in the world? You don’t need to.
World desperately needs happy people.
The unprecedented rise in depression and mental illness only tells us that we need people who can demonstrate us through day to day living, how to be unconditionally happy. We need to be happy to save the world.
5. You cannot make others happy, you can only love them.
Can you be happy when your loved ones are trapped in unhappiness? It is difficult to watch unhappiness in people you care about . You feel like you want to do something to make them happy. But don’t keep your happiness hostage of their unhappiness.
Just like you cannot digest their food, pump their blood for them, you cannot take responsibility of someone else’s happiness. All you can do is to love them.
When you are unconditionally happy, that happiness flows out of you to others as unconditional love.
So before striving for unconditional love, strive to establish firmly in unconditional happiness. If you are strongly radiating happiness, then may be, just may be, your loved one will slip into happiness too.
My dad gave me the most profound lesson and the most valuable legacy in last few minutes of his life. It was lesson of unconditional love flowing out of unconditional happiness.
As I integrate the learnings at deeper levels, my level of happiness has increased. It is becoming more and more spontaneous and unconditional state and I protect it by making it non negotiable.
Occasional dark days and sad story threads do arise but with lesser frequency and there are no more total blackouts.
My dear friend, I hope that you too get enough pauses in your story so that you can get in touch with your happiness. If you are already in touch with your happiness, I hope that you give yourself permission to dwell in it for longer time unconditionally.
Be unconditionally happy!
Photo by Chiến Phạm on Unsplash
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