Happiness cannot be pursued. You do not find happiness; happiness finds you. It is not an end in itself, but a by-product of other activities, often arriving when it is least expected.
Everything we learn from popular culture - that sex, drugs, money, "bling," power, marriage, employment and the America dream of homeownership bode well for personal pleasure - may not actually provide us with the sharpest tools for cultivating authentic happiness.
The reason for this is that once any desire is sated, it is quickly replaced by a new desire. That is how our minds were designed to operate and this was extremely functional when we dreamt of crawling out of the oceans, moving into comfortable caves, escaping being eaten by dinosaurs, developing languages, and raising our offspring to live past the age of six months old.
However, this "hedonic treadmill" as it has been called, may not be so functional if you are a typical American homeowner in 2014 with large mortgage and a leaky roof, or a parent of a teenage person of the male gender who is obsessed with video games, or the employee of a boss who emulates Napoleon Bonaparte, or the husband or wife of a someone who suffers from (please fill in your amateur diagnosis here - Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, etc.) and wish to be happy for long periods of time - say, longer than December 25th to January 1st when you are catching up on all of the sleep you were deprived of during the past 51 weeks.
By the way, in other parts of planet earth, Western science's recent discovery of the mind being analogous to a hedonic treadmill is often referred to as the Buddha's second noble truth: the root of all suffering is desire.
Turns out then that happiness is like a gorgeous rose. You cannot just create that rose ex nihilo, out of thin air. You need to plant the seeds, water the soil, nurture the leaves, and make sure the plants get proper sunlight in order to create the environment for them to possibly produce the end result. You may have to deal with the aroma of fertilizer. You may even get bloodied by the occasional thorn.
If you want your life to blossom beautiful roses in 2014 here are 10 seeds to plant during this extremely fertile holiday season:
1. Cultivate personal discipline. Show up. Be your word. Have personal integrity. Declare who you want to be and what you want your life to resemble and use that declaration as a beacon to guide every decision. Be steadfast. Be resolute. Make commitments to daily practices and keep them.
2. Cultivate balance. There's a large gray area between workaholic and slacker. Most of us need to earn a living, but if 80% of waking hours are dedicated to earning money, then our priorities are out of whack. We need healthy balances between employment and personal relationships plus self-care time, relaxing, educating ourselves, maintaining our physical fitness, creatively expressing ourselves, and enjoying life.
3. Cultivate ease. Ease is cultivated by being non-reactive so that we can make healthy long-term decisions rather than letting ourselves run on autopilot and get triggered by miscellaneous - often subconscious - stimuli. If you are running on autopilot and have no insight into your way of being in the world, you'll eventually crash as the bitterness of your unease and dis-ease grows to poison your relationships.
4. Cultivate acceptance. I recall Eckhart Tolle saying, "Accept your life or change it. Any other position is insane." Every meaning, judgment or resentment after that is added by you. Just like the serenity prayer states: change what you can change; accept what you can't change.
5. Cultivate authenticity. Andre Gide said, "It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not."
6. Cultivate compassion, empathy and loving-kindness. Do you wish to attract love, peace, harmony and ease? The change has to start with you.
7. Cultivate healthy, loving relationships and community. As I say on my Mindfulness for Depression DVD: "I've never heard a patient say, 'I feel loved, respected, and appreciated by my friends, family, and co-workers... and I'm depressed.'" We are interdependent beings living in a society that unintentionally foments alienation. If you want to be happy, then seek out and create authentic, loving, supportive connections.
8. Cultivate helping others. There is no shortage of people less fortunate than you are. There is no shortage of people who are struggling more than you are. Find one of those downtrodden people today and do something to lift his or her spirits.
9. Cultivate eating right. This may seem obvious, but many of us were given Ferraris and we try to fuel them with toothpaste. The emotional and mental ramifications of sub-prime digestion are untold. Eating cleanly and correctly. The fuel we put in our bodies is invaluable to maximizing positive mental states.
10. Cultivate gratitude. Be happy with what you have instead of allowing your mind to torture you with machinations of things and situations it imagines that you don't have. Instead of wasting time harping on what you don't have, be grateful for the life you have. Trust me, your life could be much worse (and it probably will be someday!) so have gratitude for the way it is now.