"It is not true that money can't buy happiness. It can, that's the good news. The bad news is that it's someone else's happiness." -- Nick Hornby
The holidays can be a uniquely misery-inducing time for some people -- Noah Levine says that the Judeo-Christian holiday season is tantamount to a "Buddhist recruitment drive" -- so I thought I'd examine why people become particularly miserable, how that misery is avoidable, and how to sow the seeds for a happy new year.
My favorite quote regarding negative mental states comes from Richard Bandler, who said, "Expectations are disappointments waiting to happen." What if it turns out that many of the expectations about lifestyle choices we subconsciously assimilated from popular culture actually do not bode well for personal happiness?
How long does it take for the sheen to burn off of a marriage? About two years, according to Sonja Lyubormirsky in the New York Times.
What about that great new job? How long before the same tasks become mind-numbing and soul-sucking?
New car? The lovely odor of eau de chimique usually outlasts any joy derived from a swanky mode of transportation.
New house? How long until that mortgage seems like an albatross and the leaky roof just cannibalized your vacation to Kauai?
Drugs and alcohol? Short-term distractions, long-term dragons.
How about a little of the old in-out? I once heard a sage say, "If sex were so satisfying you would only have to do it once."
Need I even mention the non-correlation between money and happiness? The difference in happiness between people barely surviving on $5,000 per year and people earning $50,000 is great; the difference in happiness between people earning $50,000 and $50 million per year, however, is negligible.
So basically, everything we learned from television and the movies -- sex, drugs, money, "bling," power, marriage, employment, the America dream of homeownership -- may not be the most propitious tools for side-stepping misery in this lifetime. And the reason for this is because once any goals, hopes, and dreams and are achieved, they are quickly replaced by new goals, hopes, and dreams. Better known as the hedonic treadmill.
Why can't we get no satisfaction? Because happiness is a moving target. Think of it as analogous to running on a beach toward the horizon. More precisely -- and honestly this is one of the most brilliant ideas I've ever read -- as Mick Brown states: "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." Voila!
So let us envision happiness the way we think of a beautiful rose. A rose is a rose is a rose because of the stalk, branches, leaves, soil, nutrients, water, and sunlight that cause it to blossom. Lest we forget the occasional thorn.
Do you want your life to bloom like a rose next year? 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 road map 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 show up to earn a living, but if 80 percent of waking hours are dedicated to jobs, then our lives are out of whack. We need healthy balances between employment and down time, relaxing, education, fitness, creative expression, and love.
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 stimuli. If you are running on autopilot and have no insight into your way of being in the world, you'll eventually crash, as your unease and dis-ease spreads like stage 4 cancer.
4. Cultivate acceptance. I recall Eckharte Tolle saying, "Accept your life or change it. Any other position is insane." It is what it is. Every meaning, judgment or resentment after that is added by you.
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." Do you not agree?
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 Urban 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 -- for your own body 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 you supposedly don't have. Instead of wasting time imagining what you think your holidays and your life should resemble, be grateful for the way they are. Trust me, your life could be much worse (and it probably will be someday!) so have gratitude for the way it is now.