To Live a Happy Life
The Dhammapada tells us that. All beings seek happiness and fear pain and death. This seems obvious on the face of it, but we act as if it weren’t true. We look for happiness in things that will ultimately cause us pain. It’s not because we are lack intelligence (maybe) but because we want instant results and shy away from the hard work of looking at what we are doing. Of course, what we are doing depends mainly on what we are thinking. Our standard mode of thinking is called “not seeing” in Sanskrit, avidya, which we normally translate as “ignorance.” To say that we are ignorant doesn’t mean we are stupid, it just means that we are ignoring something that we need to be paying attention to if we want to live happier and more fulfilling lives.
There are twelve things we usually ignore. They are obvious if we understand the Arya Sacca. Usually, translated as “the Four Noble Truths”, another poor translation, it also means something closer to “The Truth of the Noble Ones.” Sacca (Sanskrit: Satya) is a Pali word meaning “real” or “true”. Arya Sacca is the reality understood of life by those who have entered on to the Path of awakening to reality. While the set of four realities of life are complete in and of themselves there are further realities that are implied in the set that we ought to be fully aware of.
Now this, bhikkhus, is the Truth about pain: birth is painful, aging is painful, illness is painful, death is painful; sorrow, lamentation, physical pain, unhappiness and distress are painful; union with what is disliked is painful; separation from what is liked is painful; not to get what one wants is painful; in brief, the five bundles of grasping-fuel are painful.
Now this, bhikkhus, is the Truth about that which causes pain: It is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and attachment, seeking delight now here now there; that is, craving for sense-pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination (of what is not liked).
Now this, bhikkhus, is the Truth about that which can put an end to pain. It is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.
Now this, bhikkhus, is the Truth about that which is the way leading to the cessation of pain. It is this Noble Eight-factored Path, that is to say, right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right mental unification. —Samyutta Nikāya 56.11
We keep doing the same things hoping that somehow life will change. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works. Whether it is due to laziness, fear or ignorance, people often overlook the things that will make a positive change in their lives. Regardless of your current situation, accepting the reality of life will definitely make a difference in the potential you have for future happiness.
#1 You’re not that important.
No matter who you are, you are not as important as you believe you are. Look back at some of the things you did that you were later ashamed of or embarrassed by. It could be something you did or said. Once it was done or spoken you thought people would remember you for that and that alone. Maybe people laughed at the time or asked if you were okay or even “what were you thinking?” You were probably fine but embarrassed beyond your own belief. You thought they would be telling that story about what you did or said for the rest of your life. The truth is, you’re just not that important. You play a very minor role in other people’s lives. They got over it long before you did. As embarrassing as it was, or still is, to you, everyone else forgot about it very quickly and maybe don’t remember it now.
Just like you’re wrapped up in your own life, they too are wrapped up in theirs. It’s not a bad thing or a good thing — it’s just a fact of life.
#2 Not everyone is going to like you
When you were younger there was always someone that was the center of attention. Some guy or girl would attract all the cool and hip people to them. That might have been you or not, but it’s important to know that not everyone can be that person. Even if you are that person, you can’t be that person all the time.
In the Anguttara Nikāya 8.6 it is said that there are eight worldly concerns that toy with the mind of the average person. “…eight worldly conditions spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions. Which eight? Gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain. These are the eight worldly conditions that spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions.
“For an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person there arise gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain. For a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones there also arise gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain. So what difference, what distinction, what distinguishing factor is there between the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones and the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person?”
These things appear to the “uninstructed run-of-the-mill person”, and they don’t reflect, ‘Gain has arisen for me. It is inconstant, stressful, & subject to change.’ They don’t understand it as it actually is, but a noble one does. The average person becomes consumed with the conceit that the popular one is better than they are and never grasp the truth that the trendy person will not always be the center of attention; eventually that person will be ignored.
Life isn’t a popularity contest. Not everyone will see your true value. So, instead of ruminating on the fact that you feel underappreciated consider how you can be a better. Version of yourself. Trying to prove yourself to others who don’t really matter anyway is a total waste of time and energy. Instead, surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are.
#3 You are not defined by what you have
A lot of people want to believe that money doesn’t matter that much. The truth is, while money isn’t everything, it is necessary in order to thrive in our society. It may not buy happiness, but it does put a roof over your head, clothes on your body and food in your gut; things we need to survive in our world.
That was said to say this, having money and the things it can buy do not define who you are. A person with a huge house and an expensive car is not necessarily better than someone living in a rental studio apartment and takes the bus to work. What you have is irrelevant since people tend to form their perceptions of you based upon your consistent actions and how you impact them personally. And if they do judge a person’s value by how much they can spend, then they are probably not worth knowing anyway since they are about as deep as a tea saucer.
#4 You always have a choice
We are not simply the victims of external forces. Nor are we necessarily controlled by our karma. We do have the power of choice and can choose how we respond to the things that happen to us. If someone were punching your face, would you just stand there and accept the body blows? Hopefully not. While you might be tempted to strike back simply moving out of the line of fire is most likely a better option.
Applying this principle to daily life, you are the only one who can determine how other people treat you. If someone demonstrates no regard for your wellbeing, it is completely oaky for you to walk away. The tough truth is that how others treat you is based on what you allow. If you demand respect, you will be respected. If you act like a doormat, then, expect to be walked on.
#5 Your feelings are caused by your thoughts
We don’t feel a certain way about a thing because of that thing itself. We feel how we feel about a thing because of our perception of it. Our thoughts determine our feeling and our feeling establish our behavior. If you want to feel differently about your life, then start with your thoughts.
#6 If you don’t learn responsibility, you will be held to be responsible.
Whether positive or negative, your words, behaviors, and decisions have consequences. If you don’t take responsibility for them, you will be held responsible for them. In order to maintain order in society individuals are held responsible for their words and actions but taking responsibility helps us maintain our individual integrity, better people and lead happier lives. This is also sometimes called “accountability”. Responsibility can be shared while accountability belongs to a single individual. Responsibility is also defined as “the state or quality of being accountable.” This is especially true in obligations or willingness to accept responsibility, i.e., to account for one’s actions.
In Dharma, this responsibility is thought of as the ability to respond wisely and compassionately to any given circumstance. It is not a matter of taking blame for a situation, but rather, it is the ability to respond to a situation in a mature and thoughtful manner. We are taken into account when we react reflexively rather than mindfully.
#7 People generally want you to do well in life, but usually not better them
There are those who genuinely want you to succeed in life, but many want you to succeed only to the point where you threaten to outperform them. If you reach that point you begin to threaten their perceptions of themselves. A threat to the ego is taken to be a personal threat to the individual. Be discerning of other people’s motives and don’t waste your time and energy on those who don’t have your best interests at heart. They may want you to be successful so that you can assist them in their agenda but not to the point where you might replace them or their agenda with one of your own. Ignore their negative and continue the path to your own goals. Dedication, persistence, and consistency will take you to where you want to be.
#8 There is never a perfect time to do anything
Often people think they should wait for the right time to do something important or make a change in their lives. Regardless of what it is, they always manage to come up with an excuse not to start something: they have loose ends to tie up, the conditions don’t feel right, or some other nebulous and undefinable justification such as lack of money, their age, not enough time — there’s always something standing in their way. The only thing standing in their way is the will to make the move. It’s a harsh reality that the perfect time doesn’t exist and the thing that needs to be done will never get done if they wait for that non-existent perfect time.
#9 Someone is always better off or worse off than you
Your circumstances can always be better or worse than it is. It’s a mistake to compare yourself to others. It’s counterproductive and almost always discouraging. Everything in the life is relative; what. Is easy for you to do might be an insurmountable challenge for someone else. We should always be compassionate to ourselves and to others.
#10 Fear will keep us from living
Fear causes us to stagnate. Nothing can live in a stagnant environment. It’s natural to experience fear when encountering something new or unknown, but it cannot be allowed to hamper us from trying different or unusual things. Simply recognize that it is something unfamiliar and approach with an attitude of excitement and curiosity. This is called a “beginner’s mind”.
Letting fear obstruct us leads inevitably to missed opportunities. Courage is the ability to recognize our fear and face the dangers, real or perceived, with self-possession, confidence, and resolution. Don’t confuse courage with bravery, though. Bravery is spontaneous and acted upon without reflection and involves setting fear aside. Courage is the recognition of fear, being mindful of the risks and making a conscious decision to do something anyway. Courage is based on a cause such as compassion, love, or concern, while bravery is an inherent characteristic and doesn’t involve an ulterior motivation except to overcome adversity.
#11 Expectations are the cause of disappointment
If someone disappoints you it is most often because they have failed to meet your own unrealistic of misplaced expectations. Sometimes things just don’t go the way we planned, and it has nothing to do with the shortcomings of others. That’s just fine. That’s life. To avoid disappointments in life, keep your expectations in check.
#12 You live the life you create for yourself
The world is mind created (Dhammapada verse 1). A more literal translation is, “All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with an evil mind, ‘dukkha’ follows him just as the wheel follows the hoofprint of the ox that draws the cart.”
Taking ownership of your life is one of the most powerful things that you can do. If you’re unhappy with your life, about your life, you are the only person that can make the necessary changes to make it happier and more beneficial for you. You cannot rely on or expect others to make you happy. You’re a fool if you think that’s even possible. It’s up to you to take control of your life and make the changes you need to make to turn your life around.
The sooner you acknowledge that you alone are responsible for your life and are capable of making the appropriate adjustments to it, the sooner you’ll start taking steps to living the life you desire.