I keep hearing these days that happiness is a choice. Apparently, it’s up to me to make it happen.
“Okay,” says I, “I’ll give it a try.” I decide to decide to be happy. Then along comes a crummy encounter, and I react in my usual crummy-encounter sort of way. I get upset, and I’m not happy. No surprises there.
But a moment later, I remember: I can choose to be happy. So, I strive to turn the crumminess into gratitude and goodness. I call on my powers of reason for support. I affirm repeatedly that this particular setback is no big deal, and…
It doesn’t work. Now I’m not only unhappy, I am frustrated by the result of my ineffective effort.
Well, that wasn’t much fun! “Next time,” my brain implores, “let’s just let the unhappiness run its course. No more striving to make it go away.”
I am back at square one. My original reactive emotions are poised to pounce at the slightest hint of a negative intrusion. My life continues to go up and down, as it did before.
Is that as good as it gets?
Wait a minute. Here comes another theory. If I can accept my unhappy reaction to every crummy encounter, it will lose its grip, and I will sooner be happy again. I can hardly wait for another opportunity to give this a try.
Surprisingly, this helps. I still get unhappy when something unpleasant occurs, but not for quite as long. I think I’m on a roll.
Let’s see, what’s next? Maybe I need to meditate more. Om, sweet Om.
And that helps, too. Until… Whamo! Suddenly, a karmic bomb explodes in my path, and it wounds me to my core. Om, kablooey!
That’s when it hits me. It must be my social conditioning. I’ve been programmed to wish that things were different when I don’t like how they are. Is that the problem?
“Bingo!” said a voice from somewhere far away. “You’ve got to work with what is.”
The trouble is, I don’t want to. When things are not to my liking, wishing they were different is as automatic in me as needing to eat when I’m hungry.
That same voice interrupted again. “You don’t need to eat when you’re hungry, you are simply giving in to an urge. What you need is self-control. Face the music and dance to it. You don’t always get to choose the tune. The one that plays is the one that is calling you out, and it will play on a loop until you decide to cheerfully give it a whirl.”
Cheerfully? Are you kidding? If I get a flat tire, I have to cheerfully get out and change it? In the cold and rain? That’s asking a lot.
“That’s what life does,” said the voice. “It asks a lot. But if you give a lot back, you find that you’re not unhappy anymore. It’s the best way to be.”
Well, I am hardly free of reactive emotions. But they don’t run me ragged like they used to, and meeting them with an understanding smile works well to quiet them down. Challenges are part of life’s daily docket, and it seems the better we get at facing them calmly, the more they test our mettle. The last part of the climb is usually the steepest and most exacting.
Like everyone else, I am trying to win my release from what causes me to hurt. Changing a flat tire cheerfully in the rain, slogging through a swamp of red tape, or dealing with a personal disaster, is a test of right attitude that can often be hard to get right. You know you got it wrong when it upsets you.
What’s funny is that the answer is so plain and simple. And yet, we fight it with our egoic desires as if they had the power to free us. The truth is, we cannot be happy if we make it conditional on getting what we want. Only in choosing to want what we get will happiness truly be ours, unaffected by flat tires, red tape and even personal disaster.
What comes of itself, let it come. Swami Kriyananda showed us how. No matter how severe the trial, he always made the most of it. And no one I have ever known was happier.