Can genuine happiness be found outside our mind?

A guest article by a modern Buddhist practitioner who works full time as a manager of software engineer teams.

6 mins read.

I calculate 3 reasons why genuine happiness cannot be found outside our mind:

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.12.12 PM1) Everything is impermanent. Our wish to find happiness from outside our mind depends on things remaining the same. We acquire a slew of external enjoyments that bring us happiness, and then work to keep them that way. Yet, in this impermanent world these enjoyments cannot help but change. As a result, we end up chasing ever-changing external conditions, which is an endless pursuit.

For example, many people invest a lot of time an effort in finding happiness in relationships. After all, isn’t the dream life one in which you meet a beautiful partner, get married, and live happily ever after? Relationships seem to be compelling sources of happiness, and society generally endorses this view.

However, if we apply the wisdom understanding impermanence,eggs-in-a-basket.png it becomes clear that putting all our eggs of happiness into relationships is not a reliable strategy. Relationships are often a roller coaster of emotion — we love the thrilling times but have no ability to be happy when things get difficult.

This doesn’t mean that we need to abandon relationships to find lasting happiness. It does mean that we need a different approach to them, which is explained below.

2) Every new thing comes with its own new set of problems. It appears as if certain conditions can make us happy, but this appearance is deceptive. That is because there is no such thing as a job, relationship, or external enjoyment without problems.

If we lack an object we desire such as a relationship, then this is only one problem: the problem of not having a relationship. If we get into a relationship, then we will have many new problems! This applies in the same way to everything we believe will make us happy.

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.25.27 PMFor example, suppose we desire a relationship because we would like more companionship in our life. In this scenario, we have the outer problem of lacking companionship, which can lead to inner problems like feeling lonely or isolated. When we think about solving this problem by getting into a relationship we often fail to recognize that relationships have many problems:

  • we will have less time and independence for ourselves,
  • there are a lot of new expenses to attract a partner,
  • we have to spend a lot of time finding someone who is a match for us,
  • we have to deal with the frustration when the relationship goes through hard times,

and the list goes on. Again, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have relationships. It means we should address the inner problem directly instead of solving all of our problems with new ones.

3) There are no objects outside of our mind. Due to ignorance, it appears as if certain people or places are causes of happiness from their own side. For example, who would turn down a free trip to the Bahamas? Isn’t that inherently a source of happiness? In reality, the answer to that is “No” because everything depends on our experience, which is mind. If we bring angry and resentful thoughts with us on vacation, then we will have as miserable a time as we had back at the office. On the other hand, if we bring happy, peaceful thoughts, we will have a great vacation, even if we don’t go anywhere.

This again applies to relationships in that we often project qualities onto our partner that may or may not be there. When we first meet someone we find attractive, it appears as if they are drop-dead gorgeous, and that this has nothing to do with the way we are looking at them. This appearance is our desirous attachment exaggerating the good qualities of this person and ignoring any faults. Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.42.18 PM.pngWe then believe this projection to be true and later, when our desirous attachment starts to fade, problems begin to appear in our mind. All the faults we were previously ignoring start to appear more clearly. Their good qualities begin to fade away, and over time we think that they have changed. Recognizing how we are involved in the appearances to our mind is a critical life skill for learning how to be happy all the time.

How to cultivate genuine happiness from inside our mind

Let’s explore these same 3 points and how we can use them to find lasting happiness:

1) Everything is impermanent. How can we learn to find lasting happiness in an impermanent world? While we are enjoying our relationships, we can equally invest eggs of happiness in the basket of Dharma. Enjoying our relationships is often a process of seeking, enjoying, and letting go of them. While we are doing this, we can also be cultivating a reliable source of happiness within.

For example, we can use every relationship to increase our expedience of the three types of love. Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.45.45 PMThat way, when things are going well we can learn to be more loving. Later, when things get difficult, relationships are a perfect opportunity to practice patient acceptance. They are also an opportunity to learn to love selflessly without expecting anything in return.

If we view our relationships as fuel for our spiritual development, then every person we spend time with will lead us to deeper happiness within.

2) Every new thing comes with its own new set of problems. Instead of relying on external conditions to temporarily relieve our inner problems, we can directly resolve the problems in our mind. For example, if we have an inner problem of loneliness and feelings of isolation, we can solve this by meditating on the dependent-related nature of things. book-nesth-frnt_2016-04_2.jpgIn The New Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe Kelsang says:

We are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate our self. Everything we have and everything we enjoy, including our very life, is due to the kindness of others.

If we contemplate this deeply, we will develop insights that enable us to see the world in a way that directly counteracts loneliness. Then, we can easily engage in relationships from the perspective of using them to develop love because we won’t be depending on them to solve our problems.

3) There are no objects outside of our mind. Recognizing how we are involved in the appearances to our mind is a critical life skill for learning how to be happy all the time. If we want to become skillful at overcoming our uncontrolled desires, we need to see how they develop. Again in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says:

It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction for which we had hoped.

If we watch our mind, we can learn to see how it projects good qualities onto Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 3.54.38 PM.pnganother person and then feels them to be a real source of happiness. Learning how our mind projects in this way enables us to understand how the delusion of desirous attachment operates and to see through it.

Eventually, we will develop a contentment within that is naturally arising from wisdom. This contentment will give us the freedom to not chase endlessly after objects of desire. As a result we will have boundless energy for finding lasting happiness from within and helping everybody else to do the same!

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