Photo courtesy of Flickr, under creative commons license

Photo courtesy of Flickr, under creative commons license

By Jerry Mooney

Growing up, I developed the perception that I needed justification to be happy.

What are you so happy about?” my father would ask accusingly.

From that, I learned that we needed justification to be happy. We needed reasons to smile and feel free from the burdens of life.

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Happiness Isn’t a Reward

As I’ve aged, I’ve learned that I don’t need anyone’s permission to be happy nor do I need reasons for it. Happiness is the reason. I didn’t just wake up one day with this understanding, however. The thought remained foreign to me until I began counseling due to work stress. As much as I hated my job, the company I worked for understood the cost of unhappy workers in the workplace and tried to get us to go to counseling and take antidepressants.

When my counselor asked me why I needed to justify happiness it was like he threw water on my face. I was stunned by the question. Isn’t happiness just a response to favorable circumstances? My counselor found this question curious and realized we had work to do. He knew I needed to change my relationship with happiness and he began to challenge my perception of happiness. His work would have a profound effect on me.

The Practice

He also knew that introducing me to the idea was only the start. I needed happiness counseling  as my mindset shifted on this important subject. I understand the rationale that there was no path to happiness, happiness is the path, but I needed practice to develop this new way of thinking. The fact that thinking was a skill that I needed to practice was also a new concept to me. I believed thoughts just happened and the idea that we could guide our thinking felt very powerful.

He began by explaining to me that much of happiness is a practice of how we choose to filter the world. My challenge was learning that our thoughts come to us, but we don’t have to latch onto them. For example, he said it’s okay if a bird lands on your head, but it’s not okay if that bird makes a nest. This is true of our thoughts and we have to be mindful of how we attach ourselves to our thoughts. The monkey mind will always chatter, but it is our choice as to how much power we give the chatter.

Meditation

I was fascinated by this insight and contemplated the importance, but it wasn’t effective until I began meditating.

Meditation wasn’t easy for me and at first, I thought I was a failure. This made my counselor’s guidance more important. He didn’t give me much from the standpoint of how to meditate, but he was firm about the fact that improving my thinking, happiness, and meditation practice was like any other skill. It required repetition and the understanding that I would feel like a beginner at first because, well, I was beginner.

But with guidance, I developed my ability to meditate and let the thoughts flow by me. With continued practice, it seemed like the thoughts that kept demanding my attention grew quieter with the understanding that I wouldn’t give them the attention they craved. Over time, my mind has become quieter outside of meditation, and that has helped me achieve greater control over my emotions and reactions to stress.

I no longer work for the company that stressed me out to the point that I needed counseling, but I’m grateful for their stressful culture because it sent me down a path of mental peace that has become an integral part of my daily life. I am more spiritual and more skilled in the day-to-day unfolding of life. What a blessing.