Waking Up in Time

Happiness - The Mind’s Bottom Line

In the final analysis, the hope of every person is simply peace of mind.

The Dalai Lama

Most of us have become so focused on what it is we think we want, we have forgotten what it is we are really seeking. We seldom ask ourselves “What is it we really want?” When we go deeply into this question we find a common theme behind all our desires. We want to feel better. We may give this inner feeling various different names -- joy, happiness, inner peace, satisfaction, fulfillment, bliss, contentment, ease, well-being -- but however we describe the quality of mind we seek, the underlying motivation is the same. We are looking to avoid pain and suffering, and find a more enjoyable state of consciousness.

This is completely natural, and is as true for every other sentient being on this planet as it is for us. It is the organism’s way of monitoring how it is doing in life. If there is something amiss -- if we need food, for instance -- we feel hungry, which is usually an uncomfortable experience. We don’t feel good and so, quite naturally, we look for something will relieve our suffering -- in this case food. Having eaten we feel better; our lives are in balance again.

This is one thing that unites us all; we all want to reduce our suffering and find a more comfortable, satisfying state of mind.

I may decide to change jobs because I believe I will be happier. I may choose to play tennis with a friend because I expect to get some pleasure from the game, some good feelings from the exercise, and some satisfaction from winning -- or perhaps from seeing my friend win. I may take up hang-gliding because I find the challenge enjoyable -- or because I get a kick from the release of adrenaline. I may spend time writing a book, foregoing other pleasures, because I gain satisfaction from following my inner drive. If my mind wanders into daydreams, it is probably because they are more entertaining than the task at hand. And I may meditate to feel more at peace within myself.

However, although we may all be looking for a more fulfilling state of mind, our search is not always successful. Sometimes, through short-sightedness or factors beyond our control, we do not achieve our objectives. At other times we may well get the things we desire only to find they have not made us any happier; they may even have led us to suffer more. How many of us have started a new job, a new course of study, or a new relationship, believing it will make them happy, only to discover later they were happier the way things were?

Nor is it always immediate gratification that we are after. We may not enjoy visiting the dentist, but we go in the hope that life will be more enjoyable later. At other times we may worry about the future, creating much discomfort for ourselves, because we unconsciously assume that our worrying will help us avoid future sources of discomfort.

The same principle lies behind our more altruistic actions. We may give up all sense of personal gain and devote time to helping others feel better, perhaps putting ourselves to considerable inconvenience or hardship. But we do it because at some deeper level we feel better for it.

Even the masochist who sets out to cause himself pain does so because he gets pleasure from it -- or imagines he will.

A more pleasant state of consciousness is the mind’s bottom line. It is the fundamental criterion by which, consciously or unconsciously, we make our decisions.

Trying to discourage this drive is to miss the point of life. Our error lies not in seeking inner peace, fulfillment, happiness or joy, but in the ways we set about finding it. Our cultural conditioning has trapped us in a materialist mindset -- a meme that says if we are not happy then something in the world around us needs to change.

This is the “virus” that has infected our minds. This is the bug in our thinking that lies at the root of our malignant attitudes and behaviors.

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