What must I do to be happy?

This is a trick question similar to the question “What must I do to be saved?”. And the answer is similar as well. There is nothing you can do to be happy. In order to be happy you must transform yourself into the kind of person who is happy. You must practice a discipline of happiness.

But what is a discipline of happiness that we might practice? Well, to me, the source and the resting place of happiness is joy, so we must practice the discipline of joy. But that isn’t much help unless we know what the discipline of joy is? The trick is in understanding the relationship between Joy, Love, Wisdom, Peace of Mind, Purpose, Truth and Blessing and one more thing which is gratitude. These are related through a chain of causation which works as follows:

Joy flows out of gratitude which in turn flows out of the experience of being blessed. It is not enough to be blessed which we already are, we must experience our blessing as blessing. But to experience our blessing we must bless that which happens in our life. That is, we must call it good or at least see it as filled with opportunity.

There are many disciplines in various traditions leading in this direction. One possible discipline is prayer, specifically the prayer of Psalm 4 (Stephen Mitchell’s translation)

Even in the midst of great pain, Lord,

I praise you for that which is.

I will not refuse this grief

or close myself to this anguish.

Once I prayed for ease:

“Comfort me, shield me from sorrow.”

Now I pray for whatever you send me,

and I ask to recieve it as your gift.

You have put a joy in my heart

greater than all the world’s riches.

I lie down trusting the darkness

for I know even now you are here.

Various Buddhist mindfulness practices also lead this way. Indeed it is difficult to experience life as blessing without first developing the capacity to experience life consciously.

Sengtsan, the Third Patriarch, left us with -this poem:

To live in the Great Way
is neither easy nor difficult,
but those with limited views
are fearful and irresolute:
the faster they hurry, the slower they go,
and clinging (attachment) cannot be limited;
even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.
Just let things be in their own way,
and there will be neither coming nor going.

I’m not a great practitioner of mindfulness, but I’ve practiced enough to know that when I live mindfully the world seems to be transformed into a place of enormous beauty. Even things that normally appear unattractive to me are somehow lovely (this is the wrong word, but I have no right words here). Of course the world is no different that it ever is I’m just experiencing it differently. It is impossible, at least for me, to experience life in that way without gratitude, without joy.

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