Today is July 4th or Independence Day in the USA. One of my favorite phrases in the Declaration of Independence is: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I am not alone in my admiration. Wikipedia states that this line is considered by some as one of most well crafted, influential sentences in the history of the English language.
It is ironic that we Americans are one of the richest nations in the world, we enjoy freedoms that others can only dream about, we have boundless opportunities, yet most of us are unhappy. We may be in “pursuit” of happiness, but actually achieving it seems a frustrating and elusive endeavor.
My friend and co-author, Jackie and I believe that negativity is at the root of most folk’s misery. We wanted to do something to reverse this pessimistic trend so we wrote a book entitled Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. This self-improvement novel IS a good start toward embracing a happier life, but it doesn’t have ALL the answers. In fact Jackie and I do not have all the answers either. However, I’m always open to learning more about creating a joyful life.
That is why today’s article focuses on a conversation I had with my friend and Myoho Sister, Karen. Karen and I are both SGI Buddhists. Through the years we have encouraged one another. On July 3 we were leaving a meeting and Karen shared some guidance that she read from our organization’s International President, Daisaku Ikeda. It had to do with winning and losing. We all have goals we want to achieve whether it is landing a job, overcoming health issues or finding the perfect mate. In my limited thinking I had previously believed I only “won” when I achieved my goals. Through the years I have won some and lost some. A valuable lesson that Karen shared with me is it is not the goal so much as defeating the elements in my life that are preventing my happiness that should be my true objective.
In Buddhist philosophy obstacles to our happiness are not the circumstances but the mindset and actions we take. When we engage in defeatist thoughts, speech and actions we are letting our internal negativity (or innate darkness) take over. This negativity can take various forms. For some it may be laziness, guilt, greed, pride or anger. Others may choose a numbing experience and turn to a temporary fix such as alcohol or drugs. None of these tactics bring true happiness.
Another way to circumvent joy and traipse down the road of misery is to place your happiness exclusively on attaining a specific outcome.. That is not to say that we should not have goals. I’m a firm believer in them. However, the real trick is finding out what is stopping us from becoming happy and working to eliminate that faulty thinking and behavior.
For instance, I have a goal to pray each day. Since I’m Buddhist, my prayer is chanting the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. I do this religiously, but the sincerity, length of time etc fluctuates. In my faulty thinking I have thought that I’m only a “good Buddhist” if I chant a lot and what I’m chanting for comes true. We call this actual proof. When I’m unsuccessful (which is often because I have a lot of things I want to achieve) I feel like I finished last in the human race.
However, my friend Karen reminded me that a true victory is making the effort, not achieving the result. Every time I pray, write, exercise or do any of the things that infuses a little joy in my life, I am victorious. After all, I could be watching television, eating chocolate, or taking a nap, but instead I am making an effort. In essence, at that particular moment I am victorious over one of my weaknesses – laziness. Rather than focus on guilt on what I should be doing more often, I should rejoice that I have defeated my lazy nature (for the time being) and I am victorious in the moment. Unfortunately there are times when I’m making progress, but rather than rejoicing in my efforts, I let guilt or other unseemly thoughts enter my brain.
No one is perfect. No matter how hard we try at various things, we cannot always have the result we want. However, we can celebrate our positive causes. The more we rejoice, the more we will WANT to make the effort. It doesn’t matter if these positive efforts are two minutes a day or 12 hours. Every good action is a start toward a happier existence.
In conclusion, I invite all of you to engage in a different type of independence day. Take a holiday from guilt. Instead, make efforts toward your pursuit of happiness. But remember the message Karen reminded me about from President Ikeda. Real joy stems from defeating your inner darkness and letting your happiness shine through no matter what your circumstances bring.