What is happiness? Lessons learned from 3 famous dudes

Protests in the street. Economy in the poophole. And a rogue virus wreaking havoc around the globe. 

You may think there’s not a whole lot to be happy about these days. 

You may be frustrated from losing your job. Angry about political turmoil on the news. Or scared for your life because of violence in the streets, police brutality or getting infected with the coronavirus. 

Whether life seems good or bad, happiness is always within reach. But to discover how to be happy, you first need to understand what is happiness. 

What is the true meaning of happiness? The 1 trait all happy people share

Just like there is 1 thing all types of meditation have in common, the same can be said for happiness. People who are happy share a common characteristic.

This characteristic can be illustrated in an old Buddhist quote: “This world exists only in your mind.” 

Now what does that mean? And how does it relate to happiness?

If the whole world exists only in your mind, then happiness cannot be something outside of yourself. Or something you can buy or reach in some distant future. 

This doesn’t mean that money, a nice bottle of wine or an international holiday can’t increase your happiness. They certainly increase mine. However, they’re ultimately not the source of happiness. 

If you’ve read A Dude’s Guide to the Couch, you know happiness can be a part of daily life. You just have to look for it. 

You can find happiness in the smell of a pizza baking in the oven, a hand in your pants while relaxing on the couch after a long workday, or snapping a picture of your junk and sending it to your dudette (Who doesn’t get a smile out of a sexy photo from their sweetheart?). 

While some of the above ideas may sound ridiculous, my point is that happiness is always available to you. 

So if you’re wondering “What is happiness in life?,” know that happiness is really a state of mind. It’s in your “how.” How you approach the world, how you communicate with your friends and loved ones, how you handle your workload at the office. Do these interactions cause you agitation? Or are they easy and effortless? 

When you focus on your “how,” you’re not letting the world dictate your actions. 

You’re in charge. 

You choose how to react to life’s events, instead of reacting to them on autopilot, and that creates the perfect conditions for happiness to arise. Let me elaborate with some examples…

NBA. Buddhism. Movies: 3 famous dudes reveal the path to happiness

1. The European basketball wunderkind

You may already know I’m a huge NBA hoops fan. And when I was watching game 4 of Clippers/Mavs last month, I couldn’t help but think of happiness as I watched Luka Doncic play.

He doesn’t fear players better than him, like Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James, and he has an uncanny confidence rarely seen in young ballers. For example, on November 1, 2019, Luka went toe to toe with one of the games top 5 players and all-time greats, LeBron James, dueling him in a battle where each player had a triple double. How many players have done something similar? I can’t think of a single one. 

Other young stars like Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Town or even Joel Embiid, have the talent but don’t have the mindset of Luka. 

Luka is not intimidated by superstars. 

When he crosses over LeBron James, he isn’t thinking “Oh my god, I am going up against LeBron James,” but is instead completely focused on the game in front of him. He is focused on his “how”: How can I get the ball in the basket, what players on my team are open, who is cutting to the basket, how can I shake my opponent—he is engaged in the moment.

Just like when I write a blog post like this one you’re reading, I’m not questioning my writing abilities or fearing that this post may never get read. Instead, I’m focused on “how” can I communicate my ideas clearly, how can I help the reader see what I see, how can I say this more concisely. 

It’s all about the “how.” Whether in basketball, writing or life. Focusing on your “how” brings you into the present moment and that is the place where happiness lives. 

2. The Buddha’s reaction to the angry dude

If you read my post How to be calm when fake news invades your social media feed, you may remember the story about Buddha’s reaction (or lack thereof) toward the angry, shouting man. 

Buddha didn’t react, and his composure astounded bystanders. 

How did he stay calm? 

Buddha recognized that the man’s anger had nothing to do with him. Like Doncic, he was so self assured, so in touch with his internal state that he realized the events in the outside world can’t define you, unless you allow them to. 

As I mentioned in that post, just because someone gives you a gift (or in this case, anger), doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Buddha didn’t accept the anger, but he saw clearly that the man was suffering. When you’re firmly planted within your body, in touch with your senses and your “how,” you can choose whether or not you will be rocked by events. 

While some people may think composure in the face of today’s coronavirus, racial tension and political drama makes you ignorant or irresponsible, I would ask how a strong, emotional reaction makes the situation any better? 

If Buddha started shouting at the man who shouted at him, was he really helping the situation? If he was caught up in an emotional state by the events happening, would he have clearly seen that the man was suffering and then be able to help him? 

In survival situations (or even on airplanes) we’re taught to help ourselves first, because if you can’t help yourself, you’ll be incapable of helping others. So find your happiness first, and then help others find theirs.

3. The African Diamond Smuggler in Blood Diamond (Spoilers)

If you’ve read An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Enlightenment, you know that I illustrate the path to enlightenment by comparing it to the movie Blood Diamond.

The protagonist Danny Archer’s story also reflects “this world exists only in your mind” philosophy. Archer believes he lives in a “godforsaken country” that he must escape. Only then can he find happiness, and he believes his ticket out is an enormous diamond. 

In the end, Archer finally gets the diamond. But it costs him his life. And as he is dying on a hillside overlooking a lush green valley, he finally sees the world clearly as he lets out the laugh of enlightenment and acknowledges his country’s beauty. His negative view of himself and Africa was all in his head. He always had the ability to be happy wherever he was, and the diamond he was chasing was nothing but a rock. 

Happiness is a state of mind. 

It is not some imaginary place you get to in the future. It’s right in front of you right now. It is “how” you look at the world. 

The catch. Why being “happy always” is a lie. 

Trying to be happy always is a wasted effort. As humans, we aren’t built to experience round the clock happiness. Yes, I’ve been going on about composure in this article, but even the most cool headed people still feel sad, still get frustrated and still get angry. I’ve seen video of the Dalai Lama crying, read about Adyashanti’s frustration with technology and heard Thich Nhat Hanh recount his anger during a speech. These enlightened dudes are just as human as the rest of us. 

We are human, after all. 

And we’re built to experience the full spectrum of emotions. The difference between these enlightened dudes and the majority of people, is that emotions pass through them effortlessly. They allow whatever feelings they experience to move through them. And when those emotions disappear, happiness often comes on its own. 

So if you feel angry because you were cheated, feel sad when a close family member dies, feel frustrated because your weekend plans got canceled, then feel the emotion fully. Be sad. Be frustrated. Be angry. 

Blocking yourself from experiencing negative emotions in an attempt to be “always happy” will likely only cause more unhappiness. Which brings me to my point. 

Happiness can’t be forced. 

You can really only create the conditions that allow happiness to arise. I talk about these somewhat in Chapter 7 of An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Enlightenment. And I’ll share one of these conditions here: unplug from the rat race. 

This means finding 20 minutes to an hour every day to disconnect from the constant stimulation and pull of society. To do this, you can turn off your phone and go for a daily walk, do nothing as you relax on your couch, draw, meditate, etc. 

Basically, disconnect from your electronic devices and find some quiet time for yourself, whether in nature or at home, and happiness will begin appearing in your life more and more often. 

What is happiness for you? 

Perhaps it’s feeling the warm sunshine on your face as you relax on your back porch, or maybe it’s enjoying some good conversation and beers with buddies at an empty pub on a rainy day. Whatever happiness means to you, remember it’s not something outside of yourself. 

Happiness is always within you, and the more you focus on your “how” and create the conditions for happiness, the more it’ll find you.

So start today. 

Unplug from the rat race. Turn off the emotionally-charged drama of the news. And take some time for you.

When you do, happiness may just come along for the ride.

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