What do you know about spirituality and happiness?
Maybe you think that they are like two sides to the same coin. Or maybe you hold the view that to be spiritual you have to rise above human feelings like happiness.
If you are on the spiritual path you will most likely have encountered these two perspectives. For sure in the great spiritual texts of the world you can read about how achieving spiritual enlightenment leads to indescribable happiness. Equally you will find teachings that advise the spiritual aspirant to strive to be unaffected by the comings and goings of human emotions, happiness included.
Hmm… that sounds a little confusing! So what’s a budding buddha, like you and me, to do? I want to be a spiritual person… but I also want to be happy. Aren’t you like me in that respect? Or am I alone in thinking that being spiritual should, and does, mean being human, with all the ups and downs that entails?
Well here’s my take on this, based on a combination of my studies in psychology, spiritual teachings, and my experience of living for many years as a monk in a multi-faith monastery.
Spirituality and happiness go together like two dancing partners in a Latin American salsa bar.
They each have their own beauty and unique moves, but the flow of the music keeps them together in perfect harmony. And it is Spirituality who leads the dance and guides Happiness around the dance floor. If Spirituality is a skilful dancer he will keep in sync with Happiness whilst simultaneously allowing her to show off her qualities. But if Spirituality is an inexperienced or terrible dancer the two will be continuously tripping over each other.
In other words you have to be, on one hand well-established in your spirituality, and on the other hand understanding and knowing how Happiness moves.
Here I’m not going to go into how to establish yourself in your spirituality… there’s plenty of stuff about that all over my website. And in part I of this post about happiness we already looked at some of the things you can do to be more happy in your life. So let’s instead look at how to understand what happiness really is, and consequently how it relates to your life, spiritually and otherwise.
Understanding the anatomy of happiness will make it a great ally for your spirituality.
[color-box]In reality happiness is a combination of emotion, attitude, and spiritual awareness. (Tweet this)[/color-box]
If you muck up on all three of those you’ll end up dancing salsa like a drunken giraffe on an ice skating rink. You have to understand how to get the balance right in order to avoid the pitfalls mentioned by spiritual teachers. Don’t get attached to the emotion, learn to change your attitude towards life, and start to experience the joy of spiritual awareness.
[color-box]Happiness is an emotion that can be a useful tool if handled correctly. (Tweet this)[/color-box]
The emotion of happiness is the temporary, fleeting mood which spiritual texts refer to when they advise against being too attached to it. On the spiritual path the aspirant should endeavour to rise above the extreme effects of swinging from one emotion to another. However, this doesn’t mean detaching yourself from experiencing emotions. To be spiritually complete you have to be complete as a human. And that means accepting and experiencing your emotions. Instead of being a victim to the random fluctuations of happiness, you can learn to use it as a momentary boost to get you into a peak performance state. Some of the strategies I use in my coaching incorporate this, and are based on the emotional mastery concepts of Anthony Robbins. You can learn to generate it on demand for when you need it. If you seek only the emotion of happiness, and you try to cling to it, you will experience disappointment when, like all emotions, it subsides.
[color-box]Contentment is the enduring feeling of a happy and fulfilling life. (Tweet this)[/color-box]
Contentment is an enduring feeling or attitude towards life. It is a deeper sense of fulfilment with the way your life is going. It can be achieved by a choice of the mind, a change of perspective. As such it can be had by anyone no matter what their circumstances. As I mentioned in my previous post about happiness, you can find many examples of people who, in spite of extreme hardships in their life, still managed to be content. All it takes is a decision to change your perspective.
[color-box]Bliss is a spiritual experience of unimaginable joy. (Tweet this)[/color-box]
When I use the word bliss I don’t mean those warm, fuzzy moments you feel when you are cuddled up with your partner, or when you are on holiday soaking up the sun on the beach. If you analyse those moments carefully you will see that they fall into the the first category of happiness the emotion.
No, I’m talking about something altogether different. Bliss is a spiritual experience, a state of consciousness, in which you feel an intense joy and love that goes beyond understanding. In its early stages it is a type of emotion which can be felt physiologically also. But as you go deeper into that experience the emotion subsides and you enter into a level of consciousness beyond the normal everyday awareness. Words cannot describe adequately how sweet and sublime is the experience. Someone who has not experienced it will not be able to understand if it is described to them by a person who has experienced it.
Knowing how spirituality and happiness interact in this way is key to success with both.
So now when you say you are looking for happiness or that you want a happy life, what do you mean? If you are like me then you probably mean you are looking for contentment, supplemented with a mix of happiness (the emotion), and bliss.
Are you going to end up dancing like that drunken giraffe on the ice rink? Or will you learn the sensual grace of the couple dancing in the Latin American salsa bar?
Next in this series: Why Am I Unhappy – How to Avoid an Unhappy Life