Buddhist monk Bhante Gunaratana says: “Happiness depends on your state of mind. If you think happiness is something that comes from the outside, you’ll never find it.”
As I write this, it’s Christmas Day and I’m in Thailand, far away from my family but I’m still enjoying myself. Why? Because I’ve trained myself to find happiness (and even joy) in small things. This is possible for you too, regardless of your circumstances.
Here’s a simple three-step practice that you can use to train yourself to find happiness in any situation.
1. Recognize that happiness is a choice.
Most people erroneously believe that happiness is a result of things going your way. Once you experience victory, success or some other form of gratification, you think you’ll be happy… but then something else happens and suddenly you’re unhappy again.
It’ s impossible to be consistently happy in this way. Happiness needs to be a decision that you make. When you recognize that you have the power to decide whether or not you’re happy, you take control of your life. You stop blaming other people for your unhappiness and you stop counting on luck to make you happy.
As Buddhist Bhikkhu Bodhi says: “If we want to be happy, if we want to overcome suffering, if we want to succeed in this or that aspect of our lives, then we need to make happiness a conscious goal. We need to decide that we will be happy and then work to make it so.”
2. Focus on the present moment.
The past can’t be changed and the future can’t be predicted. This being the case, it makes little sense to worry about things that you have no ability to affect. Your past mistakes may feel like a heavy burden, but they’re either going to be borne or you’re going to have to continue to obsess over them.
The future, likewise, may feel like a burden because you don’t know what the next day, next week or next year will bring. You may wish for good things to happen, but life is unpredictable. Considering the past and the future at the same time will lead to anxiety and unhappiness.
The present moment, however, is a different story. There’s plenty that you can do to improve the present moment and there’s no point in worrying about past or future moments that you have no control over. Instead of wasting time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future — both of which will only make you unhappy — focus on what you can do to make the present moment better.
You may not be able to make yourself happy, but you can certainly improve the chances that you’ll be happy if you focus on making good decisions in the present moment.
3. Don’t blame or judge others.
People who are unhappy tend to spend an inordinate amount of time blaming and judging others. This toxic habit not only makes you very unhappy, but it also destroys any chance at building meaningful relationships.
If you spend all your time blaming and judging others, people are going to want to avoid you. This makes it impossible for you to make friends and build supportive relationships. Relationship experts will tell you that friendships and romantic relationships are two of the best sources of happiness, but you’ll never enjoy these sources of happiness if you constantly blame and judge others.
Instead of blaming and judging others, try to see the good in them. Focus on the fact that everyone is trying their best to be happy just like you. Try to build positive relationships by being friendly, polite and warm toward others. You may find that people are much more willing to connect with you once you stop blaming
Blaming and judging others, even in your head, creates anger and resentment. Anger and resentment, in turn, drain you of happiness and wear you out. The person you blame might not even notice that you’re angry about her, but that doesn’t matter. Keeping all that anger inside you makes you miserable. It’s better to apologize for any mistakes you’ve made, whether or not the other person is willing to accept your apology.
It’s much better to forgive and forget than to cling to those who have harmed you. It’s also better to forgive those who haven’t harmed you but who don’t agree with you than to judge and condemn them. Judgment and condemnation drains you, but acceptance and inclusion makes you happy.
It’s far more loving to wish others happiness than it is to judge and blame them for their mistakes. Wish others happiness, let go of any anger and resentment and forgive them just as you’d want others to do for you. That way, you can make friends, build supportive relationships and enjoy the source of happiness that comes from mutual respect
The fact is, nobody wants to make mistakes but we all do. The one who is happiest is the one who can forgive himself and others for their mistakes. To do this, it’s important not to judge yourself for your mistakes. You’ll never become a better person if you keep judging yourself for your failures. Instead, treat yourself as kindly as you would treat someone you love. Then, whenever you make a mistake, remind yourself to forgive yourself just as you’d forgive others
In today’s society, money is often seen as a source of happiness but that’s not true. Money can help you create the conditions that make happiness possible but it can’t create happiness for you. Being wealthy doesn’t make you a better person and being poor doesn’t make you a worse person. The happy person is one who uses their wealth or lack thereof to help others and make the world a better place
Become a master of happiness
You can become a master of happiness by following the tips above.