Thoughts on Happiness

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I’ve had several conversations recently about being happy. Specifically, how to be happy when we are put in difficult situations at work, how to maintain happiness while enduring health issues, and how to make time for activities that make us happy. In my experience, most conversations are about happiness on some level. We share our successes and defeats, obstacles and solutions, stressful situations and enjoyable events. By communicating our experiences to one another, we are in effect sharing our happiness or our unhappiness with different aspects of our lives. It seems like there are several factors that can determine our happiness: the perception of fair treatment, kind or unkind words from a loved one, a favorite song on the radio, a paycheck. The list goes on and on. But I try to remind myself, particularly when I am unhappy about something, that ultimately, my happiness is under my own control.

There is a quote by Yogi Bhajan that helps me remember this concept:

Happy and unhappy belong to your mind, not to the world.

The way we choose to perceive, acknowledge, and act on every situation is under our mind’s control. We have the power to be happy or unhappy. Now, I’m not saying this means we must always choose happiness. Life inevitably involves suffering on many levels, and experiencing suffering is natural. But by acknowledging that we can control the extent to which we suffer by the way we choose to think about our lives is very empowering.

Happiness is filtered through your mind’s eye. Special thanks to Pastrami Basket for the image inspired by Bhajan's quote!

Happiness is filtered through your mind’s eye.
Special thanks to Pastrami Basket for the image inspired by Bhajan’s quote!

The next time you feel unhappy, or happy, remember that your feelings have been filtered by your mind. Take a deep breath, and settle into whatever you are feeling. Acknowledge the power you have over your mind, and thus your emotions. Then rejoice in the immense beauty and power of your mind.

Happy New Year

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On the last evening in 2013, I find myself in good company: my vizslador named Daphne, some Indian food, a bottle of sparkling cranberry juice, and myself.  I have a wonderful husband, who is not feeling well, and another little dog, who is recovering from surgery, but they are in a different city. It is not an ideal situation for any of us, but it sums up a number of things I’ve learned during 2013 quite nicely.

 

Daphne goes for my sparkling cranberry juice.

Daphne goes for my sparkling cranberry juice.

1. Expectations lead to disappointment. I did not expect to spend NYE without my most favorite person and with only a wet dog nose to kiss at midnight. I was sad at first, but then I realized that it really is just another night like any other. I’ve still had a pretty good time, watching some Netflix, enjoying my vegetable korma, and playing fetch down the hallway with Daphne. This year I’ve realized that the more expectations I set, the more times I end up disappointed. It might be something big, like expecting to kiss my husband at midnight on NYE, or something small, like expecting my Indian takeout to be ready on time. Either way, being too attached to an expected outcome sets you up for disappointment. It’s good to have goals and plans, but you can’t be so attached to them that you fall into a funk anytime something goes awry. I arrived to get my takeout tonight, and they had forgotten my order. I could have lost my temper and gone somewhere else, but instead I smiled and waited patiently. I knew that korma was worth the wait. And you know what, I got free masala tea! Not too shabby. Allowing ourselves to let go of expectations allows release from suffering/disappointment. This in turn allows us to enjoy whatever is happening to us right in each moment, instead of waiting for something that we expect to happen in the future. In 2014, I’m going to focus less on planning and more on living.

2. Do what you want, when you can. While sipping my complimentary masala tea and waiting for my food, I enjoyed a nice dose of people watching. Several groups walked in all dolled up, with sparkly headbands, fancy tights, tailored coats, and freshly shaven faces. Clearly these people were going to hit the town after enjoying some delicious Indian food. I probably could have found a group of people to get dressed up and go out with, but I didn’t really want to…I was looking forward to enjoying my Indian food and a cozy night to myself, without crowded bars and crazy people. And, let us not forget, I had a spectacular date at home: Daphne the vizslador. Daphne is also part of this lesson. We adopted Daphne just over a year ago, after I had the epiphany that I wanted another dog. A big dog. A slobbery, cuddly, wonderful dog. I had been telling myself we couldn’t get another dog because of the expense and the logistics. Then suddenly, I realized I was being an idiot. I have wanted said slobbery, cuddly, wonderful big dog since I was about 4 or 5 years old. I had a childhood dog who was wonderful, but not so slobbery, and definitely not cuddly. And we have Hobart, who is very cuddly, but not slobbery and quite small. So I said to myself: Elizabeth, life is short, and you have no business continuing to live without a big, slobbery, cuddly dog when there are so many of them out there to be loved and love you. And now I have one. And she’s wonderfully, excessively slobbery, big enough to earn the nickname “moose,” and cuddles with the best of them while taking up her fair share of the bed. And I guess the point is this: it is pretty rare that we can do exactly what we want. For example, to take a trip somewhere far away, work at a prestigious institution, publish a novel, etc. I think it is very important to do the things that really make us happy when we have the chance (i.e. order expensive Indian food and enjoy alone time, or adopt a big slobbery, cuddly dog), so long as it does not affect someone else negatively. In 2014, I’m going to seize all the chances I have to be happy, and encourage others to do the same.

3. Being alone can be a very good thing. I used to hate, even fear, being alone. I’ve never lived by myself, and up until quite recently, I used to fill any empty hours with social outings so I wouldn’t have to face a minute in the company of just…me. But as I’ve learned to reflect inward, alone time has become something that I treasure. Being alone allows us to tune in to our minds and bodies. It grants us the opportunity to address concerns and fulfill needs. The more comfortable we are in our own company, the better we can act in accordance with our values in the company of others. So tonight, I am enjoying my leisurely evening alone. I could be happy in many other places, with many other people, but I am choosing to be quite content being with me (and my big, slobbery dog). In 2014, I will use me-time to recharge, so that I have more energy to help others.

Now the hour of 2014 is upon us. I’m excited for this year. There are things to look forward to, things to hope for and dream of, and that is good. But I’m going to try to live most of 2014 in the moment, sans expectations. I will enjoy each moment for what it brings, I will choose to be happy whenever possible, and I will help others to be happy, too. When I feel lost, I will sit alone with myself, to remember where I am going.

I am very grateful for all my friends and family who have made this year a good one, and who I look forward to seeing more of in 2014. Happy New Year, all you creative, unique, and beautiful people.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a vizslador to kiss.

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

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ekanost:

A wonderful post that summarizes many of the books written by His Holiness. The list is divided into general topics and more specific Buddhist topics, depending on your level of interest. Happy reading. Namaste.

Originally posted on Shambhala Blog:

Dalai-LamaFor this latest installment of our Great Masters series, we turn to a contemporary master, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, often referred to by Tibetans as Gyalwa Rinpoche or Kundun. As with previous posts, this is not intended to be a complete biography but rather a look at His Holiness’s teachings through the lens of his books, mostly the two dozen published by us, though a few others are included here. For those looking for a biography, His Holiness’s autobiography, Freedom in Exile, is an excellent starting point.

While His Holiness is not formally the head of Tibetan Buddhism (there never was one) nor even of the Gelug tradition (that title belongs to the head of Ganden Monastery, the Ganden Tripa), he is the figurehead and ambassador of Tibetan Buddhism and culture to the world. Considered the emanation of Avalokiteshvara, he is beloved by practitioners of all…

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Small Victories: A lesson in attachment

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Today I made a personal victory of epic proportions. I had a book on hold at the library, and I didn’t pick it up. How is this a victory, you ask? That is sort of a long story…

I love to read. A lot. In a perfect world I would get paid to read and do yoga and then tell people about it. Alas, “professional yogi reader” is yet to be a job posting at KU. So instead, I read in my free time. When I say “free time” I mean time I have carved out for myself to read because it is important and enjoyable to me. Wait a minute, this sounds like a good thing, right? Well yes…and no…

Here’s the problem: Every time I hear about a book that piques my interest, I put it on hold at the local library. Usually there is a short wait, so I won’t get the book right away. When it is my turn to read the book, I have 2 weeks to pick it up before the next person in the online queue gets it. Thus begins the reading waiting game, which goes something like this:

“Aha! That awesome book about cheese you heard about on NPR is ready for you! You must go pick it up immediately! No, wait! You are already reading a rather long novel…you have 2 weeks, just be patient. *3 days later* Jumping jackrabbits! Book 1 in that Indian detective mystery series is ready! YOU NEED TO FINISH YOUR NOVEL SO YOU CAN PICK UP THE BOOK ABOUT CHEESE SO YOU CAN PICK UP THE INDIAN DETECTIVE MYSTERY!”

Happiness is a busy bookshelf

In many ways that last sentence is the story of my life…Sometimes I get really excited about several books, all at once, and I want to read them all. But my reading waiting game has unfortunately begun to tarnish an activity I treasure with stress. Instead of savoring my long novel, I am now attempting to race through it, budgeting how long it will take me to finish so I can return it and grab the next book before it, *gasp* IS TOO LATE AND THE NEXT PERSON GETS IT!

So today, while trying to decide when I could fit in a trip to the library to pick up the book about cheese (Yes, it’s real. I love cheese almost as much as I love books…maybe more.) on the LAST day before my 2 weeks are up, I had an epiphany. I could let the book go on to the next person, who is probably just as eager to read it as I, and then request it again, put myself back in the queue, and read the book when I have more time. No one will die. I will still have things to read in the meantime.

I realized I was forming an unhealthy attachment to the idea of attaining the book. I imagined opening its glossy cover, reading the reviews on the first page, flipping through the introduction, and staring at it longingly as I passed by the coffee table each day until I finished my other book.

This is a rather silly lesson in attachment, but it shows how pervasive that feeling can be. We think we must have something because we’re excited about it, so we need it right then, even if we don’t necessarily have time to appreciate it.

And so, today, I will not go to the library to pick up the book about cheese. Instead, I will I will enjoy the book I am reading, and I will not worry about all the other books out there yet to be read…at least…not too often.

4 Ways to Fulfill Your Needs While Helping Others

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“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ~Dalai Lama

dalai-lama-tibet

 

Today I am very humbled to be able to share some of my self discoveries on the website TinyBuddha. This is a fantastic site that offers daily posts on mindfulness, compassion, and general spirituality in everyday life.  I hope you enjoy the post. Please let me know what you think!

4 Ways to Fulfill Your Needs While Helping Others

 

Namaste, Elizabeth

Lawrence, KS, the freedom city

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Lawrence, KS, the freedom city

150 years ago today Lawrence, KS was raided and burned by William Quantrill and his pro-slave riders from Missouri. The massacre killed close to 200 Lawrence citizens.

150 years later, we are still a community that fights for freedom and equality despite the rest of the state’s political leanings. We rose from the ashes of Quantrill’s Raid, and continue to thrive.

Today, and every day, I am proud to be a Lawrencian, and Kansan.

26 Things

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Last week I turned 26. It’s not a particularly inspiring age. Really it just means more of my friends are having babies and I’m closer to 30 than 20. But on my birthday one of my friends posted to my Facebook wall “I hope this is your best year yet!” I thought about it for a minute, and then realized there is every reason to believe 26 will be infinitely better than 25, just as 27 will no doubt be better than 26. I figure this because each year I learn more; more about myself, about the people I interact with, and about the world around me. And if School House Rock taught me anything, it’s that knowledge is power. In honor of this philosophy, I present to you 26 things I’ve learned that help keep me sane, and that will help make 26 my best year thus far. These lessons are in no particular order and range from astute to silly, much like my own thoughts. I hope that you find some of them helpful, too.

1. Embrace your inner child

Getting older does not mean that you stop having fun. It does mean you have to cultivate creativity and spontaneity more than you used to. Do a cartwheel. Buy a coloring book. Re-read your favorite children’s books whether you have kids or not. Run after the ice cream man when he drives down your street. Make leaf rubbings. Fly a kite. Watch a Disney movie on VHS (WHAT?!). I promise you will feel lighter, happier, and more youthful afterward.

2. Gaining some weight is not a big deal

Are you happy? Are you healthy? Do you FEEL good? Do you have the money to feed yourself and your family with nutritious things? These are the questions to be asking yourself because these are the things that matter. Your body has been changing since you were born, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. Get over it.

3. Speaking your mind is incredibly empowering

Being respectful does not mean you have to agree with everyone. In fact, people will respect you more if you tell them honestly what you think, instead of complying to avoid conflict. Conflict is where ideas meet, mingle, and make better outcomes. Don’t silence yourself because you’re afraid of what someone might think about what you have to say. Someone might laugh at you, but you can smile knowing you were true to yourself, rather than frowning with regret later.

4. Give yourself the freedom to relax

I am a recovering perfectionist and multi-tasker. I get it. You can make your lists and be productive without sacrificing peace of body and mind. Take a break once in a while to recenter yourself. I promise the world will not stop turning if you take a night off to watch junk TV on the couch or read a book for fun.

5. Make time for what makes you happy

Doing things because you feel like you should is not an indicator of their importance. Life is short. If you enjoy something, you should pursue it whether or not it falls on your typical “to do” checklist. I read a lot and do a lot of yoga. My husband and I make big, delicious meals together. We have a puppy who loves to eat dirt. I don’t always get the laundry folded, our kitchen is frequently a mess, and our clothes often have mud on them. But are we happy? Very much so.

6. You can’t be friends with everyone, so don’t try

This took me a very.long.time to learn. But now that I’ve embraced it, I’m a much happier person. It does not matter how amiable you can be, how funny your jokes are, or how open your mind is. There will be people out there who, for whatever reason, don’t like you, or, aren’t a good fit for your life. Smile at these people and let them flow out of your life. If you try to befriend everyone, you will spend far too much time shaping your life to fit the perspectives of others, which will only lead to unhappiness.

7. You can’t solve other peoples’ problems

When you care about someone you want to help them. But helping a friend, or even a stranger, doesn’t mean you have to take on his or her problem as your own. You can provide support, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and words of advice. These are all good, helpful, compassionate things to do. But you can’t be someone’s solution. It is unfair to you, because you have taken on undo stress, and to them, because you have taken away their learning opportunity.

8. Silence really is golden

meditationI am one to fill silence, whether it be with small talk during dinner or with music while I do the dishes. But the power of silence lies in its ability to foster clarity. If you’re talking with someone it allows you a moment to process what the other person is saying before you respond. If you’re doing an activity alone, it allows you to be present and mindful with your actions. I try to incorporate more silence in my days, especially when I’m stressed, to offer myself a moment of serenity.

9. Complacency and contentment are not the same

The difference is subtle, for sure, but it’s an important one. Being complacent about any part of your life means that, to some extent, you have given up. Complacency is saying that you’re making the most of where you’re at while knowing deep down that you could be trying harder. Contentment means you are doing everything you can to fulfill your goals and live a good life, while accepting your limitations and the things you can’t control.

10. You learn the most from people who are different from you

If we were all the same the world would be a very boring place. Interacting with people who come from different cultural backgrounds, have opposite political views, or even who like different books and movies than you do is an opportunity to broaden your worldview and learn more about yourself by analyzing how your perspectives compare with others.

11. Respect and compassion go a long way

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No matter where you live and work, you will have to deal with difficult people. You can see them as an annoyance, or an opportunity to practice patience, compassion, and respect for those around you. These feelings benefit you, and might help the other person learn from your example.

12. Expectations lead to disappointment

I’ve learned this the hard way many times. If you build up expectations in your mind, at some point they will come crashing down and bring your emotions down with them. Goals and plans can be helpful, but if you don’t leave room for change, you will never be satisfied.

13. Spend as much time as possible with the people you love

You have a limited amount of time in any given day, week, and ultimately in your life to spend in the company of others. I am striving to spend more time with people who truly lift me up and help me become a better person.

14. Pursue your interests

Sometimes the weird things you’re interested in can turn into fulfilling, lifelong hobbies, or even a career. Either way, pursuing activities and topics that pique your interest will engage your mind and bring you joy.

15. Balance your intake of fantasy and reality

ImaginationDreaming is wonderful. So is escape. I love good fiction because of the escapism it provides. And I often dream of what my future perfect day might be like. But being present in your daily life is just as important. If you can’t be happy in the present moment, regardless of the hardships you might be facing, you will spend much of your time in a bad mood. It is healthy to experience all of life’s trials and be educated about what is happening in the world, regardless of how awful it sometimes seems. Life is suffering. You just have to learn how to live with it.

16. Be direct and honest about your feelings

People won’t really know how you feel if you don’t tell them, and when you keep your feelings to yourself, you’ll often be misunderstood. Tell friends and family how much they mean to you, or even when they’ve upset you. Tell a coworker you appreciate how they helped you, or that you’re frustrated they didn’t follow through with something. Be respectful without placing blame, but remain straightforward and honest.

17. Take time for yourself

As Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Make sure you take time out from your busy schedule every so often to breathe and do something that you find rejuvenating. When you give yourself time to rest and relax, you’ll be more capable of doing things for other people.

18. Identify your values

Identifying what truly matters to you helps you make decisions that make you feel more fulfilled and happy. It also helps you make choices in complicated situations when there is not a right or wrong answer, but a best answer FOR YOU.

19. Never stop learning

Education continues to be one of the most important and fulfilling areas of my life. The more I learn, the more I feel capable of helping others and moving my life in the direction I want. Watch a documentary, read nonfiction, listen to NPR, take a class on something you’ve always found interesting. You won’t regret it.

20. Be activeYoga

Endorphins are amazing things. Being active and exercising has helped me cope with anxiety and depression at different times in my life. Physical activity can help clear and focus your mind. For me, yoga does these things very well. But for you it might be gardening, walking, training your dog, ballroom dancing; just something that gets you up and moving. Your brain and your body will thank you.

21. Plan ahead, but allow the plan to evolve

It’s good to think about the future and proactively work toward your goals. But, life is transient. If you try to hold on to the reins too tight you’ll get rope burn. Allowing your plans to change organically can lead you to even more exciting experiences and outcomes.

22. Reduce negative thoughts

The key to happiness resides within your own mind. Silence your road rage, forgive those who hurt you, and don’t assume the worst. You’ll be happier for it.

23. Embrace your weaknesses

Weaknesses are blessings in disguise. They provide you opportunities for personal growth and improvement. Instead of seeing your weaknesses as discouraging, view them as motivating.

24. Try new things

Be it food, a sport, or a new genre of media, expanding your worldview is always a good thing.

25. Release your worries

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I am stealing this one straight from the Dalai Lama:

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

26. Learn how to say “no”

This relates to many of the other lessons, but it’s important. Don’t feel like you have to agree to things just to make someone else happy. If you say “yes” to every social invitation, volunteer opportunity, or work request, you’ll spend a lot of time doing things that don’t align with your values and don’t make you happy and fulfilled. You’ll also be exhausted and have little time left over for yourself. You can say “no” politely, but firmly, even to people who matter to you. If they care about your needs, they’ll understand.