Thinking of happiness in these terms, it would be hard to see that being happy in your daily life does not come about through achievements or big moments. No matter how fast you move, you cannot fill your life with these big events. To feel contentment and bliss, to feel really good most of the time, is a different story and the path is hidden by your own memories.
As you become calmer, as the stress is drained away and you are left with a tranquil feeling of inner peace, you will be happy. No matter what happens, you will be happy. And in the exciting moments, you will be extra happy.
The path to bliss — the avenue, the way to get there — is in the cultivation of a deeper and deeper calm. To get to bliss, cultivate these states:
feeling at ease
I used to think meditation was for the cultivation of concentration, but I think that's a mis-translation. It is really for the cultivation of a state that's a combination of calm and concentration. In fact, you can just call it "calm" because concentration is rather effortless when you're calm.
I've thought of juggling as a kind of meditation. I learned how to do it a few years ago. You really have to concentrate to do it. It's a good focuser of attention, so it must be a great meditation, right? But when I do it, I don't feel more serene. Just the opposite. It is tension-producing and therefore it's not something that can produce bliss.
So although meditation is a concentration exercise and gets you deeply tranquil, not all concentration exercises produce a calm state. Concentration is not enough. It must be a kind of concentration that produces relaxation, calm, and tranquillity.
Almost too obvious to mention, the base from which to approach a feeling of deep calm would include eating healthy food, getting some exercise, and getting enough sleep.
Also, refraining from things that would raise your stress hormone level artificially: Caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes. These substances prevent serenity. So does sugar.
And lying, cheating, and stealing raise your cortisol level, and so they would interfere with the cultivation of the deep calm you're after. A lie detector works because lying is stressful and the stress registers on the machine. Cheating and stealing are stressful in the same way. They take you in the opposite direction of deep calm.
And in saying these obvious things, notice we have essentially reinvented Buddha's famous Five Precepts, which is considered in Buddhism to be the foundation Buddhist practice is built upon.
I'm not a Buddhist and I'm not trying to promote Buddhism, but if you read the Buddhist and Zen Buddhist literature, you see the word "enlightenment" many times. It's a curious word and it's often unclear what they are talking about. However, if you substitute the phrase "deep calm" — a state that can be directly cultivated with meditation — everything becomes clear. This is not some exotic, magical state. It is a progressively deeper serenity you can most definitely reach, with or without a tremendous "Aha!" experience.
With the understanding that enlightenment means deep calm, the rest of the practices of Buddhism seem very straightforward. The Five Precepts are merely the first stage of the development of deep calm. All Buddha was saying is: Stop deliberately agitating yourself with your voluntary actions. This is sane advice.
The Gift of Calm
Meditation takes time. And while you meditate, you aren't doing anything for anyone else. You aren't doing anything productive. Is it a selfish act? Is it selfish to seek bliss? The answer to that is rather interesting. Here's one place where you can realize your oneness with others. Your bliss feels good to you and feels good to others and benefits their lives. Your calmness prevents upsets, makes you a better listener, increases your empathy, makes you kinder, more tolerant, more patient, and more forgiving.
Here's a quote from an excellent book called The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living:
The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness. It seems like common sense, and Western thinkers from Aristotle to William James have agreed with this idea. But isn't a life based on seeking personal happiness by nature self-centered, even self-indulgent? Not necessarily. In fact, survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic. Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative and are able to tolerate life's daily frustrations more easily than unhappy people. And, most important, they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.
The path to bliss is to cultivate calmness in yourself. The first, most basic step is stop doing those things guaranteed to upset or disturb your calmness — like lying, stealing, taking drugs, etc. Cultivating calmness makes you happier and makes the people in your life happier. It is not a selfish pursuit. It may be one of the best things you can do for the people in your life.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.