What does happiness mean to you?
If you’re like most people, you believe that happiness involves:
- Being excited and passionate about life.
- Having stable circumstances in life.
- Being materially rich.
- Having close and quality relationships.
But according to the Zen Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, not only are these ideas of happiness wrong, but they could be adversely impacting our lives.
In a simple, but profound passage in his book, The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh explains what true happiness is and how you can go about finding it:
“Many people think excitement is happiness…. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”
Thich Nhat Hanh says that to be peaceful, we need to accept our true selves. Yet, in western society, we often try to change who we are to please other people.
However, this is futile to our own inner peace and happiness:
“To be beautiful means to be yourself.You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.”
So, the question is:
How can we learn to accept ourselves?
Thich Nhat Hanh says that it’s all about embracing the present moment and the beautiful miracles that exist around us:
“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love…Around us, life bursts with miracles–a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. Eyes that see thousands of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.”
While you might think this implies we should never think about the past or the future, Thich Nhat Hanh clarifies that it’s important to reflect on the past and plan for the future, but in a helpful way:
“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past. But you are still grounded in the present moment.”
This all makes perfect sense: Happiness is found in the present moment and learning to accept it.
I think we intrinsically understand this. However, what most of us really struggle with (particularly in western culture) is training our mind to live in the present moment.
Most of us don’t have control over our mind’s ability to jump from distraction to daydreaming and back again.
So, what can we do here?
According to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the best ways to train the mind is through meditation.
Thich Nhat Hanh mentions the most simple and basic meditation technique that we can practice called “mindful breathing”.
Not only is this meditation technique the most simple, but it is also the most useful. You can practice this anywhere, anytime, even for 15 seconds.
Here is Thich Nhat Thanh explaining how to go about it:
“Please, when you breathe in, do not make an effort of breathing in. You just allow yourself to breathe in. Even if you don’t breathe in it will breathe in by itself. So don’t say, “My breath, come, so that I tell you how to do.” Don’t try to force anything, don’t try to intervene, just allow the breathing in to take place….”
“What you have to do is be aware of the fact that the breathing in is taking place. And you have more chance to enjoy your in-breath. Don’t struggle with your breath, that is what I recommend. Realize that your in breath is a wonder. When someone is dead, no matter what we do, the person will not breathe in again. So we are breathing in, that is a wonderful thing….”
“This is the first recommendation on breathing that the Buddha made: When breathing in, I know this is the in-breath. When breathing out, I know this is the out-breath. When the in-breath is long, I know it is long. When it is short, I know it is short. Just recognition, mere recognition, simple recognition of the presence of the in-breath and out-breath. When you do that, suddenly you become entirely present. What a miracle, because to meditate means to be there. To be there with yourself, to be there with your in‑breath.”
If you’re looking for more meditation techniques you can learn to practice, check out Thich Nhat Hanh’s top 5 recommend techniques here.