Working toward Happiness

One of the things I enjoy most about today’s interactive media environment is the dialogue it helps create. This has changed the dynamic of our relationships drastically, and, for better and worse, altered our perception and practice of scholarship. (No longer can academics and thinkers merely state something and not have immediate feedback, which foils the notion of domineering intellectual prowess.) One of the trappings, of course, is the onslaught of opinionated thoughts under the guise as “news” floating around. At the same time, it’s made professional newscasters more liable for their work, which is a good thing.

That said, I often find myself reading reader’s comments after the article, as I did on NY Times columnist’s Daniel Goleman’s recent piece on Tibetan monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. The focus of the article was the citation of Mingyur as “the happiest man in the world,” something the monk has viewed with a great deal of humility (befitting a man with such a supposed temperament). I enjoyed the synopsis Goleman offered of how to attain such a state of being: practice. Like compassion, like humility, and even like their alter egos, such as misery, avarice, and grief, all of our mental states take a lot of practice. It just so happens that the latter often happen through unconscious, habitual patterns, while things like happiness take a lot of work.

There is plenty of literature on the subject of happiness currently available, so, instead of focusing on that, I’d like to look at the comments, one in particular. While many offered gratitude for the article, one reader, Martyn, wrote: “What a lot of tosh. Sorry can’t say more off to work to earn a living. Cheers!” Since I do not believe the British reader was referring to the famed reggae singer, we’ll allow tosh to be “nonsense.”

I can’t say I don’t sympathize with this sentiment, in one regard at least. I recall my studies in world religions, contemplating exactly how ascetics could claim responsibility for their actions when their lifestyle comprised begging, spending time “hanging out” (and, of course, meditating) instead of “earning” their living. I can’t say that that thought hasn’t seeped into my mind over the past twelve years of living and working in New York City as well. This attitude misses the forest for the trees, however, and it is one that I have worked myself out of.

This isn’t to say there are not plenty of people who do not live responsible lives, who genuinely put no effort into earning money and expect it to come to them. On the flip side, people working forty to sixty hour weeks can also be rather irresponsible. (I’ve known people who purposefully set aside $200 of their weekly earnings to, as they put it, “blow” at the bar each weekend; I’d have to question the responsibility of this.) As Goleman points out, meditation takes work, something those of you who meditate intimately understand. Leading a life of compassion, or in this case, happiness, is a hard-won lifestyle. And to say that the people who undertake such a role in our world aren’t working would be an unfortunate oversight.

Again, I can’t fully disagree with the reader who commented, “Anger and frustration is a [sic] means for change and improvement.” Completely true, they are catalysts for change. Point being, you must allow them to change those base emotions into something that will serve you and your peers. If you find these habits recurring, and you do nothing about them, what possible benefits could come from clinging to them? In the same token, and this is something monks are well aware of, why cling to happiness? A simple answer: the latter, in the temporary sense, allows us to live a more meaningful, fulfilling life. Sure, the “goal” might be to go beyond dualistic ideologies, yet in my experiences, I’ve hit great peaks and strides in my yoga practice due to being open-hearted and open-minded, not by reverting to negative patterns.

So I would answer Martyn that no, such a “career” is no tosh. Mingyur is an established writer, so he is not living off the means of others in that aforementioned ascetic posturing. Until my dying day I’ll argue that writing is as valid a profession as anything out there. As for happiness, that too is a career quite a few of us would do well in pursuing. As we get better at it, maybe we’d see how much work it is, and how large the payback for ourselves and everyone else really is.

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