Wake Up! You have a responsibility to be happy
Or so I was told by a leading Lama in Bhutan in 2004
In the autumn of 2004 I travelled to Bhutan with George Burns, psychologist and author of several books on happiness and healing. Nestled in the Himalayas bordering Tibet, Bhutan is the most traditional Buddhist country in the world, the last country in the world to get television, and where gross national product is measured in happiness.
Before heading out for a weeklong trek through the Himalayan Mountains George and I visited several monasteries, and took teachings with the leading Bhutanese Lama. After a rich day I said to the Lama “I feel so appreciative of all that I learn here, and I feel inner conflict because as a Westerner I have the luxury of visiting, taking teachings, meditating and trekking in ways that local people do not have”.
In that subtle yet profound way that things can, the Lama’s response changed my life. He said, “People in the West are privileged as they are born with so much, and because of that you have a responsibility to be happy”.
You have a responsibility to be happy!
The Lama’s insight seemed so obvious when I heard it. Yet, too often we fall into the trap of focusing on the things that make us, or our clients, unhappy – our unwelcome, yet familiar guests of the mind.
A responsibility to be happy is quite a new slant that I have since introduced to many of my clients. Not simply pleasure seeking, but the kind of happiness that serves you, the people around you and the planet. The kind of happiness that research has shown to increase creativity, lower stress levels, build healthy relationships and improve health. The kind of happiness that gives a sense of meaning and fulfilment.
Martin Seligman summarises Positive psychology’s findings that people feel most happy when they have:
• Pleasure – tasty foods, warm baths, etc.
• Engagement or flow – the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity
• Relationships – an extremely reliable indicator of happiness
• Meaning – a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger
• Accomplishments- having realized tangible goals
Research in neuroscience and positive psychology, combined with ancient teachings of contemplative practice, show that we can cultivate more emotional balance in stressful times, healthier relationships and more effective actions by rewiring the neural pathways in our brains. With mindful awareness we can re shape our brains to increase self-compassion, self worth, and resilience, and experience deeper and more lasting contentment and peace.
Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.
Margaret Lee Runbeck
Regardless of whether we are flying high, or in the depths of pain and despair, we can choose happiness as a manner of travelling.