How many times a day do we feel uncomfortable, miserable, irritated or upset? Stopped in our tracks by irritating things that tarnish our happiness and take the edge off our joyful day.
Do you recognize any of these scenarios…………..
‘I had to wait 20 minutes to get into the bathroom’
‘All the corn flakes were gone when I went for my breakfast’
‘Somebody pushed past and took the last seat, I had to stand right through’
‘I texted them three times and they still haven’t answered’
‘They all went together but I wasn’t invited’
‘I felt so upset when he answered so sharply’
‘I didn’t even get a birthday card from them’
‘It wasn’t my choice of restaurant so I didn’t enjoy the meal’
These may be relatively trivial situations, but how often do we say ‘I’m really fed up, it’s been a miserable day,just one thing after another’ ?
All these little things rattle us in one way or another, we feel just a little pain from criticism, dejection or irritation, rather than sailing through our day with a light and happy mind. Sometimes situations really get us down and we feel the scene has been set for a disastrous day, our mind feeling heavy already at the prospect. So how can we avoid all this?
Q) Look again at the situations above and notice what is common to all of them.
In every miserable, upsetting, irritating situation in our life the focus is on ourself: ‘I’ ‘Me’ ‘Mine’.
We spend our whole life focusing on our needs, desires, wishes, and consequently feel gutted when they are unfulfilled. Why? Because striving to get what we want and desire is going to make us happy, right? Wrong!
This may seem strange but prioritizing our own wishes and desires above those of others is not a recipe for success.
As Shantideva, a famous Buddhist master, said:
“All the happiness there is in this world
Arises from wishing others to be happy,
And all the suffering there is in this world
Arises from wishing ourself to be happy’
How can this make sense?
Our normal M.O. is to view ourself as the center of the universe: ourself, family and close friends being of prime importance, while anybody outside this very small circle, being of little importance at all. So we strive for our own happiness without recognizing that others have the same wish – to be happy and avoid any kind of pain or suffering. This is one wish we all have in common yet rarely do we recognize this as we are too busy focusing on ourself, or ‘I’. Buddhists call this a mind of self-cherishing, a negative mind or delusion
So what’s the problem?
Ironically, focusing on our own wishes for happiness and neglecting the wishes of others is the cause of all our pain, rather than a cause for happiness, a complete reversal of how we thought things worked. How can this be?
Even in the trivial situations above we can see that if we didn’t have expectations that we ought to have the last few corn flakes, the seat on the train, the immediate text reply or be the first person people remembered to notify, invite or acknowledge, we would be ridding ourself of quite a few painful moments straight off.
It’s like an inverse law: the more we can decrease our view of our own self-importance (i.e. decrease our self-cherishing mind) the more our happiness will increase.
We can then boost our happiness even more by focusing on the wishes of others to be happy and realizing that their wish is as important to them as our is to us ( this is called cherishing others). With this view we can begin to see that someone else has just as much right to be in the bathroom, finish off the cereal or take the last seat.
When we develop a mindset that actually focuses on trying to help others be happy, we really start to notice a big change in our own levels of happiness. You have probably experienced this before when you have helped somebody in some small way, picked up papers they have dropped, carried their shopping, helped a sick relative or a grieving friend after a relationship bust-up. That’s the ‘proof of the pudding’, we help others to feel happy, which results in an increase in our own happiness, whereas focusing selfishly on ourself and our own needs, leads to more misery.
Why do we get miserable?
When we are obsessed with our own wishes not only does this cause us unhappiness and mental pain as explained above, but in our efforts to gather everything we want and avoid everything we don’t want, we start to act in unpleasant ways; we get angry, greedy, resentful, jealous, we lie, cheat, steal, say and do unpleasant things which hurt others, all of which, contrary to our expectations, disturbs our peace of mind. Without peace of mind there is no happiness. It’s impossible to feel happy while experiencing an angry or jealous mind.
The miserable mind of self-cherishing acts like a breeding ground for all the other negative minds, (or delusions) which destroy our happiness.
The first step?
We can’t change overnight. Like anything else worth having it takes a little effort and a little time to start to diminish this mind of self-cherishing. Take the long-term view; have you found perfect happiness in this life? Never a miserable moment? How many years have you been following ‘Plan A’? Maybe it’s time to look into ‘Plan B’?
The first step is to catch this selfish mind in action. Every time you feel a bit angsty, look to see where it’s coming from. You can guarantee it will be due to something not going according to your plan, challenging your self-cherishing mind. Can you find another way to view the situation? Re-evaluate your importance in the grand scheme of things – (how big is the universe? How many billion people?) – consider those around you, the difficulties they endure, the pain they suffer, think kindly of them and wish them to be happy and free from any pain, help them if possible. This begins to develop our ability to cherish others. Cherishing others is a cause of happiness for all concerned.
‘Three little things.’
I find this the simplest way to kick-start a miserable mind. if you are feeling a bit low and self-focused, make an effort to do ‘three little things’ for others, they can be as simple as you like e.g. let someone out in front of you on your drive to work, make somebody a coffee, give a few coins to a homeless person, use your imagination but do something specifically for somebody else, you will be making them happy and lifting your own mood at the same time. Give yourself a pat on the back and appreciate the growth of your good qualities. Every little step counts.
Keep up the good work in thought, word and deed, and watch your happiness grow. 🙂