Lasting Well-Being

by DavalosMcCormack on February 18, 2008

Remember when you were a kid and you had a really good ice cream bar and you wanted to make it last as long as you could? I do! My technique was to take slow licks or small bites and savor each taste then continue until it was all gone. This technique had some problems when it came to fudgesickles because the bar was relentlessly focused on melting all over my hands and the handlebars of my bike, but the whole idea was to make it last a long time so I could enjoy every minute.

I remember what a pleasure it gave me to be riding my bike eating my fudgesickle. What happiness. Life was good. I can still feel that happy just thinking about it. So is happiness a state of mind or does it depend on what we feel emotionally at the time? Can we attain that feeling of happiness and pleasure without the fudgesickle?

I recently read a paper by Paul Ekman, professor of psychology at UCSF in San Francisco, “Buddhist and Psychological Perspectives on Emotions and Well-Being”

Now you may not think that the ice cream has anything to do with Buddhism, but it does. You see Dr. Ekman and some esteemed psychologists got together with the Dalai Lama and some of his friends to find out how Buddhists achieve enduring well-being or happiness. They wanted to know how emotions interact with the achievement of enduring happiness. You see, emotions don’t seem to interfere with the long lasting attainment of well-being to Buddhist practitioners. In fact, there is no word in sanskrit for emotion because Buddhists believe emotions and how we think about them can help or hinder our experience of happiness. They believe it’s how we interpret, deal, and understand emotions that makes a difference. The premise is that some emotions enhance long term happiness and others will hinder a well-being outcome.

Here’s the difference. To the western mind happiness seems to be based on short term events depending on how you feel emotionally at any given time, like riding a bike eating a fudgesickle on a sunny day. What’s not to be happy about? The Buddhists however, experience happiness somewhat differently, the term for this is sukha which means “enduring” happiness. Rather than a fleeting emotion or circumstance it is a feeling of well-being that arises from a mental balance and insight into the nature of reality. In other words, we have emotions that can gear us toward happiness or misery. Buddhists simply take into account the emotion and decide what to do with it. I call it perspective.

Of course the act of meditation and quieting the mind for hours and years seems to help balance out the emotion for them, but for us, who has the time? What the the psychologists learned was that Buddhist meditation helps focus on identifying how emotions arise, how they are experienced, and how they influence one’s life long-term. The final step is taking that emotion and changing it so it no longer controls you. Hence the quiet mind is free from suffering.

Do you have to meditate constantly for years before this process can work for you, so your mind is free from disruptive emotions? Well the psychologists wondered the same thing and wanted to find out what destructive emotions affect our fabric of life making enduring happiness unavailable to us. So they conducted a number of tests, talked to the Dalai Lama and they learned the 4 major emotions that are considered to be fundamental toxins of the mind according to Buddhist belief.

Tune in next week and we’ll tell you what they are….

Just kidding.

The first and foremost is “craving” you might think of it as wanting, yearning, waiting until you have something or someone in order to be happy at last. Craving gives rise to anxiety, misery, fear and anger and unbalances the mind while focusing the attainment of happiness to an outside source. It makes objects and others more important then yourself as a source of happiness.

The next toxic emotion is hatred. What can I say? Get rid of that stuff! It harbors resentment and places a delusional impression that the problem lies not with you but with the object of your hatred. I’m reminded of the saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy will die”.

Other mind toxins are jealousy and arrogance. These emotions are regarded, in Buddhism, as the source of all mental suffering.

So now you know how to achieve sukha. What? You don’t know how to get control of these toxic emotions in order to heal yourself and bring about a lasting and pleasurable happiness. The psychologists concluded that hostile emotions are detrimental to your health. The emphasis in much of psychology is on learning how to reappraise situations or how to control emotional behavior and expressions so you can build a balanced and healthy life. What do they mean? One word, perspective. Just by recognizing the emotion and thinking about how you are experiencing those feelings and what they are doing to you will help you “reappraise” your situation.

How do you do that? Well, one simple way is to stop, relax, breathe and give yourself a break from the emotional hold, and everytime you do it will become easier to calm yourself and get a fresh perspective.

I do this with my clients when I hypnotize them. They relax, breathe and are calmed, which gives them some time to be free of all the toxic emotions they may be experiencing, and when they awaken and come back to reality they have a new way, a clearer way of dealing with their problems. No, the problem doesn’t go away, but they aren’t controlled by the emotion any longer, making it easier to see and create a solution.

So you see you don’t have to have a fudgesickle and a bike to enjoy true and lasting happiness, but you can savor every day free of suffering. You don’t have to have the big house, the right mate or the fast car before you can be happy. You don’t have to waste time with hostile emotions. You can simply use your mind to create on-going pleasant feelings throughout your life, because the feeling of well-being lives within you. It’s your choice. Instead of enduring life create enduring happiness.

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