If you’re on Spiritual Twitter* for any period of time, you’ll start to see them: Pithy sayings about #happiness or #peace that are just not true.
Here’s another one:
Happiness is your birthright, hold on to it no matter what.
They end up sounding like those motivation posters that hopefully have been banished from the actual walls of actual companies by now. You know the ones:
In case you can’t read the tiny text on that, it says:
Teamwork is the ability to work together towards a common vision,
the ability to direct individual accomplishment towards
organizational objectives. It is the fuel that
allows common people to attain
Well then. You probably didn’t know that!! A definition of teamwork is likely life-changing for you, when you encounter it displayed on the wall next to the copy machine!!
Yeah, didn’t think so.
Or what about this:
WTF?? Um, just, no. No offense to motherhood! It’s very apple-pie-y and all. But all love…. what??
With the quote that I started with — “Happiness is your birthright, hold on to it no matter what” — the issue is the word “happiness” and also on the concept of holding onto something. Let’s start with the first part.
Happiness is a word for an emotion (I’m tempted to create my own motivational poster with the definition of happiness!! since it seems it needs defining!).
Happiness will always come and go. It’s part of living in the world. Happiness is a state of mind. It arises, and it goes away.
While it’s true that meditation will bring happiness, it’s not something that I believe you should be focusing on.
It’s definitely not something to grab hold of and hang onto, per this advice! If you do that, you’re only setting yourself up for suffering. What if you try chasing happiness and you do something that finally makes it arise in your life, and you say, “Aha! I’m successful! I’ve achieved happiness!”
But then something else happens — as it undoubtedly will — and the happiness goes away. In its place you get disappointment, or sadness, or even grief, such as when a major loss occurs. As it always will eventually.
With the motivational poster, the information being conveyed is not actually that useful. Who does not know what teaamwork is? And too often, those types of posters are displayed prominently in organizations where there is way too much evidence that the value being promoted is not actually practiced at the top. Those types of posters can engender disillusion as they make the disconnect in the reality that individuals are living in the day-to-day life of the organization, compared with the value being touted, so jarring.
The problem with a Spiritual Aphorism like the “happiness” quote happens when an earnest seeker hears it, thinks, “Yeah, that sounds great!” and then retweets it or likes it or whatever because it’s something that seems like it should be true…. But it does not actually resonate with Truth.
In my experience, happiness is way too elusive until you’re really far along on the path — and even then, if you were always happy all the time, you’d forget what happiness is, wouldn’t you? At least for me, having some ups and downs reminds me of how good the ups are. It does not mean that when the downs happen, I need to suffer; I can navigate those without becoming unhappy. But that is not arising in my life because I am hanging onto the happiness. It’s arising because I’ve come to know that happiness is an aspect of my true nature.
But it’s just one aspect — one word. It’s an effect, not a cause.
If I try to hang onto the effect, I am already lost.
Pithy sayings like this can do damage. They lead us down the wrong path. If I believe that I must “hang onto” happiness, that it is my “birthright” and I do not feel happiness in every moment, then I immediately decide that I”m doing something wrong.
“Dang, I can’t even get this right!”
It can make me feel like a loser all over again, which for most people is inconsistent with the experience of happiness.
Happiness is not the goal. Learning who you really are is the goal.
If you uncover the Truth of yourself, then all sorts of wonderful things will follow.
But those are effects, not causes.
You already are your “birthright” — you don’t have to do anything for it to be here.
The spiritual path is about letting go of false ideas and misunderstandings. You’re already hanging on to more than you need! Let those go and happiness will be revealed.
Or maybe I’m just a grouch. 🙂 (See: Why “Have a blessed day” doesn’t work for me)
*Also occurs on Mystical Facebook, Enlightenment Insta, and every other social media that exists or will exist