I’ll confess: Alongside my typical upbeat, glass-half-full and benevolent nature, a part of me has been miserable for quite a while; miserable as in stressed out, enraged, bitter, even, at times, hateful. That’s hard to admit, especially given the values I espouse and the work I do. But there it is: I guess I’m a normal, multi-faceted human being, warts and all, just like most everyone else!
Much of those negative emotions I listed bubble up as I experience both the state of our country and our planet. From my perspective, and trying to be as apolitical as possible, our country feels and acts like it’s on a dangerous, accelerating downward trajectory. Part of my stress and anger is fueled by fear, fear of a very uncertain and unstable future on so many levels; one that impacts the rest of the world as well.
Given my emotions and perspectives, it’s probably not surprising to hear that I can waste lots of my precious time blaming all sorts of people, places and things for my current unhappiness. But that vantage point is actually very skewed (and I know better). Happiness is actually an inside job. It’s not caused by influences outside of our own thoughts, feelings and perspectives. Happiness is, ultimately, all on our shoulders—it’s our responsibility. And that sometimes niggly truth was reinforced recently as I was rereading portions of a favorite book, The Art of Happiness, co-written by one of my longtime heroes and mentors, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
In this wisdom-packed tome, Howard C. Cutler, M.D. reviews recent cutting-edge research conducted by Dr. Richard Davidson, a highly-respected neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin. After identifying a specific area in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain that’s associated with states of happiness, he and his colleagues measured the average level of activity in this “happiness” region among a large group of everyday Americans. Next, he performed the same studies on a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks. The contrast was startling: The activity levels in this part of the monks’ brains registered off the chart! Such extreme findings strongly suggest that Buddhist practices (like cultivating compassion and loving kindness) could represent effective methods for increasing individual happiness. After presenting this information, Dr. Cutler concludes, “It is easy to see how such principles could have a profound impact on any society if people adopted them on a widespread scale.”
Of course, the Dalai Lama has long been touting—and demonstrating—that there’s an inseparable link between one’s personal happiness and kindness, compassion and caring for others. What’s more, this linkage is reciprocal: Increased happiness encourages greater compassion, and increased compassion– you guessed it—leads to greater happiness. In other words, when we deliberately cultivate greater kindness and compassion, we actually increase our own happiness; and, in turn, our own increased happiness encourages more caring and reaching out to others.
At this point, some of you might be silently asking yourselves, what exactly is compassion? Here’s how the Dalai Lama describes it: “Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, nonharming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other.”
Can you imagine a more crucial and timely remedy for our present divisive times? But now you might be wondering: How can we possibly extend compassion to those we consider unethical, amoral, even evil? Does practicing compassion require us to abandon our values and sense of right and wrong? If you’d like to tackle these questions, build a more vibrant practice of compassion and cultivate a happier life from within, I invite you to consider the exploration available through Journeys to Healing where my services include wholistic life coaching and mindfulness coaching (including meditation).
In the meantime, if you’re finding yourself at least a little miserable during this unsettling, unpredictable times, may you be inspired by the words of His Holiness (the Dalai Lama):
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; and if you want yourself to be happy, practice compassion.”
May I, we & all beings experience the inseparable & reciprocal link between happiness & compassion.
Deb~ Journeys to Healing
Deb Langhans has worked in the wellness field as a coach/counselor, writer & speaker for over 25 years. She currently owns & operates Journeys to Healing on San Juan Island where she offers "wholistic" life coaching, mindfulness & grief recovery coaching, reflexology, Inner Journey Collage© & a developing line of products designed to encourage healthy habits.
Most services are available in Deb's studio or via phone or Zoom. For more information or scheduling, please go to www.journeystohealing.com (website). email@example.com (email), or 360.317.4526 (texts preferred).