Relax, you can be happy too.

Remember that John Lennon line, "when a man must break his back to earn a day of living" on the Rubber Soul album of 1965? The first time I heard it, it sent a chill up my spine. Still does. The idea that so much effort (breaking his back) should have to be invested in attaining a comparatively small amount of enjoyment (a day of living) seemed a bit imbalanced. Makes you wonder whether the Protestant work ethic of "no pain, no gain", is a just a clever way of keeping your subordinates energised. Don't know about you, but I certainly fell for it.

How better off would we be if - instead - we had been taught that the pleasure was in the doing rather than in the result?

You will never see a better example of the 'no pain, no gain' principal in action than at Christmas. So much effort and sacrifice invested in the preparation for one day, and so much hoped-for relief at the end. Yes, I know I am presenting a view peculiar to my own immediate socio-cultural group, but for many (Westerners in particular) Christmas day is the culmination of weeks or even months of build-up. Usually involving somebody else's tension and back-breaking. So much planning, politics, preparation, doubt, jealousies, all-year-long-forgotten gripes, recriminations … for a few hours of pleasure and relief.

Which brings me to the purpose of this article: happiness.

Happiness now

If you could choose the one time of the year to revisit as a kid, it would be Christmas. Endless things to acquire, goodies to consume, stimulation to be had. And an unshakeable certainty that happiness will flow as a result.

But if you were the reflective type, you might look at all the wrapping paper and wine bottles, and wonder whether anything had really changed.

Reflecting still, you might start wondering:
Do I live life in the belief that "I will be happy when…" ?
Or "I will feel content as soon as…" ?
Or "I will be enlightened/find salvation when…" ?

Then you might come to a realisation there comes in every person’s life at some stage or other, when they accept that acquiring more is not the answer. Not only does it fail to produce happiness, it actually seems to lead to dissatisfaction.

It takes a certain level of maturity to reach this realisation. A child or teenager, for example, has no doubt that the more they acquire, the happier they'll be: more possessions, more friends, more adventures, more accomplishments.

Who'd have thought they would eventually arrive at the conclusion that it was going to take less for them to feel happy and content? Less work, less clutter, less complication, less responsibility. Maybe even less stimulation and fewer possessions.

Sooner or later you accept this. You might even take it further. You might start to think that any dissatisfaction in life is the result of placing too much emphasis on the material.But before you go blaming materialism, let me suggest an alternative view: that materialism is not the problem, but imbalance is. And dissatisfaction is the result - not of too much emphasis on the material, but not enough emphasis on its counterpart, the spiritual.

The broad view of spiritual

On a superficial level, this could relate to all those traditional Christmas values you were expecting me to write about. It might. But it can be much, much broader than this.

The spiritual side of life can be more encompassing than just religious-related stuff. It can relate to meditation, life values, the search for meaning, the need to make a difference, your development as a human being, the need to help others, and even the desire to make our planet a better place. It can include relatively minor activities like reading an uplifting book, going to a play, studying for a degree, standing up for issues that are important to you, or helping your six year old daughter develop her skills as a poet.

More than likely it will involve many of these. And just as the material side of life has many different facets, so does the spiritual.

When one accepts this, and balances the material focus with the spiritual, there is harmony.

Maybe even peace of mind.

© 2010 The Calm Centre




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