Whenever I am choosing what movie to watch, what activity to do or what kind of conversation I am about to have with someone, I try to ask myself this question:
If I go ahead with this, will this contribute to my happiness?
It’s a very simple question, but if asked candidly to yourself, it can reveal a lot of insight.
We can see our mind as a big garden with all kinds of seeds. Seeds of fear, insecurity, stress, anger, despair, joy, gratitude, happiness, love, mindfulness and many other seeds.
As human beings we all get the same set of seeds, but it’s up to us how we take care of our garden. If we watch a horror movie, we might water the seed of fear. If we punish ourselves or somebody else, we might water the seed of anger. If we have a mindful cup of tea, we water the seed of mindfulness.
Every thought, word or action will have an impact on the state of our garden. For some of us, the seeds of anger and resentment have been well watered throughout our lives. The same accounts for stress and anxiety. These seeds then become well-established and strong plants. Other seeds, such as gratitude and joy, might still be seeds waiting to be watered.
Everything we do, affects the state of our garden. We can’t change our garden overnight from a dry and deprived place to a blooming flower garden. It takes time and practice. That’s why diligent practice is so crucial in mindfulness, especially if we want to have real effects on the neurobiology of our brain.
I first learned to ask myself this happiness question in 2005 during my first meditation retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. That year, I took on an intention to practice his five mindfulness trainings.
These beautifully formulated invitations to apply mindfulness in everyday life have changed dramatically how I relate to work, family, friends, my emotions, and myself. The common thread in all of them seems to be the correlation with happiness.
After 12 years of experimenting with these trainings, it became clear that when I do more of any of these, I feel happier. I am not referring to the superficial, pleasure-focused happiness, but the deeper level of happiness, understanding and peace of mind.
So I decided long ago that my compass should be set for happiness. And these trainings would be my partners-in-crime. However, this turned out to not be easy.
Most of the time my compass is still set for other well-conditioned directions in my brain. This includes a sense of duty, obligation, fear, avoiding insecurity and financial insecurity and other tendencies in my negativity bias. Or the compass is set for the directions that the media and environment determine for me, which can be summarized by: I need to have more, be more and buy more.
So we need help if we’re serious about this practice. I learned that my triple C is my biggest source of support here: courage, commitment and community.
1. Courage to go against the stream, against the messages of the media and choose a higher path. Courage is also a seed in our garden and I am consciously nurturing my courage through meditation, yoga, climbing and regularly watching and listening to teachers that give me a sense of courage on the path.
2. Commitment for me is all about creating the right conditions to make my practice of happiness more systematic. This includes reminders, rituals and candid end-of-day or week assessments of my practice of happiness. I am committed to make every year of my life a bit happier than the former one.
3. Last, but not least, community. Thich Nhat Hanh emphasized this a lot as do many other teachers for a reason. Even with courage and commitment, if we’re on our own, we’ll drift off at some stage.
The community is not just to support our practice, but also an inherent part of our practice by giving us the opportunity to relate to others from an intention of mindfulness. My family, work, yoga, meditation and dance communities all help me to keep my compass being set towards happiness.
I invite you to ask yourself: In my everyday life choices, what is my compass set towards? And is that actually working out for me and others around me?
If yes, keep going! If not, set up an experiment and set your compass for the next week towards something else that has real importance to you. It doesn’t need to be happiness. It can be freedom or peace or another value that is important to you right now.
Good luck and enjoy the practice!
Gaston is co-founder of the TeamUp Triad Coaching Program, a 9-week mindful coaching program which helps you be better at the stuff that really matters. Check out our new website! www.individuals.teamup.co