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21 March 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness and the Pursuit of Pleasure

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So, I want to talk about Happiness.

What is happiness and where are we going to find it?

I think we have this ambiguous relationship with happiness, because we spend so much of our life seeking it through pleasure. And it’s almost as if, at some level, we seem to think that the pursuit of pleasure is the pursuit of happiness. Certainly if we look at humanity as a whole, it looks as if our instinct is driving us far more strongly to the pursuit of pleasure than it is the pursuit of happiness. Whilst we have found extraordinary ways to gratify our desire for pleasure, we haven’t made particularly good in-roads into finding where real and lasting happiness is. I think this is absolutely at the heart of the problem we are all facing, as humanity, right now.

In many ways we might even have been seeking pleasure at the expense of our happiness. It’s funny really, because what is pleasure? Usually it’s been in gratification that we’ve sought pleasure. As we’ve become more and more used to finding the pleasurable, we’ve become more used to expecting it and we seek our gratification more immediately, becoming less and less satisfied if we don’t get it.

I remember when I was a young boy and I got my first grown-up bicycle, it kept me happy, satisfied, for such a long time. I learned to change the tyre when it was broken, take it apart and fix the gears, re grip the handle bars. I cherished it, took care of it and appreciated it. I rode that bike for years until it was broken and just too small for me. By the time I was a teenager or perhaps 20 years old, when I got my first mobile phone. There was some kind of excitement about the novelty of it, but it didn’t satisfy me for very long. By then I had simply grown too used to getting new things when I wanted, and so I ditched it for a new one as soon as my friends started to upgrade theirs.

[groups_non_member group=”Registered”]This pursuit of pleasure, this pursuit of gratification has a, ‘chasing its own tail’ characteristic to it. If we look closely we will see that it’s the seeking of pleasure that we are intoxicated with, not necessarily the pleasure itself. It’s reached a point where things that used to bring us pleasure when we did get them, they actually seem quite empty. And so we find ourselves constantly looking for something new, novel or more exciting. We are constantly seeking more gratification.

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[groups_member group=”Registered”]This pursuit of pleasure, this pursuit of gratification has a, ‘chasing its own tail’ characteristic to it. If we look closely we will see that it’s the seeking of pleasure that we are intoxicated with, not necessarily the pleasure itself. It’s reached a point where things that used to bring us pleasure when we did get them, they actually seem quite empty. And so we find ourselves constantly looking for something new, novel or more exciting. We are constantly seeking more gratification.

And our gratification is often so instant now. We can have almost anything we want now, whenever we want it. Within a few seconds of deciding “I want that new book”, it’s ordered and it’s on its way to you. And how far down the line has being able to get want we want taken us towards being happy? Our ideas of gratification, the pleasure that we seek, have become more and more complex. The things we used to have time to find pleasure in we have less and less time for. What’s going on? And what about things that take time and bring reward only gradually. Do we even have enough time to think about doing such things as learning to play a musical instrument, tend a flower garden or paint, sew or knit.

So why have we replaced the search for happiness with the search for pleasure? Now happiness is actually contentment. Happiness is rooted in the simple feeling of “this is enough and its great” whatever it is. There is both satisfaction and appreciation in it. We realise this quite early on in our meditation when we find ourselves feeling extremely content, peaceful and happy, and yet we are doing something which ordinarily we would consider to be mind numbingly boring! I mean watching you breath for goodness sake. What could be so enjoyable about that? Well the point is that to really achieve that sense of joy and contentment, we need to be free of vexation. And yet the most vexing thing on many of our lives is the feeling of not being satisfied itself. It’s a no win situation!

So whilst we equate happiness with pleasurable feeling, there is always going to be some kind of craving for it, some kind of needing to reach out for it. And the one sure thing about craving is that it’s never satisfied. Its nature is to be not satisfied. So it doesn’t matter what it is you reach out for in pursuit of pleasure, the acquisition of that pleasure will never leave you with satisfaction, because you reached out for it in the first place; and that craving doesn’t just go away when you get what you want..

For a moment, that grasping of pleasure does put a layer, a blanket, over that friction or unsettled feeling we carry around with us. “I feel a little bit agitated – it would be nice if I had a glass of wine”, “I haven’t got enough energy – it would be nice if I had a cup of coffee” and so on and so forth. We find these ways to just put a pleasurable feeling or pleasurable experience over the moment of friction; to hide from it for a while. We don’t stop, to go through to the other side of that friction, where there’s nothing lacking. Now, that’s happiness. Happiness is ‘there’s nothing lacking’, there’s no feeling of friction, there’s no suffering in the moment. This means you have to be content with what you have right now, in this ordinary moment, the one in which you normally feel nothing but friction, or some sense of lacking, or longing, or a need to add something to it to make it pleasurable.

So, can you see how the pursuit of pleasure and the pursuit of happiness sort of move in opposite directions?

The more you perceive pleasure and gratification as the route to happiness, the more restless, the more agitated with grasping your mind becomes and the less it is able to rest in this moment and be satisfied, content or happy.

The other thing about the pursuit of gratification is that it does nothing but consume, whereas the experience of happiness itself needs nothing added to it, it needs to consume nothing.

Our dear planet is labouring and weary from this mass of craving and this pursuit of gratification that we as humanity have indulged in for so long. And yet we are still not happy. For all the pleasure we’ve managed to squeeze into our lives, for all the enjoyable things we have managed to consume, we are not satisfied, our craving is not satisfied, it’s never satisfied. It is an endless quest that will not stop until it’s consumed everything it possibly could. And even then, it doesn’t get to the point of “I’ve consumed everything I could possibly have, now I’m satisfied.” No, far from it. The only thing that happens when we are no longer able to have those things that we expect, those things we assume we can have, is a state of despair. This craving and longing for pleasure, when we find that pleasure is no longer there, leaves us with nothing but the craving and a longing that now isn’t able to be satisfied.

So when you understand, as you’re maybe starting to understand if you are already meditating, what happiness actually is, you’ll understand that it would have cost all of us so much less suffering if we had learned to start to be happy with what we already have before asking what more do I need. Because one day, we all could find ourselves in the position where there simply is not more. Where what we have now is all there is. Now thats the case already for many people, and they also like us long to be happy. Well happiness actually starts with the feeling that what I already have right now, in this moment is enough. Happiness is contentment. And the crazy thing is that there is a very poor correlation between how much you have and how happy or content you are.

Happiness is to be content with how it is. Just this. This life that you have, and this extraordinary opportunity to just ‘witness’ this beautiful miraculous planet that you walk upon every day will provide all the intoxication you will ever need if you can really start to turn up and pay attention to it. If you didn’t have that craving for pleasure, for gratification, you’d find all the pleasure you needed; just in beholding, witnessing and truly being with what you are part of.

At the end of this life if I were to look back at everything that I have consumed stacked up on one side, and everything that I have offered up on the other, I would surely come to realise that I will have been a great cost to this planet whilst I was here. And if all of us were to stand up and compare on the one side what I have consumed in my time here, what we have all consumed, and on the other side, what we have contributed, we would certainly know that it has been a great cost, us being here. The sad thing is that if we really did understand what happiness is and what it is to be happy we might all have chosen to lead very different lives and it might have been much less of a burden on the world to have us all here..

You know, when you first experience true serenity in your meditation, when you first realise that it’s the most peaceful you’ve ever been in your entire life, and you stop and you look at that, and you realise “what was I doing?” you will see that you wre doing absolutely nothing. When you realise that this feeling of happiness and this absence of suffering came about while I was doing something as mundane as watching my breath. You realise it is that simple, that it is only with the ‘momentary’ fading away of this grasping, this craving, this desire and this greed that real joy and happiness ever do truly arise.

And the coolness that comes upon your heart and mind in that moment that is utterly satisfied starts to open our eyes in a new direction. Then you realise “I wasn’t on top of a mountain, I wasn’t flying in a spaceship, I wasn’t eating the most exquisite dish on the planet or sitting next to the most beautiful woman in the world.” I was sitting on my own, on a cushion, on the floor, doing nothing. And I found a moment of peace and happiness, that didn’t cost anybody anything, and it was complete.

Don’t let anyone tell you that making the effort to calm your mind and be with yourself is a waste of your time, because this planet has been consumed by people who didn’t take the time to be with themselves and be at peace. Do what you’ve got to do, until that craving is gone. Because then you’ll be able to be here, at peace, and it need not cost anything.

Think about it. There is no pleasure that has totally satisfied you yet. Why do you think there will be? There is plenty enough pleasure in a moment of calm, of stillness, when you can turn up and be here. And there’s happiness and contentment there too and you are satisfied, really. Let go of this chasing and gratification. There’s no time for it now. You’ve had your gratification and we’ve all had our gratification. We’ve all sought pleasure in every avenue we could possibly have sought it.

So maybe it is time to start seeking happiness. The wonderful thing about it is that your happiness, will rub off on others and may even make them happy too.

When you find where your happiness lies it will open the door to a whole new approach to life. So go on…why not? Start finding your own happiness right now.

here is a funny story about a man who came to realise where his happiness really did lie


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