Stop Chasing Happiness

“People wear diamond rings on their fingers and think that the fingers feel happy, but actually it is best to wear nothing on the fingers. Fingers feel happy when they forget themselves.” —Dogen

People today are obsessed with happiness. Maybe it’s our remnant Judeo-Christian values praising “goodness” over all else, or distant fantasies of paradise. Maybe it’s a desire to find meaning in the spiritually-forgetful modern world. Maybe it’s the false belief that we become happier over time, that we are on a journey towards happiness. We all know deep down that life is not some sort of upward journey towards bliss. It’s dynamic and spontaneous; that’s what makes it interesting.

Where does this false assumption come from? It comes from feeling dissatisfied. We all feel naturally dissatisfied at regular intervals; it’s the way of life. Instead of learning how to make peace with our dissatisfaction, we invent narratives about the past and future that justify our bad feelings in the present and help us cling to a ‘better future’. Those who wish to escape the present moment are unhappy. They create ideals, goals, and notions of progression by which those goals can be achieved.

The paradox here is that, if you aren’t satisfied in the present moment, no amount of achievement or progress can possibly satisfy you. The present is all we have, after all. When we stake our happiness on an illusory future, we make present happiness all but unattainable.

This is anything but a hopeless situation. Meditation helps us reorient our attention towards the moment. When we find our salvation in the moment, we don’t need to create distant goals and fantasies. We can simply feel satisfied in being. Isn’t this the purpose of life? This is why meditation is the most important activity— it detaches us from results. What convinces us that the diamond rings make our fingers feel happy is just a mental trick. We can feel happy with or without the stimuli once we come to this understanding.

What’s crucial is to meditate without the goal of becoming happier. People falsely meditate as an intermediary between themselves and inner-peace. It isn’t a bridge towards a new place. You are just settling into where you already are. This is a subtle difference but it encompasses the solution to most of our petty problems and discomforts. If you meditate just to try to save yourself from unhappiness or to build skills that make your life feel more meaningful, you are missing the mark. You have to stop chasing happiness and just meditate to meditate.

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