During a stressful night, I remembered that I had “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book” on my shelf. It’s a collection of Buddhist wisdom that I borrowed from my dad a long time ago. I flipped through the pages of quotes, looking for themes to calm me as I anxiously awaited the next work day. I read every single one, but it wasn’t until I reached the page with the above quote that I paused. I read it again. And again. I took a picture of it with my phone so I would always have it on me.
I’ve quasi given up on “happiness” since we’re all being bombarded with “5 Ways to be Happy Now!” and “Here’s Your Key to Happiness!” as if not being happy 24/7 is a problem. Actually, being that happy is as serious a medical condition as depression. What I’m striving for is contentment, not euphoria. I think that’s more of what Buddha means — happiness equals being content and at peace with what is, not being ecstatic and smiling and professing joy until your face hurts. That little instruction really struck a chord with me. So if I rephrase it to a more tame and attainable goal (in our society’s happy-driven mania):
Contentment and Peace with Yourself come when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others.
I like it. That’s something wise and achievable. I also like how he mentions “your work and words,” which can be taken a couple ways. In its most simple form, it can mean your actions and your verbalization, the ways you show and voice yourself every day. It’s important to focus on both, and not simply one or the other. Actions may speak louder than words, but not always. Work can also mean what you do to make a living, or what you contribute to a community or situation. Words can happen in that type of work as well — words can be your work, depending on your profession or chosen method of expression. While it’s not as important how we interpret that phrase of the quote (although I choose to see it as both generic functions and contributions), what does matter is that the work and words “are of benefit to yourself and others.”
Usually, we think of our work, our jobs, as only benefiting our employers or our customers or clients. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes when our work goes unappreciated, it feels like all that work we did hasn’t benefited anyone. Most of all, it hasn’t benefited us. We want to achieve contentment with our work, but we really don’t pay attention to whether or not it benefits us by ways other than health insurance or paid time off. Does our work produce a good or helpful result? Maybe to someone else. It is something that promotes our own well-being? Rarely.
I know my job produces helpful results for others, but it does not do that for me, nor does it promote my own well-being. But then I am reminded of the philosophy behind workisnotajob:
Difficult as it may be to disconnect work from job, it’s something that makes sense when our jobs leave us feeling unfulfilled. If I “transfer [my] energy into something creative and inspiring” like they do in their manifesto, then my work will be more fulfilling and productive. My work and words, like the ones I am writing now, will produce positive results for others and myself.
Contentment and peace with yourself come when your transference of energy and verbal expression produce helpful results and promote the well-being of yourself and others.
Buddha’s version is simpler and easier to remember, but the “explainer” version above helps me better understand the intent of the words. So often we put inspiring quotes around us, but we hardly take the time to really think about what they mean and how we can implement them in our daily lives. Quoting someone wise is easier than actively following their advice.
I am going to try to live more by that advice instead of just quoting it to myself and pretending it means something. My first step was writing this — putting my work and words into a beneficial piece, not only for others who might feel the same, but also (quite especially) for myself. This feels useful and healthier than dwelling on what might be and how I’m not “happy.” Perhaps, with training and reflection, the contentment and peace I seek will come from writing more like this.