“Indeed we live happily. In the midst of worried people, we live free from worry… Happiness is the greatest wealth.” —The Buddha, Dhammapada
I’m struck by so many ancient descriptions of the happiness of people gathered around the Buddha to study and practice mindfulness and loving-kindness. They lived very simply, without luxuries or expensive stuff. Certainly they dealt with the same kinds of challenges that accompany any group of humans living and/or working together, yet they describe themselves as peaceful, contented, grateful — a joyful tribe!
The Buddha was clear that happiness is our own responsibility: “self-improvement or self-impairment is one’s own task, someone does not improve another.” Even the Buddha couldn’t make one happy, he could only show the path to happiness; as my first teacher used to tell us, “I can’t pee for you. You have to do that yourself!”
This is a liberating teaching to remember – it’s not our job to make others happy. Happiness is an inside job; joy doesn’t reside in fancy gifts, travel, vacations, as fun and elegant as they may be. And even if it’s not a happy or fortunate time in our lives, we have a choice about how we understand and respond to what’s happening.
My first cousins’ Big Sur home burned to the ground last Monday. Myra wrote to us: “I may no longer have our beloved home, but I truly know I couldn’t be luckier to have such an amazing circle of friends and family that I adore with all my heart. I am so grateful for all of you.” They are grieving their loss. And, just like us, they deeply know what’s most important in our lives – ourselves, each other, all those we love and whose lives we touch.
Image Credit: T. Goodman