Four Ways Buddhism Can Help You Lead A Happier Life (Even If You’re Not A Buddhist)
A Guest Post By Elizabeth Brico
Happiness. We all know we want it, but very few of us can pinpoint exactly how to get it, or even what it would look like to “be happy.” Most people, however, can agree that a happy life is one which is enjoyed more than it is not enjoyed.
Sound simple? It is…sort of. It’s also very confusing and difficult to achieve.
Distress is a natural part of life. Everyone, no matter how old or young, experiences distress. Which is good actually, because if we didn’t sometimes feel hungry, or too cold, or too hot, or annoyed, or angry, or distressed in some way, we would have no ability to appreciate happiness.
Problems arise when our feelings of distress begin to overwhelm our feelings of happiness. When we feel bored, or angry, or generally discontent more often than joyous or content, it’s time to make some changes. Most of us know when we need to change something in our lives; the bigger questions are what and how.
That’s where the Buddhist philosophy has some sage lessons. Before you close the browser mumbling “I’m not a Buddhist,” I’m not a Buddhist either. I am the daughter of a Cuban Catholic and an American Jew. I got my Bachelor’s degree from a Catholic University and my Master’s from a Buddhist one. All of this exposure to a variety of world religions has led me away from choosing any one faith, but instead to see the value within each. Christianity teaches us the divine glory of forgiveness. Judaism espouses the importance of family and tradition. Buddhism teaches us how to accomplish happiness. So no worries: I’m not trying to convert you. But if you want to find happiness in this lifetime, these four Buddhist inspired actions will help.
Recognize Your Role In Your Own Happiness (Or Suffering)
In the Buddhist philosophy, this is called “Right Understanding.” While it is unfair to blame anyone for the traumas and illness that befall her, it is also true that we have the ability to manage our reactions. If you can recognize, for example, that your stress over a work project is the result of your own upset over the disparity between what you want to have and what you currently have, then you have begun to recognize your role in your suffering. You can help alleviate that stress by reminding yourself that even though it would be nice to get the bonus you have been promised if you complete your project to a certain standard, your life without the bonus is still okay. This small change in your thinking can help shift the way you feel in your everyday life.
Change The Words You Use To Describe Yourself And Your Life
How many times have you looked in the mirror and thought something critical about yourself? “I’m too fat.” “My teeth are crooked.” “I have too many grey hairs.” Or maybe you just criticize your life. “My life sucks.” “My job doesn’t pay enough.” “My partner doesn’t appreciate me.” While some of these things may sometimes be true; perhaps you are underpaid; maybe your doctor has recommended that you lose a few pounds for your health; abusive language will not help. In Buddhism this is called “Right Speech.” Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of your self and life, try saying aloud what you appreciate. “I have a nice smile.” “My eyes are a beautiful color.” “My work hours allow me to spend time with my family.” Humans are a communicative species. We shape our environment through language. Shift the language you use to tell your story, and your story will begin to shift too. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a raise or exercise more; it just means you’re treating yourself and your life with respect. You’ll be surprised how many people will treat you with respect once you start doing it.
Change Your Actions
In Buddhism, this is called “Right Conduct.” Actual Buddhist practitioners have very specific rules of conduct. Like I said earlier, I’m not trying to convert you. The lesson here is not to renounce sex and money like a monk, but to change your destructive habits. Most of us have several. Whether it’s overeating, drinking to excess, shopping beyond our means; ours is a culture of comfort through consumption. But that’s ultimately unhealthy, and will lead you to those feelings of meaninglessness which may have led you to seek out this article in the first place. Identify the actions which cause yourself and others harm. This could include things like being competitive to the point of sabotaging competitors, or being so jealous you monitor your partner’s movements. Whether it harms you or the people around you, identify it (self-honesty is important here) and change it. If you need to seek professional help to accomplish this, do it without shame. The ability to ask for help when you need it is a form of strength.
A lot of people shirk away from mindfulness because they don’t fully understand what it means. Sitting meditation can be daunting. It is hard to sit in stillness for an extended period of time, focusing only on your breath. But mindfulness does not have to mean sitting meditation. It can be a moving meditation, like walking, which is easier to accomplish because you have your physical steps to focus upon rather than only your resting breath. Or, it can mean engaging in an everyday task with mindful intent. Eating or cooking, for example, can be done mindfully. Rather than watching TV or allowing your mind to wander while eating, focus on each bite. Focus on the flavors and sensations passing through your mouth, throat, and stomach, and recognize the transience of these sensations. Engaging in mindfulness will allow you to experience those individual moments of your life free of judgement, and will help you accomplish the first three tasks listed here. In his book Beginning Mindfulness, meditation teacher and Buddhist author Andrew Weiss writes:
“Your practices of mindfulness help you create some space around your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions…Once you have breathing room, you can see the situation in front of you more clearly, and you can act in helpful, constructive ways. (pg. 178)”
As you can see, these four practices do not conflict with any religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Anyone of any faith can practice mindfulness. (after all, what else is prayer, or counting the rosary?) and anyone can change their bad habits, self-harming language, and self-victimizing thought patterns. Engaging in these four Buddhist inspired actions will help you find some of the inner happiness which the speed and chaos of life may have caused you to lose–they will truly change your life in a big way.
A Little about Elizabeth:
Be sure to check out Elizabeth’s website! She is a steadfast advocate for mental health awareness, who is a brilliant writer and has a vast collection of resources and inspirational stories available on her website.
Will you be giving the 4 steps a go? Or do you apply them to your life already? Leave a comment below!