Happiness 101

Today’s SF headline news spotlights a course at Stanford on happiness! It’s called Happiness 101, and the syllabus content sounds a lot like what I teach every day, as an instructor of yoga and mindfulness: gratitude, meditation, connection, forgiveness, relaxation.

It’s good timing for reminders of happiness. The holidays are “supposed” to be happy — Happy Holidays! — but often we feel anxiety, exhaustion, loneliness, irritation, and other difficult emotions during this season.

It seems too simple that happiness could be right here, in the form of a meditation, a conversation, a gratitude journal or a list of things that relax and replenish us. These practices don’t make us happy; they point us toward contentment. When we’re in the midst of suffering and dissatisfaction, when our heart constricts or our vision has narrowed, these are space holders for recalling a wider view. Like a photo album of a great vacation that reminds us that we’ve had adventures and it’s time to travel again. Except we’re traveling to ourselves, each other, and the present moment.

There are a lot of comments on the article, many about privileged students wasting time and money on happiness classes. But what a profound shift if people who are presumably being educated for leadership also learn to be compassionate, grateful, and aware. Another commenter on the article wrote, “Not another list! Noooooo……” Which I find funny, because it’s true that paradigm shifting requires effort. Or at least practice.

All the more reason for patience and kindness in the process. Sometimes I start flossing diligently in the week before I go to the dentist. It’s probably better for my gums than if I didn’t floss at all, but better yet is consistent, dedicated flossing every day. All of these practices — meditation, gratitude, even relaxation — are kind of like flossing. Practiced consistently, they yield a steady attentiveness to moments of contentment in daily life, and support deep joy. Contentment and joy are available in this very moment. That’s something I’m grateful for!

If you’re curious, there’s a growing literature of happiness, including these titles I like: The Chemistry of Joy: A Three-step Program for Overcoming Depression through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom (Emmons), Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life (Boorstein), Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program (Salzberg).

Maybe it’s time to simply lie down for a bit, take a deep breath, or… start another list! What are you grateful for? What brings you joy?

One comment

  1. alicia says:

    i, too, read that article and was inspired. in fact, i pulled out my gratitude journal and a pen last night and wrote a couple pages worth of things i’m grateful for – first time in 6 months!

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