The neuropsychologist (and Wildmind contributor) Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is very good at pointing out that our brains have a negativity bias. Our brains, as he puts it, are like velcro for painful experiences and teflon for pleasant experiences. And this bias has arisen because of our evolutionary history: hominins and early humans who ignored potential threats didn’t leave many ancestors, and so we’re descended from rather “twitchy” forebears who were good at thinking about things that might go wrong.
But now that, for most of us reading this article, our basic needs are largely covered, and so we find ourselves in the situation not of struggling to live, but of trying to live happily … Read more »
In the Path of Freedom, a 1st century meditation manual that I’ve mentioned a few times because it’s the earliest source I know of for the cultivation of lovingkindness etc. in stages, we’re asked first of all to connect with mudita (appreciation) in the following way:
When one sees or hears that some person’s qualities are esteemed by others, and that he is at peace and is joyful, one thinks thus: “Sadhu! Sadhu! May he continue joyful for a long time!”
So this brings up the question of who we know (or know of) who is like that. And it also brings up the question of whether we actually want there to be people … Read more »
The third of the Brahmaviharas, or “immeasurables,” after lovingkindness and compassion, is muditā. Muditā is sometimes translated as sympathetic joy, or empathetic joy, or as appreciative joy.
Our old friend, the first century text, the Path to Freedom, describes it like this:
As parents, who, on seeing the happiness of their dear and only child are glad, and say, “sadhu!” so, one develops appreciative joy for all beings. Thus should appreciative joy be known. The undisturbed dwelling of the mind in appreciative joy — this is called the practising of it. Gladness is its salient characteristic. Non-fear is its function. Destruction of dislike is its manifestation. Its benefits are equal to those of loving-kindness.
So … Read more »
We all want happiness, but much joy do you experience in your life? And I mean real “heart welling up,” “spring in the step,” “full of the joys of spring joy,” “happy for no reason” joy, rather than the dull sense of pleasure that we often experience.
Most people, when they’re asked this question, will say “not much.” Many may go entire days, or even weeks, without any significant joy. Life can often seem like an endless round of chasing deadlines and striving to stay on top of an ever-growing to-do list, and so be imbued with a sense of stress.
Do we even expect to be happy? It strikes me that many of us … Read more »
One slice of the pie of life feels relaxed and contented. And then there is that other slice, in which we feel driven and stressed. Trying to get pleasures, avoid pains, pile up accomplishments and recognitions, be loved by more people. Lose more weight, try to fill the hole in the heart. Slake the thirst, satisfy the hunger. Strive, strain, press.
This other slice is the conventional strategy for happiness. We pursue it for four reasons.
Hustling through an airport, I stopped to buy some water. At the shop’s refrigerator, a man was bent over, loading bottles into it. I reached past him and pulled out one he’d put in. He looked up, stopped working, got a bottle from another shelf, and held it out to me, saying “This one is cold.” I said thanks and took the one he offered.
He didn’t know me and would never see me again. His job was stocking, not customer service. He was busy and looked tired. But he took the time to register that I’d gotten a warm bottle, and he cared enough to shift gears and get me a cold one. He … Read more »
“Tell the truth.” It’s the foundation of science, ethics, and relationships.
But we have a brain that evolved to tell lies to help us survive. As I’ve written before, over several hundred million years our ancestors:
We spend so much of our time trying to get somewhere.
Part of this comes from our biological nature. To survive, animals – including us – have to be goal-directed, leaning into the future.
It’s certainly healthy to pursue wholesome aims, like paying the rent on time, raising children well, healing old pain, or improving education.
But it’s also important to see how this focus on the future – on endless striving, on getting the next task done, on climbing the next mountain – can get confused and stressful.
It’s confused because the brain:
So I was walking to the office the other day, when something rather lovely happened.
Before I say what that was, I have to explain that walking to the office is a new thing for me — or the rediscovery of an old thing. Now before I entered a spell of working from home, I often used to make my morning “walking commute” into a walking meditation. Then, for several years, I did almost all of my work out of the house, and my daily walking meditation died away. But a couple of months ago I rented an office in town, only a 15 minute walk away, and I’m getting back into the habit of … Read more »
Life gives to each one of us in so many ways.
For starters, there’s the bounty of the senses – including chocolate chip cookies, jasmine, sunsets, wind singing through pine trees, and just getting your back scratched.
What does life give you?
Consider the kindness of friends and family, made more tangible during a holiday season, but of course continuing throughout the year.
Or the giving of the people whose hard work is bound up in a single cup of coffee. Or all those people in days past who figured out how to make a stone ax – or a fire, edible grain, loom, vaccine, or computer. Or wrote plays and novels, made art or … Read more »