There is certainly enough woe in this world to support that idea.
We all struggle. As the Buddha said some time ago, “Life is suffering.” And man, does evidence abound! If nothing else, as Author M. Scott Peck summarized, “Life is difficult.”
And nobody gets out of here alive.
Funny thing though, if you study what else the Buddha said, and the sutras, you find quite different messages from what the statement would appear. Seems the Buddha wasn’t so good at soundbites! And unfortunately, in our culture, soundbites rule.
If you take “Life is Suffering” at face value, then happiness is indeed, bullshit. Life becomes meaningless and it’s easy for your mind-view to go straight to the negative and pessimism.
But what is happiness? What, when we delve deeper, did the Buddha actually say about this?
The sutras say, “Impermanence therefore suffering.” Wait a minute! That’s not life is all suffering. But the impermanence of it causes suffering. If you’re sick or poor or lose a loved one, you sure may be suffering. But if you’re rich and healthy and have those you love around you, you’re quite happy, no? Some folks are. Some aren’t.
Nothing lasts forever, right? And that brings on change. And change for most of us—even positive change—is stressful. I.e., it produces suffering in some form. But neither is happiness lasting—there comes that impermanence thing again.
As Comedian Gilda Radner said, “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. ”
The Buddha taught that in the midst of this suffering, we can gain insight into the Truth, and learn what actually provides lasting happiness (and what can’t).
So, suffering will absolutely occur. The point of the Buddha’s teachings (and many, many others—I’m just structuring this article with it!) is that in the face of impermanence, of suffering, we can transform all of that into peacefulness, joy, and freedom.
It’s all in our heads. All in being receptive and letting go. All in trusting the universe that order exists somewhere in it, even if all appears as chaos.
All in realizing that we will die. Either before those we love, or after. We all will have goals reached and those unrealized. All of us.
If you think your mid-set doesn’t matter, just look around you. See how some folks are content and peaceful, and some bitter and angry. And remember, once again, that although everyone walks a different path, we face similar heartaches just in dressed in different garb.
The choice is always ours.
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” –Buddha
So, what is happiness to you?