The Happiness of Loving Kindness

“When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” ~ The Dalai Lama

I recently happened on a beautiful gift of serenity and quiet joy – the heart-opening practice of the Loving Kindness Meditation.* Many versions of it exist, but the one I chose to follow was a simple one that took only twenty minutes of my time and yielded an exquisite sense of tranquility.

It goes like this: After sitting quietly for a bit to calm yourself, as you would do with any meditation, you send focused, conscious thoughts in four waves. You begin with yourself, wishing yourself happiness, healing, prosperity, forgiveness, love and all that you need to flourish and thrive. Spend at least five minutes enfolding yourself in these thoughts. There’s no rush. Allow yourself the full time to bathe in your sincere desires for your own well-being.

Next, expand your wave of benediction out to embrace those nearest and dearest to you. Picture each one in your mind, and saying their names, one at a time, wish them all the goodness you just wished yourself. Imagine their hearts opening to receive your blessings.

Now let your wave of loving-kindness expand to your more casual relationships and to strangers. Feel it gently expanding to touch hearts in all the world’s nations and cultures.

As the wave expands, it becomes filled with more and more loving kindness, becoming sweeter with every passing moment.

Finally, embrace within it people you dislike or who you view as enemies of any kind, and hold them in loving kindness, too.

When you have finished, gently open your eyes and savor the softness and openness of your heart. Let its gladness spread to your face and its glow color everything around you as you return to your normal routine.

Because it’s very soothing and fills you with a sense of connectedness and peace, I find using it as I settle into bed for the night especially enjoyable. But I urge you to try it, regardless of what hour you may choose. The happiness it brings is deep and fresh and sweet.

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*I’m sorry; I was on a surfing rampage when I found it and I didn’t think to add the source of it to my notes. I offer my sincere gratitude to its author, believing his or her permission to share it with you would flow easily.

The Hues of Happiness

One of the reasons I’m so high on happiness is that it comes in such broad array of colors. It’s not always bursting with laughter, or picking daisies on a summer day—although it certainly can be. It’s not always fun-filled or twirling with exuberance or crossing the finish line or winning the prize.

And while I love all those aspects of happiness, to be honest with you, my personal preference is for some of its softer, deeper, more subtle shades. You know, the whiskers on kittens kind of things: The sky full of stars. The smell of the air after a storm. The satisfying exhaustion after a day of really getting things done.

For me, happiness contains not only the whistling, confetti-strewn feelings, but the wispier ones that evoke contented sighs, and, sometimes, even those that bring tears.

Tears? Yes. The kind that come when you watch your child graduate or marry. The tears that come at funerals when you realize how much you loved and will miss the one who’s gone. The tears of relief when you’re reunited with a loved one after a long separation, or when a novel or movie ends in a way that moves you to your core.

Happiness is all these things, and more. It’s the awe we feel when we see authentic beauty or hear exquisite music. It’s the way we’re touched by generosity and kindness. It’s the thrill we feel when we witness an act of heroism or high achievement. It’s the reverence that comes over us in the face of genuine goodness or grace.

Happiness is the honoring of the best in us, the celebration of life’s wonder and sweep and depth. It’s the expression of our humor and wit, our strengths and talents, our foibles and our darings. It’s singing hosanna and sighing amen.

It comes from someplace essential in us. And it’s always there, available, free. In all its colors, just for saying Yes to it, for opening our hearts to the moment’s richness and seeing what’s before our eyes. Have some, won’t you? And pass it around. It’s even better when it’s shared.

A Taste of Ambrosia

More and more I’ve come to realize there isn’t any place better than here, any time better than now. Of course that’s an old truism. And if you’re anything like me, because you have heard it a hundred times, it’s easy to think to yourself that you’ve “got it” and let its truth slide on by. Don’t.

Heed the sage advice that the four most dangerous words we can utter are “I already know that.” Just for a couple moments, let yourself pause and consider the gifts the present offers.

Accepting as a fact that the present is full of mystery and wonder and living it in your very own tangible, touchable experience are two wholly different things. The fact tastes like cardboard; the experience tastes like ambrosia.

What’s happening for me as I dive more fully into living in happiness is that I’m developing quite a taste for that ambrosia, that life-enhancing nectar of the gods, called “Now.” And I’m discovering more and more ways to invite it into my awareness. I’m learning to notice it more frequently and to stay in it for longer periods of time.

In our too-busy, rush-rush lives, attuning to the present doesn’t come naturally. We are, in fact, conditioned to avoid it in countless numbers of ways. And that’s a shame, a real loss. It contributes to our dis-ease and steals from us the sense of life’s majesty.

But the good news is that the present is always here for us, always offering us its richness. It’s just a matter of stopping to notice, to see what it holds.

It’s that “stopping” that’s the key. Like the beverage slogan says, it really is the pause that refreshes. It’s pausing in your thoughts, in your actions, and taking a moment to feel what you’re feeling, to hear the sounds, see the colors and movements around you, to realize you are wholly alive, a sensual, conscious being in the midst of an unfathomable mystery.

nowie wowie It’s noticing the sky, and realizing it’s not wallpaper but a dancing atmosphere, filled with the breath of all that lives, expanding beyond the curtain of light to endless worlds of stars and galaxies and nebulae. It’s blinking your eyes and feeling the warm, moist glide of your eyelids as they close and open. It’s feeling the temperature and weight and flow of air as you breathe, the placement of your tongue in your mouth, the alignment of your posture, the brush of your clothing against your skin, the texture of your fingerprints as you rub your thumbs together. And all of it is a mystery, however many pieces of it we name and put together.

And that’s just a sip of it. Just one sip of all that’s there to be tasted. Give yourself a moment of it. It’s right here, after all. Right now. Always.

Pumped on Happiness

Some kinds of happiness come unbidden, wafting across you of their own accord– rays of sunlight fanning up from a cloud, the giggle of a child, the scent of a freshly baked cinnamon roll. And some you have to work for—the satisfaction of a goal achieved, peace after an argument is finally put to rest. Both, I’m discovering, are arriving in my life more often, and settling more deeply now that I’m paying attention.

Did you know that happiness is a skill? That you can train yourself to have more of it in your life? It’s true! Just as you can learn to ride a bike, or drive a car, or play guitar, you can learn to be happier. (And happier, and happier, and happier!)

Granted, it’s easier for some folks to learn than others. Half of our capacity for happiness is inborn; it’s in our genes. And some folks have a slight advantage over others because their circumstances are a little friendlier. The advantage of circumstances, though, is pretty slight. About 10% of the package, research says. That means a full 40% of your ability to be happier rests in your own hands.

Can you imagine what it might feel like to reach the upper limits of your happiness capacity? To become a master of the art? A happiness connoisseur?

As with any skill, the first step is simply deciding that learning it could be genuinely worthwhile. So, I ask you: Wouldn’t it be refreshing to wake up every morning eager to face the new day? To fall asleep at night with a contented smile on your face? What if all your hours were touched by pleasure? What if life turned into an endless experience of beauty and goodness? Would it be worth spending a little time to pick up the skill?

For me, the answer to those questions is a resounding “Yes!” I’m pumped about happiness. I’m shouting out to it, “Come on in!” And every day, it smiles back at me, and says, “Why, thank you; I think I shall.”

If you think you might want to hone your happiness skills, too, start by deciding to become a collector. Start watching for the bits of it that flow across your day and consciously acknowledge when you spot them. See how many you can find. Make a mental list of them before you fall asleep at night, or better yet, start a happiness log.

It all begins with noticing.

Happiness: The Staggering Possibilities

At first it seemed a matter of simple math: Every person who slides into happiness increases the world’s happiness by the power of one. One more smile. One more set of beaming eyes. One lighter, more vigorous heart.

Realizing just that much revved up my commitment to make living in happiness my life’s mission. By practicing happiness myself, I was literally making the whole world a happier place. But given that the world’s population is something like six billion, I figured if I was going to make a dent in things, I was going to have to pump my happiness to the max.

Then, a few months ago, I ran across the news that happiness is actually contagious. “Laugh and the world laughs with you” turns out to be a scientifically demonstrated fact. Cool! Now we’re talking exponents. Geometrical progressions. Two people catch my happiness, and spread it to two more, who spread it to two more . . .

My mind began to reel. Suddenly I remembered the famous penny doubling exercise: start out with a penny today and turn it into two pennies tomorrow. The next day double each of your two pennies and you have four. Double those four the following day and you end up with eight. Believe it or not, if you keep this up for 60 days and you end up with a whopping $10.7 million dollars—or one billion, 70 million pennies. Translate those pennies into smiles, and we’re really onto something priceless.

Then I came across another study from University of Barcelona in Spain that showed that our brains pick up happiness signals faster and more accurately than they read sadness signals. We’re actually hard-wired to pick up happiness!

What can I say? Get out there and smile, folks! The world needs you.

Why Am I So Happy Now?

A little over a year ago, some friends and I discovered the magic of “the positive affirmative question.” Popularized by St. John & Berard’s The Great Little Book of Afformations (All-New, Expanded Edition), the PAQ is a twist on affirmations that tricks your brain into keeping its focus on whatever attitude or behavior you want to increase.

WhyInstead of repeating, “I now enjoy eating wholesome, nutritious foods,” for example, you ask yourself, “Why am I enjoying wholesome, nutritious foods so much now?”

Brains are problem-solving machines. Pose a “why” question to yours and it will look everywhere for an answer.

The “why” question doesn’t give your brain a chance to argue about whether you are actually enjoying nutritious foods. The mission you have assigned it, after all, is to find out why you are. (More than anything, this is what makes the PAQ more powerful than a simple affirmation. No part of you is arguing with yourself.) As it turns out, in order to solve the question, your brain has to get you to choose nutritious foods and to enjoy them! Sneaky, huh?

So anyway, one of my friends decided to test this theory against the feeling-miserable-about-life state into which she had fallen. She asked herself, “Why do I love my life so much?” and every night she made herself write down whatever answer her brain could come up with. Day after day, she discovered more answers. And within a few weeks, she was eagerly looking for more and more proof that her life was, indeed, wholly worth loving.

Following her lead, I’m using the PAQ technique to turn up my happiness heat, my eagerness to know more about it, my awareness of its grace in my life. Every morning when I get up, and when I think of it throughout the day, I ask myself, “Why am I so happy now?”

May I suggest that you give it a try? And let me know what happens!

Welcome to High on Happiness

Why Am I So Happy Now
Why Am I So Happy Now

If we all walked around with personal Frequently Asked Questions printed on the front of our t-shirts, number one on mine would be “Why are you always so happy?” People ask me that all the time.

A couple months ago, the question hit some kind of tipping point with me and I started to give it some real thought. Why am I so happy now?

I wasn’t always happy. For a big portion of my life, happiness was but an elusive dream.

How did I get here? What did I know about happiness that might help others find more of it in their lives, too?

As a personal project, I started writing random thoughts about happiness on a daily basis. After awhile, it dawned on me that if I shared my little explorations, they might stimulate and inspire other people to think more about the happiness in their lives, too. The result is this blog.

In the days ahead, I’ll share with you little slices of my own happiness, my thoughts, discoveries and experiences as I play with allowing myself to sink every more deeply into its omnipresent flow.

Happiness loves company, so with great joy I welcome you to the High on Happiness blog. Invite some friends of your own and together we’ll see what we can do to grow the world into a happier place, one gently beaming face at a time.

Prelude in the Key of Joy

WoodlandSoftly the snow falls, wee flakes, shimmering in the air.  In the woods, silence blankets the ground.  Even the high branches of the trees are hushed, as if with expectancy.

This is a place of magic and miracles, in waiting for the wondrous.  You can sense it.  You can almost taste it in the air.

Whatever is coming, whatever is about to unfold here, is making the very cells of the trees quiver in anticipation.

I stand very still and listen.  Nothing breaks the silence.  I hear my own heartbeat and feel my blood racing through my veins, singing some ancient song of coming joy.