“Happy people don’t think about themselves very much.” ~ Tom Robbins,novelist
When I look at my son, and I consider all the wonderful things he can do with his life as he grows up, I truly only want one thing for him: to be happy.
So modeling that falls on me, as his mother.
I’ve not been very good at this in my life until now, so I do what I always do when I want to master something: I study it.
Happiness is a blissful forgetting of yourself, in a way. The way you don’t have to think about your arm, and you simply use it to open the door. But if you cut your arm, it’s useless, and painful, and then the joy of it is eclipsed. This is the case with anyone who is in pain: if you have pain, you think about yourself and your pain. It’s true physically, and it’s true emotionally.
If you stub your toe on a chair, there is this temporary agony that is blinding and all consuming until it subsides. So many of us have gone through life this way, though. One stub after the next, never quite fully recovering. For some it’s full blown trauma: the earthquake that destroyed their village. For others, a rape. For others, an unkind parent. So we look inwards: where did it all start, what happened to me, and how do I find my way out? After a while, it seems the darkness was always there. We forget our origins in the light.
Some just become victims, and though they may radiate beauty, a hurricane seems to travel with them wherever they go– and drama and pain and misery are always at their door. I’ve known and loved people like this. I’ve been drawn into their hurricanes.
The secret I have found is this: If you think about what you lack, you’re poor. If you think about what you have, and what you have to give, you’re rich.
We’re all given creativity –unlimited God-given creativity at birth– and yet many of us forget it, and get down in our cups.
I think this is why Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” It’s why every great Indian saint has said, “Feed people.”
By feeding others we forget ourselves, and we become happy, our lives have meaning. I know it’s this way for me when I teach yoga. I walk into the class not knowing who I am, and then I teach, and I touch those who need to be touched, and we learn together how much greater we are when we are connected.
It’s like having this huge boulder on your back, and then you serve someone else, and the boulder grows smaller and you forget about it, and when you get up to leave it’s this small pebble now. It might still be there, but it doesn’t have the weight, and the power to throw you off balance as it did once.
(I chose the image for this blog because we look at the woman being massaged and think how she must be so happy, but the real happiness is to be had by the women giving to her.)
I became the pen pal of author Tom Robbins when I was only 18, and he wrote this line to me in a letter when I asked him how to be happy. “Happy people don’t think about themselves very much.”
I was 18, and struggling to make my meager rent, and just feeling sorry for myself for having chosen such a hard life as an artist, writing poems and music. Now, some decades later as I have sat with this teaching it is really dawning in my life. I see it in a new way, from a new vantage point.
Ramakrishna once was approached by a woman in her 90s. She said something to the effect of, “Great teacher, I have very little time left in life, and I’ve never had a spiritual practice. What can I do to be ready for God?”
Ramakrishna asked her, “What do you love?”
She said, “I love my little grandson with all my heart. He is the joy of my life.”
Ramakrishna said, “He is your spiritual practice. Love him and through him love God, serve God.”
I have felt guilty in my life for not doing more, not being able to help more people, although I’ve probably something close to half a million through my work as a copywriter and the important causes I have worked with. But I have a demanding inner critic. It seems to want always more, more, more.
When will more be enough? Never is the answer. What’s enough is already here.
If I forget and think my life is all about me, I have lost my way. I can pet my cat and see the divine. I can bring my son a bowl of pasta and see him as God.
We won’t always be here in these bodies. We weren’t always here. We will one day be elsewhere. So it’s up to us to remember to serve others. In yoga it’s called “seva”, or just “service”.
It’s to say, no matter how important you are– do the dishes, be of service, feed someone. You will be rich when you are rich with opportunities to help others, and you see that and take that action.
It’s up to you to stop prioritizing the drama. It’s up to you to stop prioritizing the desires that haunt you, or the past failures that wake you in the night demanding to feed on your guilt and shame.
I think this is the real beauty of prayer. It’s an immediate act you can take that services another. Pray for someone. Pray for the family whose child has cancer. Pray for the taxi cab driver who lives in another country to send money to his wife and child. Pray for the elephants, the tigers, the creatures out there suffering. Pray for your own family and friends, and intentionally put yourself last on that list.
Happiness is devotion. Devote yourself. Let it be simple, light. Do it now.
P.S. What one thing in your life can you serve easily and effortlessly today?