Are you happy?
What makes you feel happy … or not?
In one global study, people said the 3 things that gave them the most happiness were health, their children, and their partner.
But happiness has been steadily declining for a decade according to Gallup. Anger, stress, physical pain and worry have reached a new global high.
So, what causes happiness or lack of it?
To dig in, let’s look at the opposite of happiness –– suffering.
Buddha studied what causes us to suffer for 7 years. He came up with 3 things he called poisons:
- Attachment to desire. This is believing that things must look a certain way in order to be happy. That’s your ego talking.
Example: If you’re attached to what others say, do, or what your life “should” look like, you’re going to be super unhappy and suffer.
- Avoidance. Avoiding, pretending, and denying are not the same as freedom. Just because you want to pretend something isn’t real, doesn’t mean it isn’t. As you push away the things you dislike, your world shrinks. You might even start to believe that people and things you dislike are blocking your desires.
Example: Avoiding your brother because you’re ashamed of how poorly you treated him as a child will shrink your world as the pain you carry continues to hold its grip on you.
- Ignorance. When Buddha talked about ignorance, he meant a lack of knowledge around what’s real and what’s not. You don’t have to look far in our society today to see the pain that’s caused by ignorance. When you don’t know any better, or when your perception is different from reality, it’ll cause you to suffer.
Example: When you think that you’re responsible for other people’s happiness, you’ll suffer.
As with almost everything, the first step to finding happiness is awareness.
Without awareness, you can fall into the trap of blaming other people or circumstances for how you feel.
Are there really only 3 things that cause us to suffer? How do they show up day-to-day?
That’s what I asked myself.
Could all of my unhappiness really fall into one of these three categories?
I spent months and months tracking my “suffering” (when I was unhappy). And what did I discover?
Buddha hit it spot on. 🤯
It was clear. Every aspect of my hurts, resentment or frustration fell into either attachment to desire, avoidance, or ignorance. These things were kicking my booty.
Me wanting my teenage sons to like me was an over the top stretch exercise when they were doing what any teenager goes through in becoming their own person. It crushed me again and again because of my core issue of abandonment and rejection.
By tracking Buddha’s teachings of what was causing me to be unhappy, I learned to:
- Release desires around what my life should look like, and eliminate expectations of other people. Accepting my life and the people in it was freeing — cuz then I got to decide how or if I would respond to any of it.
I could love people up close or from a distance. I stopped fighting what was and to put my energy into what matters to me.
- Embrace instead of avoiding things in my life. I learned to respect my feelings as indicators of what’s up for me to heal. Telling the truth faster — even if it was only to myself — sped up my healing a bajillion times faster.
- Educate myself on the blocks I innocently and unknowingly carry. I didn’t know what I didn’t know — until I did. That’s life. Seeing the truth about why I do what I do is pure wisdom. And it helps me release suffering.
I chased emotionally unavailable men to love me because I was emotionally unavailable to myself. Seeing what I was doing and why was essential to my healing so I could finally make new choices.
When you accept what is, face truth instead of avoiding it, and become a lover of truth, you’re well on your path to happiness.
Buddha taught that nothing is permanent. Yet, as a human you often want to cling to things, others, and old worn out brain drama (beliefs) that you’re used to.
- When you’ve wanted something, what steps did you take to get it? Can you see times when you’ve tried to force or manipulate other people and situations to get what you want?
- When was the last time you were pissed at your partner? What did they do and why were you triggered?
- Have you had a strong feeling you were willing to die on that sword for only to find out more information and to change your mind COMPLETELY?
To be human, means you’re going to experience pain. But fighting reality is a recipe for suffering.
Stubbed toes, tummy aches, and illnesses are all a part of the human experience. Saying you shouldn’t be having the experiences you’re having creates a layer of fight and conflict that isn’t helpful.
You can’t have peace in your life today, if you don’t make peace with your past.
Years ago I fell into this trap when my 9-day-old daughter Amy died. It was painful enough grieving the loss of my beautiful child. My belief that she shouldn’t have died amped up my pain and caused me to suffer. Not until I did my work could I make peace with Amy’s death.
You can’t always control when certain emotions may come up. But you can control how you respond to those emotions.
So for example, if you’re feeling anger, shift your focus from the object of your anger (“he made me mad”) to exploring the cause of suffering you’re experiencing.
- How attached are you to your desires? Are you willing to be happy even if your partner or children don’t change?
- How and when do you avoid your own emotions? Can you see that underneath the anger is the enormous pain of feeling abandoned and rejected — just like you felt as a child?
- How does your lack of knowledge around what’s real and what’s not impact your life?
Exploring those 3 things – as simple as they may sound – can open the door to real happiness in your life.
My life changed for the better when I started accepting my life exactly as it is (even when there are some super painful things coming up). Yours can, too. It’s such a sweet way to live.
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