“The basic thing is that everyone wants happiness; no one wants suffering. And happiness mainly comes from our own attitude rather than from external factors. If your own mental attitude is correct, even if you remain in a hostile atmosphere, you feel happy.” – His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
Some people believe in reincarnation, hoping that they will “come back” as a person who enjoys life fully. Some people believe in an after-life paradise; they hope that by living a good life or holding certain beliefs they will enjoy an after-life filled with joy and abundance. Why is the promise of joy in the next life so attractive to people? If joy isn’t the point of life, then why do the religions offer it as a promise for the next life?
For a variety of reasons, many of us are skeptical of happiness. We think it is shallow to want it, unrealistic to expect it, and we assume people who try to help us embrace happiness are somehow deluded. Isn’t it odd that we sometimes find happiness in this life to be questionable but happiness remains our greatest hope for the next life?
I don’t mean to suggest that we will always be happy. Sadness, regret, fear…these emotions are real and they have their place. But I do believe that happiness is our natural state. Fear passes, and we return to happiness. Sadness fades, and we return to happiness; at least that is how life can be.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” Happiness, in Paul’s opinion, was a divine gift. In my theology, no divine gift is withheld from any of us! Happiness may be the promise of the next life, but I also believe that it is the promise of this life. This life is the only one I know! Whatever lies beyond this life is mere conjuncture on my part; but the life I live today is what I can be certain of, so it is in my best interest to fill this life with love, joy, and peace.
Joseph Campbell used to say, “Follow your bliss.” I think that is wise counsel. Let’s not be afraid of happiness. We deserve it. We won’t be shallow, or selfish, or unkind, or greedy, or lazy if we are happy. In fact, if we are truly happy, we are more likely to be kind, justice-seeking, optimistic, and generous. Let’s not put off our happiness until the next life. This life is the gift we now have, and it is our duty to make the most of it. Daring to embrace our happiness seems like a good place to start.