Happiness – Interview with the Author

Source: NY Mag, April 2015

the most important thing is to observe yourself, to practice meditation, to be very aware of what you’re doing, not thinking of the bad things or the pressures you’re under.

if you want to change, if you want to do something difficult — and being happy takes work — then reason is not sufficient. Desire is also necessary. We have to desire something in order to obtain it. So if we have a deep desire to be happier, to feel better, we will make a lot of effort to do it. And if it’s just reasons compelling us — it would be good to do that — we won’t make the effort. You have to say, with your full being, “I want to do that.”

Even if we desire something, most of the time we don’t take the right steps to get it — that’s the problem with pleasure. We want to be happy, but we prefer pleasure. But pleasure and happiness are quite different. There is no happiness without pleasure, but if you want to be happy, in a deep way, you have to choose not to search for short pleasures, but to make the effort required for greater pleasure, which is where real happiness lies.

there are many philosophers, especially the Greeks and Spinoza, who said that happiness is a state of being. You are happy because you love life. Whatever happens, you love life, and you accept your situation as being part of the good and bad of life. In her letters from Auschwitz, Etty wrote that I love life, I feel free, I enjoy life even in this terrible situation, and that’s an example for hope. But it’s not easy, and maybe very few people can be like that.

What’s one piece of practical advice about being happier that you can share right now?
I would say to “let go.” It’s important to have intentions to know what you want to do, to try to do your best, but you just can’t control everything. And if you let go, go with the flow, and are very flexible and open to the possibility that something you hadn’t anticipated might provide you joy, then you’ll be much more relaxed. The Taoist philosophers — Chuang Tzu, Lao Tzu — say that flexibility is the most important quality to be happy.

One of the points you come back to often in the book comes from Montaigne and Spinoza, who explain that you have to know your true nature before you can satisfy it. How do we understand what our true nature is?

The trick is honest introspection. You have to think diligently about yourself, observe yourself. There is a way to tell, though: When you grow in the direction of your true self is when you feel joy. The joy is proof that the action is good for you. If you feel sadness in what you’re doing, or despair, that’s a clue too. Move in the direction of joy.

With meditation, mindfulness, you can learn to just observe that emotion and let it go. I don’t grasp it; I just let go. I realize that I am not the emotion. There’s something inside me deeper than the emotion.https://ddcolrs.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

a very interesting study that said that most people feel happier between 50 and 70 years old. With time, with the experience of life, we can know ourselves better, and that leads to happiness. There’s a part of the book where I explain that sociologists do experiments where they ask people to rate their happiness, exactly like you just did. And they’ve observed that if people don’t work on themselves, if they don’t try to change their minds, to practice the meditation, to do something special to improve their happiness, then the rating they give will always be the same.

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