Lately I have been wondering why we need or desire to hear the same messages about spirituality and happiness--repeatedly. We read books saying the same basic things in different ways with regularity. We seem to need to continue hearing similar messages to get back on track in our quest for serenity and happiness.
A recent issue of PT even has a short article called "Do As I Say: How Even Experts Are Sometimes Hypocrites." This article focuses on PT bloggers who occasionally fail to follow their own advice (and there are plenty experts to choose from). It seems even those who write about self-improvement have to be reminded of the lessons.
The messages are at least as old as the written word:
"Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence." (Aristotle)
"If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires." (Epicurus)
"There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will." (Epictetus)
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." (Shakespeare)
These quotes from throughout the centuries carry the same message: happiness is the goal, and it comes from the way we think and our attitude about events and situations.
Beyond suggestions to alter your thinking, there are some age-old suggestions on feelings and behaviors to avoid. These feelings and behaviors are obstacles to happiness. Christianity has the seven deadly sins: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath. Buddhism has the five poisons, (negative emotions to overcome): anger, desire, ignorance, jealousy, and pride. The similarities in the lists are obvious. For centuries the message has been clear: we can be happy and serene through a positive attitude and the avoidance of certain feelings and behavior.
The archives are not the only place where this knowledge is contained. A great many books are released yearly that provide similar suggestions. Books on cognitive therapy, Zen and Buddhism, Taoism, or just simply about happiness repeat, explore, and exemplify the suggestions above. These well-read books include titles from such authors as Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Thich Nhat Hanh, Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, Deepak Chopra, and The Dalai Lama.
These books have sold millions of copies. The reader of this article may identify having read several of these books. Yet most of us continue to feel a need to hear the message again in some other form. Perhaps we lose focus and regress, and we require a tune-up. The question I have been asking myself, however, is why. Why do we need tune-ups in our beliefs, attitudes, and behavior to return to happiness and serenity?
A common answer to this question is that we are human. But why does being human lend us to drifting from our knowledge about happiness? One possible answer comes from an analogy I read some time ago about the Hindu religion. In the analogy God hides in all people. In other words we are God, but we have forgotten it. God creates us and dwells in our body, but then for the "game" to be interesting and complete, we have to forget that. It is a game of hide and seek.
A little less religiously oriented analogy: many people enjoy watching sports. Picture someone watching their favorite team in the playoffs. They are excited and engrossed in the game. Perhaps they are cheering and feeling elated. Maybe they are cursing and feeling saddened by their team's failure. Either way, they have almost forgotten that it is a game. They have forgotten that the game is not of any real importance. They have forgotten it is just a game, just entertainment. In fact, in that same issue of Psychology Today, a study indicates that the hormone levels of the most avid fans watching the sport are equal to those on the playing field.
Perhaps this can be applied to the need to be reminded of the path to happiness. Life is a game. When we are able to detach from it, when we realize we are in control, when we realize it is our thoughts and attitudes that create our reality, we are more serene and happy. Eventually, as a result of how busy we are, we get drawn back into the daily game of life. The game is too tempting. The daily dramas, the ups and downs make life interesting. For whatever reason, the majority of us do not seem to want to completely give up the roller coaster of emotions. Perhaps this is our purpose, or some of the purpose we assign to life.
Copyright 2011 William Berry