In this age of the pursuit of happiness, we are searching constantly on social media and on the world-wide net, to find something or someone, to make us happy. We measure ourselves against the vocational and relational success of others to see where we sit on the scale of things.
The danger of searching for this happiness through the constant acquisition of pleasant things or circumstances, drives us, as Matthieu Ricard points out, into an excessive preoccupation with self that can only lead to an obsessive measurement and judgment of everything pertaining to ourselves, ultimately leading to a persistent unhappiness about ourselves and everything around us. The constant focus on self leads to ultimate unhappiness.
Perhaps this is because whatever gets the focus of our attention fills our mind, influences our mood and guides our behaviour, positively or negatively.
So maybe the path to happiness is paved with the quality of our focus. A quality of focus, which includes kindness, compassion, empathy and gratitude, all incompatible with the judgment, negative evaluation and comparison of the preoccupied self, paves the way.
Gratitude, according to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, ranks as the number one on the ‘how to increase your happiness’ to-do list. As an intentional focus on things we are grateful for, even the small things, fills the frame of our awareness warm feelings of gratefulness are activated that in turn stimulate the feel-good neuro-chemicals of the brains ‘kind and caring’ motivational system.
As one psychiatrist simply offered, “gratitude…dissolves negative feelings: anger and jealousy melt in its embrace, fear and defensiveness shrink.” Indeed, it’s hard to feel guilty or resentful or infuriated when you’re feeling grateful.