Happiness is Not Thinking

Happiness is good. So we should strive for and cultivate it. Right? Perhaps not. Could it be that our wanting and craving of happiness is why we aren’t happy?

This past August I read The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner while recovering from a nasty bug in a Malaysian hospital. A fun and interesting read, he travels the happiest and saddest locales looking for patterns and meaning. He devotes one chapter to the idea that happiness may not be thinking, and uses Thai culture as his vehicle. As he says, “The Thais, I suspect, are too busy being happy to think about happiness.”

Unlike the Thai, who are content to be present with whatever emotion is present and often deem it unecessary to consider WHAT makes them happy, I’ve spent the last 15 years searching for happiness through thinking. As Weiner says,

Like most westerners, I’ve never felt the need to question the value of thinking. To me, that would make about as much sense as questioning the value of breathing. Just listen to our language. I think therefore I am. Think before you act. Think it over. Give it some thought. Let me think about it and get back to you. How thoughtful of you.

He evokes Descarte’s “I think therefore I am,” which is completely antithetical to Buddhist steeped Thai culture, and was the basis for my belief in my existance. It’s also part of my personal delusion, and a root of suffering.

It’s not that thinking always causes suffering, but letting the mind run wild can. Learning how to not think is a skill cultivated through mindful practice. I could ramble on about meditation here, but I’ll pull up short.

I’ll leave you with a bit of empirical evidence from Weiner:

In one study, psychologists Tim Wilson and Jonathan Schooler had participants listen to a piece of music, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Some were given no instructions before listening to the music. Others were told to monitor their happiness, and still others to “try to be happy” while listening. It was these latter two categories that derived the least amount of pleasure from the music. Those given no instructions at all found the music most enjoyable. The inevitable conclusion: Thinking about happiness makes us less happy.

So I’m trying to stop trying to be happy. Rather, I’ll simply accept whatever is.

Update: Yes, I recognize that reading a book about happiness causes suffering. I’m a “thought junkie”.

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