The Path of Happiness

The Path of Happiness


Paul Sutherland lives in South Africa where he tries to see through the complexity to what could be if we start with happiness, curiosity, empathy, and love.

I have spent time with both Sadhguru and the Dalai Lama, and what I find interesting is they are both simply happy, and see happiness, hope, and positivity as part of their message. For Sadhguru, it’s an almost in-your-face, I-am-what-I-am kind of happy. For the Dalai Lama, it’s like he’s a kid who finds delight in breathing, having uncomfortable sandals, a pointed question, or seeing your face. Both men’s happiness is contagious, and that’s the point—or part of it.

Sadhguru is a teacher and seems destined to spill wisdom wherever he walks. He dissects responsibility down to two words: “response” and “ability.” His teachings about responsibility guide us to distill feeling compelled by compassion and empathy to help others as a natural state. We respond according to our ability to respond.

There’s nothing difficult about any of this. At least philosophically, each person reading this column knows that we are all connected, and when we see a need, we should be guided by our innate wisdom to help. And when we help, we feel happy.

I see it like the Stoic philosophers: We reflect on our life journey as our “education,” preparing us for the next minute. That way, we accept our past and present and happily anticipate using our talents, time, and resources to help others as our next step. The Stoic sage Epictetus explained where this path leads: “The finest and most fitting fruits for those who have received a true philosophical education are peace of mind, fearlessness, and freedom.”

While I am challenged by his absolute statement about education setting us free, it is not a stretch to assumes the education he speaks of results in a life of service causing contentment and happiness. It is also not a stretch to ask those that have read this far, “What has been the purpose of your education?” I’ll go first. And I can answer that easily.

While so many of my classmates in high school were into proms, clothing, and acne treatments, I was fascinated by the Stoicism and Ecclesiastes. Stoicism championed a happy life through rational simplicity and loving service towards everything and everyone. He taught his followers to have simple wants and thus receive their simple needs. Ecclesiastes famously declared that all is vanity anyway so why bother to worry about much more than your basic needs; especially not wealth, stuff, or ego-driven fame.

So, at age 18, I wrote a mission declaration to guide me and to be a touchstone to what I wanted my life to be about. It started out: “My desire is to show humanity my love with loyal enthusiasm and faith in God. I will follow a path of service guided by virtue, honesty, and enthusiasm...”

My original declaration was another three sentences long, but I changed it half my life ago to read: “Direct my consciousness, my actions, and the very essence of my being to humbly and sincerely be the cause and the cause of the cause to bring love, happiness, joy, peace, magnanimity, equanimity, prosperity, justice, and the very essence of virtue, values, and character to all sentient beings in the north, south, east, and west, above and below, on all planes, both seen and unseen. Help me to see the best in each person.”

This is not my complete “prayer,” but I invite you to write your own “Stand for Prayer” as your own guide—that you may wish to share or not.

The result? I fail every day. I mess up. I get taken for rides by those who pretend to need help or promise to help others. I fall down and I get up. Thankfully, I have a good sense of humor. People are good. That said, those who wish to deceive and manipulate for their own benefit sometimes make me want to quit—to buy a home on Maui and just chill. But the world needs us to not retire, quit, hide, give up, or just chill.

Suffering exists, so we have work to do. And happiness is scarce, so we have work to do. I have six children and my 12-year-old wonders, “Why do I have to do that, my brother doesn’t! It’s not fair!” But we’re not 12. If you’re looking outside yourself and comparing your life to others to justify your lack of service, lack of giving, or inability to help your neighbor, then look in the mirror and think about what you want your life to stand for.

Even if your own situation is difficult, there’s a lot that can be done to help: simply cleaning up the messy toilet seat in the rest stop; moving over so the tired mom or kid can take your place on the bus; picking up someone else’s litter on the street; or telling your alcoholic friend, bigoted neighbor, or abusive coworker what he or she needs to hear. Each is just the next small step on the happy path of peace of mind, fearlessness, and freedom.

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The Path of Happiness

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