Sometimes referred to as "the happiest man in the world," French biochemist-turned-buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard states that "authentic happiness is not linked to an activity; it is a state of being."
“Happiness” is a broad term that we often confuse for individual moments of pleasure. The issue with these types of moments is that they use themselves up. Your favorite song repeated too many times, a rich chocolate cake that overpowers after too many bites. This is not true happiness. When we rely on these external conditions, we immediately go into fix-it mode when things go wrong. Do we search for a new favorite tune or just stop listening? Do we reach for the bag of chips when we start craving the salty opposite? As we've all experienced, our ability for reparation is limited.
It might be better then, to view authentic happiness as a state of meaningful being, which can underlie the inevitable ups and downs of daily life. Ricard equates this perspective with the mighty ocean, where even though the surface shifts from calm and tranquil to turbulent and destructive, the layer underneath essentially remains unchanged.
In a constantly connected world, daily life might reflect this shifting ocean surface more than ever. Emails, phone calls, text messages, tweets and news alerts deliver a steady stream of information ranging from personal to impersonal, and positive to the inevitable negative. We cannot avoid the arrival of periodic “bad news,” or help but feel times of sadness, stress, and anxiety—these are part of the fabric of life. Feeling stress does not mean that we have to let it totally consume us. We have a choice in the way we respond. We can acknowledge and thank our stress-induced bodily sensation telling us that something is not quite right. We can use our breathing to calm down our body and mind. Then, we can find a good solution to manage the stress.
Like a garden, happiness can be nurtured when we start the habit of regularly reflecting on it. The good news is our always-in-hand gadgets might be able to help us do so.
Cue the mobile application “happier," a Boston-based social network inspired by “research that shows focusing on the positive and sharing good things with people you care about makes you happier, healthier, and more productive.” Three times a day, the app launches a pop-up reminder inviting you to reflect on your well-being. You can choose to record a moment that made you realize your happiness, which you can either keep private or share with the happier community. This network, as you’ll find, is not like most social media. From spending time with their grandchildren, seeing the beauty of a red cardinal, or enjoying a new vegetable from the farmer’s market, users are gaining more understanding of what makes them happy through powerful moments. Rather than “liking” someone’s post, you press the “smile” button if their moment brought a grin to your face.
Watch out – the smiles are contagious.