Do We Deserve Happiness?
Is suffering out of the question?
One unforgettable day in New York City, over ten years ago, I driver had decided to drive particularly fast in the early morning, and (no matter whose fault) my brother was hit. I can clearly see the picture in my mind’s eye even now. I remember vividly that day, that night, the phone call to my family, running to the hospital, walking into ICU and running out as soon as I saw him connected to all those tubes. About a year ago I remember witnessing the thought, “How could this happen to him? to our family? to me?” arising in my awareness. And then the answer came, “Why shouldn’t it?”
For some time now I have been reflecting upon the bizarre irony of the fact that so many of us at the leading edge of Western culture—the wealthiest, most highly educated, and privileged generation ever to exist on the face of the earth—have somehow gotten the idea in our heads that we deserve to be happy, healthy, and prosperous. That all these outside things will grant us this happy existence. It would seem that many of us, consciously or unconsciously, believe that before we incarnated, we signed some sort of contract with our maker stipulating that we would be willing to endure a certain degree of fear, stress, and insecurity as long as sooner or later we got to be happy. And the wealthier and more privileged we are, the greater, it seems, is this expectation.
After more than two decades of working intensively with men and women who claim to want to transform and develop spiritually, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the reasons it is so challenging for us to attain and sustain higher levels of spiritual development is that we expect so much and are willing to give so little in order to get what we think we want. The truth is, it’s hard to be happy. These days, it’s become almost a truism that simply fulfilling our narcissistic and materialistic desires is not enough to make us deeply happy. But how many of us have really dug deeply enough to reconfigure our own ideas of what happiness means in light of a higher set of values than those held by our crazy culture? For our values to change in a way that is nothing less than dramatic, we have to be willing to make a hell of a lot of effort. These days, many people are turning to the spiritual dimension of life. But it is telling that many of the most popular expressions of postmodern east-meets-west spirituality are based on a philosophical orientation that endlessly trumpets the promise of effortless peace, joy, and happiness, as if that’s the ultimate life experience. – Andrew Cohen
Why, for the luckiest people who have ever been born, should happiness be a birthright? Why should our spiritual aspirations be focused on the pursuit of inner peace alone? Did God create the universe so that you and I, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, could be happy? Is that really all there is to this fourteen-billion-year process? And why is it that so many of us presume that we deserve to be happy in the first place? What is it that we have actually done to give us such an innate privilege?
It’s fascinating to observe what happens to our perspective when we don’t assume that we necessarily deserve anything, especially not the promise of happiness or perfect peace. Just give it a try. You may be surprised to discover that a whole universe of previously unimaginable possibilities opens up to you. You may even begin to awaken to the overwhelming revelation that the very process that gave birth to your own capacity for life and consciousness urgently needs your willingness to make effort and even, I dare say, suffer, for its higher development.
I’m convinced that this evolving Cosmos is in desperate need of our conscious participation in order for its creative potential to continue to develop. Our postmodern spiritual pursuit of peace may in fact just be taking us out of the game. As our spiritual values evolve, if we reach high enough, we may come upon a surprising revelation: that in order to experience a happiness that is profound, we must be willing to struggle to find nothing less than a cosmic sense of care for the life process that will set us free but, ironically, will never leave us in peace.
Share your thoughts with me below or via facebook…
A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes. ~Hugh Downs