Nichiren Buddhism makes a really useful distinction between relative happiness and absolute happiness. Relative happiness is, say, when you have built a life that’s financially secure, with good relationships, satisfying work, and robust health. It’s the kind of happiness achieved to the highest degree by, for example, famous footballers, actors and other celebrities. The people who are fast-tracked through airports, or have red carpet access to the big shows, while the rest of us join the queue. The people we admire or are jealous of, or are happy for, or want to chop down to size, depending on our point of view or frame of mind.
I think the main reason we want to be like these role models is that they have reached the highest rung on the ‘survival ladder.’ In the animal kingdom, they would be the lions and lionesses. Nothing can touch or threaten them. Or so it seems. And then someone who seems to ‘have it all’ like ex-footballer Gary Speed, goes and takes their own life. Relative happiness looks very solid from the outside, but probe a little deeper and you often find that the people concerned are constantly anxious about losing it, especially if their achievements are based on looks or talent that will fade over time. Or they feel empty and lonely inside. Or have become cold and hard. Or arrogant and uncaring. Or quietly desperate. Or whatever other soundtrack is playing deeper in their mind. Many of my clients come to me with goals around relative happiness – job, money, house etc… – and while these are important, many come to realise that there is more to life that what you can count in hectares and horsepower.
By contrast absolute happiness is feeling joyful no matter what is happening on the surface of your life. This, of course, is a slightly bigger ask. Daisaku Ikeda sheds light on this:
“Absolute happiness is something we must find within. It means establishing a state of life in which we are never defeated by trials and where just being alive is a source of great joy. This persists no matter what we might be lacking, or what might happen around us. A deep sense of joy is something which can only exist in the innermost reaches of our life, and which cannot be destroyed by any external forces. It’s eternal and inexhaustible. This kind of satisfaction is to be found in consistent and repeated effort, so that we can say: “Today, again, I did my very best. Today, again, I have no regrets. Today, again, I won. The accumulated result of such efforts is a life of great victory.”
NLP expert Paul McKenna touches on a similar point to Ikeda: “The more subtle form of happiness is a state of being in perfect harmony with life, the universe and everything. This is the state psychologists call ‘flow’, musicians call ‘the groove’ and athletes call ‘the zone.”
This week’s affirmations:
- Just being alive is a source of great joy to me
- Today, I win again in my life
- I am in flow, I am in the groove, I am in the zone
Next week: The myth of “I’ll be happy when….”