I remember from a Psych 101 course reading about learned helplessness. I remember that it struck me as the saddest thing I’d ever heard. Psychologists would put a dog in a room with a metal floor and shock the dog repeatedly. The dog has nowhere to go, so after time, the dog just lies down and doesn’t resist anymore.
The other day, I got thinking about the First Noble Truth, that suffering exists in the world. And it occurred to me if you are content with your situation, content with your level of happiness and peace, this could be complacency similar to the dog in the room who has learned helplessness. There’s a meme floating around the Internet attributed to Abraham Lincoln that says, “ You can be as happy as you want to be.” I have no idea whether or not Abraham Lincoln actually said this, but I think there is a lot of wisdom in that quote. Realizing that you are not as happy or peaceful as you want to be is the first step. If you don’t take this first step, there is no hope for progress towards greater happiness or peacefulness. If you’re not as happy or at peace as you want to be, don’t be the dog on the floor that no longer jumps. There is a door out of the room. The key is to look for it.
Yesterday I asked a distant relative if they were as happy as they wanted to be. Without hesitation they said no. I replied I was delighted to hear that, and I hope they understood that I was not delighted at their unhappiness, but rather that they understand that they are not as happy as they want to be. Knowing this is the first step. Once you take this first step, you can move on to the next step and explorer why you are not as happy or peaceful as you want to be. Knowing that you want more happiness and peace, you can then explore ways to find it. And once you have moved on to this step–the search for happiness and peace–there’s no stopping you. It matters less what path you choose, just so long as you’re on a path. To move along that path takes practice. I hear a lot of talk about, “having a practice.” I hear people asking, “How is your practice?” “What is your practice,” or “How is your practice going?” Again, it doesn’t matter as much what the practice is. It could be Zen Buddhism; it could be Judaism; it could be Christianity; it could be Islam; it could be secular mindfulness study, or you can just make it up. Just so long as your practice takes you in the direction of happiness and peace.
So it was with great delight that I got this text from this distant relative telling me about an app called, “Happy Not Perfect.” I downloaded the app and poked around a bit, and to my pleasant surprise, it looked really good–my relative had found a fantastic resource for developing a practice.
There are three requirements for a practice. The first is to have great faith. Faith in one’s self. The second is to have great doubt. Do not believe everything you are told. You have to figure things out for yourself. And third is great determination.
The good news is that once you have a practice and feel it working, it’s a virtuous cycle. You practice more. It works more. You practice more. It works even more…. and so on. Once you catch a whiff of success, you have tapped into this virtuous cycle that can take you wherever you want to go.
Spoiler alert!!! There is no where to go. There is nothing to attain. But that is an idea for another blog post.