I was getting together with my high-school friends a while ago to celebrate my birthday. One of them asked me how I felt turning 40 (I was the first one turning 40 amongst the group). “It doesn’t feel much of a difference, to be honest, but I must say that I am at a much happier place now.” I said very casually. A asked, “Which period of time are you comparing to?” “Well, I would say my whole past, and to be exact, I found myself happier year after year.” B curiously asked, “Did you become happier because you have a baby?” I thought for a while and replied, “I would say it’s the yoga and the mindfulness practice that made me a much happier person, no, it’s definitely not because of my baby.” A replied in disbelief, “Wow, don’t get me wrong, I am truly happy for you if this is the case. From what I’ve observed, aren’t you suppose to be less happy the older you get? Because, you know, there’s much more to worry about, so much more burdens on your shoulders, so little things you can change etc… But if you can go against this “natural law”, I am truly happy for you.”
This conversation kept circulating in my head on my way home. I have never thought of how happiness could diminish as we age. I guess because of my work and background, I am constantly surrounded by spiritual people and dharma families, and we are true believers of happiness is always in our hands. But this conversation got me thinking, “Hum… I wonder how it is like for those who don’t have a spiritual practice. How many actually think that there is an expiry date to happiness?”
Well, I think if I didn’t get on the spiritual path, my level of happiness would highly depend on my health, financial status, quality of relationships, material abundance, social status, and the success of my career etc. At the end of the day, this is how we were taught about happiness. However, I can also see everywhere that the more you own, that doesn’t necessarily translate to happiness, instead, even those who have material abundance and social status suffer from loneliness, anxiety, depression, and emptiness.
I guess turning 40 is not a small thing (at least to many people), it is the midpoint of one’s life. As much as I tried to take good care of myself, I can’t deny that my body is not as strong and as capable as before, my skin condition is not as nice as before, there are many disappointments I experience in life, and there are so many things I couldn’t control and couldn’t change. If my happiness is dependent on the above, I can understand why one feels despair and disappointed as we age.
I kept asking myself, “Am I happy because of all the success and abundance I have in life?” I think, to a certain degree it is, but if I look deeper, it’s definitely not because of what I have, but because I like myself so much more now than ever: I like myself being much more open to the flow of life; I like myself for not having to seek approval from the outside to say I am good enough; I like myself for not taking results so personally; I like myself for embracing my weakness but at the same time recognizing my strength. I am happy because I have so much more self-acceptance and grace to accept what is.
I am thankful for the mindfulness practice, for it has taught me to recognize the impermanence nature of life; not to attached to what doesn’t belong to me, but at the same time allow myself to enjoy all that abundance that I have at the present moment, knowing that the next moment may not be the same. Thank you Buddha for showing me how everything is inter-connected, knowing that my effort is only one drop of water in the ocean of life; If I succeed, I don’t need to be all over myself because without the support of different conditions and causes, such result would not happen. I know success is not luck, it’s all the conditions coming together, on top of my hard work. If I fail, I don’t need to take it personally, because my input is only one drop of water in the ocean of life as well. I recognize the conditions are not yet sufficient to support the result I want, all I have to do is to reflect on myself and see if there is anything I can refine and do better. I also need to recognize my strength and quality so that I only need to do my best within my capacity. If it’s meant to happen, it will, if not, it’s not meant to happen anyway.
I am truly thankful for the mindfulness practice, it has helped me to develop an open heart to welcome every experience that comes into my life.
Happiness can last forever, but you are the one who is responsible for its cultivation.