The Secret of Lasting Happiness
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.
Have you ever asked yourself, “What brings me lasting happiness?” It is a good question. A lot of people answer this in the future tense: When I have a lot of money I will have lasting happiness. Or when I find the perfect partner (or make my partner into the perfect partner) then I will be happy. Perhaps the answer is when they are in better shape, needing to finish their education, become famous, retire from a job they don’t like, when they have children, when their children are grown and out of the house and the list of future objectives goes on and on.
Sponsored by the Dalai Lama Foundation, our son’s class of 14 senior high school students recently went on a quest to India to find out the answer to the question, “What brings you lasting happiness.” They interviewed a lot of amazing people, including Richard Gere, Abdul Kalam (the President of India), Nirmala Deshpande (who marched with Gandhi and still carries on his work in India), as well as other inspiring people. Each answered very specifically and in very beautiful ways. But it was in the two hour interview with the Dalai Lama, that the question was most profoundly answered. Our son, John-Nuri, wrote the Dalai Lama’s answer to this question, just minutes after leaving the interview.
“My favorite part of our audience with His Holiness was when we asked him what brings him lasting happiness. He paused, thought for a moment and then answered with a smile, “I don’t know.” I thought this was exactly the answer we needed to hear. There is such a simple lesson to be learned from this wisdom. We cannot be given the answer to what brings lasting happiness. In a way, His Holiness was telling us that in the end, we just have to find out the answer for ourselves. In this way, whatever comes along in our life that gives us lasting happiness, we will be in the moment, living it for ourselves.”
In reading our son’s response, Barry and I felt that perhaps what the Dalai Lama is telling us is that the journey of life is more important than the goal. If it is OK for the Dalai Lama not to know what brings him lasting happiness, then it is OK for us to be in the present rather than in the future. We can be happy right now, even if we don’t have all the money we want, or we aren’t the ideal weight or any of the other future goals we feel we must have. We have the present moment with all of its possibilities.
Specifically in the area of relationship, we have the potential to be happy with the people that we are with, whether it is a partner, child, parent, co-worker or friend. Our happiness does not depend on something they do or say to us, or our ability to change them. Our happiness lies in how we deal with the present moment, whether we are resentful, guilty, afraid, angry or simply grateful. It is the gratitude that can bring us right into the present moment, and open the door for happiness.
I have known most of these 14 teenagers since they began their education together in kindergarten. If they were to come to our home to ask me the question of what brings lasting happiness I would answer quite simply. For me being aware of the potential to be grateful in any given moment has brought me so much happiness. In the act of being grateful, I feel connected to an energy higher and more expanded than my own human mind. In the act of being grateful I feel loved.
Perhaps the worst time of my life was when I was 20 years old and lay dying in the Columbia University Hospital, where I was a nursing student. I had septicemia and a spiking 106 degree fever of unknown origin. I lay packed in ice, with all sorts of tubes being inserted into me. My clothes had all been removed and I lay fully exposed as medical students, residents, and top medical doctors came and went from the room. Before I slipped into unconsciousness, I was aware of conversations that went something like, “I hope her mother comes soon, I don’t know how much longer she will live.”
There I was in a strange and uncomfortable place, away from everyone I knew, stripped of all dignity, perhaps dying and feeling absolutely horrible. Then from somewhere within me I remembered that I could be grateful. I started thanking people for everything that they did to me, whether it hurt or not. In the act of thanking the nurses, attendants, and doctors I felt a power flow into me, and in a strange way felt that I was in control of my energy, even though I had no control over all the many things they were doing to me. Inside myself I began to be thankful for anything I could think of. The more I was grateful, the more I started to feel loved by an unseen presence. The hospital staff began to treat me differently as well. Before I began to feel grateful, I was simply a rare and interesting medical case. Now I felt seen as a person. Soon someone came and put a hospital gown on me, then shortly after that some flowers appeared. I can’t say that I was ecstatically happy, but the gratitude had changed the energy into a peaceful acceptance and the seeds of real inner happiness.
I remember the days, weeks and months right after my father died suddenly of a heart attack. He and my mother had been married for 60 years, and especially in the last 20 years they were never apart, and had been totally devoted to one another. I expected my mother to be in tears and totally sad about my dad’s death. Instead my mother shone with such a light and radiance. Instead of dwelling on her misfortune in losing my dad, she dwelt on just how grateful she felt to have had 60 years with him. Everyday she thought of something new and wonderful she had to be grateful for about my father.
And so for me, gratitude, is the key to happiness. Even in our worst or saddest moments, the act of gratitude can open the door to a different experience. I am grateful that the Dalai Lama left the answer to what brings lasting happiness so wide open. This spiritual and world leader then allows us all to look inside and realize what it is that brings us lasting happiness. The important thing is that we do look inside for the answer to the question, and then begin living our lives to reflect that.
Book by these authors:
The Heart’s Wisdom: A Practical Guide to Growing Through Love
by Joyce Vissell and Barry Vissell.
About the Authors
Joyce and Barry Vissell, a nurse and medical doctor couple since 1964, are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom and Meant To Be. Call TOLL-FREE 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at www.sharedheart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.