Wondering how to be happy? If so, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans struggling with relationships, stress, depression, anxiety, anger and more are asking themselves the same question. As a psychotherapist since my 20s, it’s a question that I entertained for years until coming to this non-dualist understanding:
You are not the ultimate source of what happens in your life.
When I tell clients this, many—if not most—of them look at me curiously, probably unsure if they heard me correctly. So, I repeat.
You are not the ultimate source of what happens in your life.
Let that settle for a moment…
As a transpersonal psychotherapist who has been studying non-duality for more decades than some of you have been alive, I’ve learned, and truly believe, that we are all expressions of life and part of the processes that are happening all of the time. Non-duality, in its most basic definition, is the philosophical, spiritual and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental oneness. Simply put, we are all drops of the same ocean.
According to non-dual perspective, our authentic identity is not an individual “self”—an “I” or a “me.” Rather, it’s an inexplicable, energetic and spontaneous dynamic that appears as everything that exists in the world. Essentially, our “selves”—or any other “selves”—do no exist separately from each other and this creative life energy.
Life, as an energy force, always arises through us and moves us to do what we do, whether that be eating, moving, acting out in anger, saying something inappropriate, experiencing inspiration, using the bathroom, wondering how to be happy, etc.
This movement of life also creates our purpose. It informs our interests, love, desires and direction. Through this expression, our capacities, abilities and actions also come into existence. A thought, feeling, inspiration or interest arises, and we follow it. It may be that we have a particular inclination for sports or science and play baseball regularly or become a biologist. Or it could be that a desire to become stronger and fitter arises, which gets us to the gym.
The movement of life through us can also manifest in ways that we perceive as less positive. Let’s consider anger for a moment. We might lash out at our children and experience guilt afterward. Or maybe we have a huge fight with our partner and say and do things that are hurtful and later feel ashamed and like a rotten person with no self-control.
The thing is that whether the behavior is perceived as positive or negative, it is an automatic reaction to the energy that is you. Life will always come up and move you to do something. You do not cognitively choose to do it. It just is.
Think about it for a minute. You didn’t choose your parents, children, body, brain or biochemical makeup. Those are all expression of life. With that understanding, how can you really choose anything that you do, really?
At this point, some clients ask me if we are just puppets of life, without any personal agency, and totally unaccountable for what we say, do, think and feel. The short answer is no. Life is not pushing you around and you are not a puppet. Rather, you are the movement and expression of life.Therefore, life doesn’t move through us, life is moving as us. For instance, say you are dealing with anger issues and feel compelled gain control over this anger and seek the help of a therapist. The intention—“I don’t want to do this anymore”—has arisen, propelling you to take action. Then, in therapy, you look at the root of the angry behavior—perhaps it stems from unresolved issues you are still carrying from the past—and you continue moving with this energetic intention as you stay in therapy and keep working toward change.
Once you realize that you—and no one else—could have thought, felt, said or done anything other than what was thought, felt, said or done, it becomes easier to accept our humanness and innate connection to each other and everything and let go of the blame, shame and guilt that keep so many of us so miserable.
In short, realizing and accepting that everything is the way it is because it is, is the formula on how to be happy. That said, although so many us are seeking happiness, life is not always about being happy. Think about it. If we were happy all of the time, with nothing to compare it to, would we even know what happiness is or be able to enjoy it? The key to contentment is really more about acceptance. Accepting that life expresses itself as it does—and that it can be painful at times—is what can bring us peace, even in the midst of a storm. Even Buddha was extremely upset at times and suffered from severe back pain. And, I can’t image that Jesus was thrilled as he was being nailed to the cross. There are no guarantees in life—regardless of how enlightened you are or become. However, accepting that life is the way it is because it is, you become more able to let go of the blame, shame and guilt that keep so many of us trapped and experience more goodwill and harmony in your life.
These concepts, well simple, are so simple that they can feel somewhat esoteric and take some time to grasp. However, once you realize that nothing could have happened any other way than it did, a whole new world of perception, self-compassion, connection with others and inquiry open up. This understanding can greatly accelerate the therapy process and help you mitigate and even totally let go of angry, anxious and depressive feelings. It can also improve your relationships. When you’re not feeling guilt or shame nor casting blame and understand that others, like yourself, are expressions of a spontaneous life force, you innately increase capacity for compassion, forgiveness, intimacy and love.
Understanding non-duality can take time. It can take even more time to put it into practice. However, after more than 50 years as a practicing psychologist and non-dualist, I firmly believe in the validity of this perspective and have witnessed incredible healing, growth and happiness stem from its adoption.
If you’re interested in learning more about non-duality and the intersection of traditional Western therapy and Eastern philosophy and feel ready to live with increased peace and joy, I invite you to call me at my Weston, CT office at 203-544-8418, or my NYC office at 212-814-9402. With this new perspective, you’ll no longer have to ask how to be happy. You’ll understand that by accepting and embracing the life force that moves through us all, you can feel content.