“A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering.”
I recently had a very enlightening conversation with a good friend about the nature of happiness, and suffering. Pain, and Pleasure. A few days later, I was trying to repeat that same enlightening conversation to my co-workers, but conversations are alive, and each new one ends up growing into something a bit different than the last.
I have told my friends at work that I do not believe that someone can be happy all the time. They tell me that happiness is a choice. You can decide to have a good or a bad attitude about life, and that will determine whether or not you are happy. I disagree. I believe that happiness is an illusion, along with pain, and suffering.
As humans, we tell ourselves stories about the world we are moving through. On Monday, I may wake up and I decide that I hate today. I tell myself that everyone hates me, that my friends and family are out to get me, and that this is going to be the worst day ever. As I go throughout the day, my brain gives me emotional responses based off the story I am telling myself. I tell myself it is a terrible day, and I will physically feel terrible. So, Monday is a bad day. On Tuesday, I wake up, and I tell myself that this is going to be the best day ever. I am excited to go to work, because I tell myself that everyone there is my friend. Throughout the day, my brain gives me emotional responses that validate the story I am telling myself. I physically feel happy. Tuesday is a good day.
Now, most would look at that example and say “obviously, you should try to have a good attitude, because it affects the way you feel.” But I don’t think so. On both days, you are lying to yourself. On both days, you are creating an illusion about the world around you, and your body is giving you very real feelings and responses to the illusion that you have created. This is why happiness is an illusion. Because even though the actual feelings of ‘being happy’ are real feelings, they are in response to an illusion that you are creating. They are built on a lie. My friend described it as “An illusion that we are stuck in. But once we realize we are trapped in it, we can both step away from it, and also immerse ourselves in it, because we know it is false.”
So, what’s the point of having emotions if they are an illusion? I don’t know yet… and most will read this and dismiss it because they are fine with their emotions. They may even like their emotions. But for me, who struggles with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, this brings a huge breath of relief. The usual roller coaster of emotional ups and (mostly) downs, now carries a tranquil, almost smug, “okay-ness.” Life is okay. I don’t have to subject myself to the violent ups and downs. I can step back from how I am feeling, feel okay with the fact that life is not okay, and then plunge back in. And maybe even enjoy the ride.