Happy for No Reason
I’ve learned a lot about happiness from my almost daily walks on the hilly trails by the Potomac River. I once had very clear criteria for what made the best walk: favorite time of year (early spring, budding greens), preferred weather (sunny, mild), best times to walk (sunrise, sunset), number of humans around (none).
Of particular value was seeing something unusual, say a beaver or tundra swan. And bottom line, walks were the very best when I was feeling light, agile, and pain free. Oh, how my mood would soar, grateful and happy, when all the boxes were checked. But I started noticing how easily complaints could slide in when some of my ideal parameters weren’t met—when they were undercut by cold drizzly days or Sunday crowds or cranky knees.
Out for a walk one evening, I finally got it. As I celebrated the glorious full moon coming up on the horizon, I realized the obvious: happiness that depended on fulfilling my ideal walking preferences was like only being satisfied when the moon was full!
In Buddhist teachings, there are two kinds of happiness. One arises when life is the way we want it—beautiful weather, loving and harmonious relationships, accomplishment at work, our bodies feeling good. This kind of happiness is dependent on Things Going Our Way. The other kind—Happy for No Reason—doesn’t depend on what is happening in our life, but rather is the freedom of our heart when we are unconditionally present, resting in an awake, open awareness. No matter what is going on, we basically sense that all is well.
After the full moon realization, Happy for No Reason began creeping into my walks. I’d find myself appreciating natural beauty even on cold, gray days, enjoying the sense of fellowship when the trails were crowded, regarding my hurting joints with tender care not discouragement. One day I set out for my walk with a stomachache and some anxiety about my to-do list (not ideal). I made my way up a steep, icy trail (not preferred), and when I reached the top, I saw that someone had dropped a wrapper on the ground (litter, bad). As I paused to look around, I took stock of how I was actually feeling, despite the unpleasantness.
I was struck by what I noticed. I didn’t mind how things were—this was as good a walk as any. And I was feeling happy. Happy for No Reason. When I looked at my experience in that moment, I could see that happiness was arising from simply being present and aware. And with that presence came a sense of belonging to the life within and around me, just as it is. I could notice my physical discomfort and anxiety, I could pick up the litter and still sense a fundamental well-being.
While my daily walks continue to lean toward very pleasant, I have found Happy for No Reason extending to other parts of my experience—the pain when I’m feeling disconnected from others, the anxiety when I’m worried about failing at something, the fear and grief for those who are struggling, my sorrow for our Earth. When these experiences are held in unconditional and tender presence, a basic sense of well-being continues. Having space in our heart for whatever happens, for the moon in all its phases, opens us to the freedom of Happy for No Reason.
Excerpted from Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness by Tara Brach. Copyright © 2021 by Tara Brach. Cover & Interior Illustrations © 2021 Vicky Alvarez. To be published by Sounds True in June 2021.