I have started a new journey recently, a spiritual journey. This journey has led me to the book "The Art of Happiness" by Dr Howard Cutler and the 14th Dalai Lama, and it has had a profound affect on my outlook on life and how I approach the decisions I make.
The particular lesson that had the biggest affect on me, was the Dalai Lama's view on how to achieve happiness, and differentiating between things that bring us pleasure, and things that make us truly happy. Now you may think "what's the difference? Things that bring me pleasure make me happy". But I urge you to spend a moment considering the difference between the two.
The best example I have identified with is the path my own life has been on for the past few years. In 2012, my husband and I decided to quit our jobs, turn our lives upside down, and move 10 hours north to Byron Bay. We made this decision rather quickly, going on instinct and a "fear of missing out", really. Life had been tough for the both of us in the few years preceding this decision, we needed change, and we were constantly bombarded with pictures and stories by friends on social media who were travelling the world, and experiencing endless adventures., while we were just working and studying. Clearly, they were happier than us and it was time to make a change. When I look back on it, I guess we were running to what we thought were greener pastures.
And the pastures were greener. Byron Bay is beautiful. We had white sandy beaches, world famous surf breaks, pandanus trees, local markets, like minded health conscious communities, warm weather, we lived on a farm and had cows all around...life was good. But the shine wore off, and all of these things became normal. The crowded surf began to bother us. The crowds of the Byron Bay holiday makers and back packers began to bother us. We began to miss our closest family and friends. The "happiness" wore off. They say the same thing happens if you win millions on lotto.
So why did this happen? I have been pondering this, and I now realise that the decision we made to move to Byron Bay was based on pleasure. It was pleasurable to live there in such beautiful place. But did that pleasure equal happiness?
I wrote a list of the things that make me happy. There were only four things:
1. Being surrounded by family and our closest friends, watching our nieces, nephews and friends children grow up, and having them surround our own future children.
2. Having plenty of quality time with my husband, so we can make our relationship a priority.
3. Being able to help those who most need my help.
4. Creating a lifestyle that allows me to maintain a healthy mind and body.
And it dawned on me: Although living in Byron Bay was very pleasurable, it didn't tick off anything on my happiness list. I had none of my family or closest friends around. I was commuting 10 hours a week on top of working up to 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, leaving very little time for maintaining a healthy mind and body, or spending time with my husband. And although I was helping many people, I had to commute 100km each way in order to do this.
So we moved back to the Central Coast. And whilst Byron Bay will always hold a special place in my heart, and living there for 3 years helped shape the person I am now, I feel deeply happy to be back where I started. Where I have my family and friends, a balanced lifestyle, and feel I am making a real difference in my community by offering a healthcare approach that the Central Coast hasn't had until now. I am living a life that is congruent with the things that bring happiness, rather than things that bring pleasure. And the pleasure of Byron Bay is just a weekend escape away after all :)
So I challenge you to face up to the choices you make. Are they based on pleasure, or happiness? Will watching tv on the lounge instead of going for a walk bring you pleasure, or happiness? Will that episode of impulse shopping bring you pleasure or happiness? If your goal this year is to eat healthy, will eating that piece of cake bring you pleasure or happiness? These are all small decisions that you can start questioning, before moving to the big picture. But every decision will add to your happiness cup, and I know you all want happiness. It is the essence of humanity, after all. We search for it.
Enjoy the awakening this approach to life brings.
with infinite love and gratitude,
Dr Katie McManus