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A Prescription for Happiness: A Twelve Step Program

If only I were slimmer. . .
If only I had the money to . . .
If only so-and-so were my partner . . .
If only these people knew who I will be someday . . .
If only I were born into a different family . . .

We fantasize about how perfect our lives would be if and only if those “if only’s” were realized. We imagine how the requisites, if met, would make us complaint-free and happy forever and ever.

Start observing all the movies, programs and advertisements that promise to increase our happiness, directly or indirectly, if we buy what they are trying to sell. Pay attention to the externals that we desire and buy to make us happy or happier.

I chased after achievements all my life. I told myself how I wanted those grades in elementary school, high school, college, and graduate school. I pursued the similarly illusory success in the real world. When I thought I had made it, it was a let down, a “dreadful hoax” as Alan Watts observed.

A sense of deep dissatisfaction and restlessness remained despite the external approvals. I sought meaning. I learned to let go, first the peace and recharge from temporary letting go’s for a day, a weekend, and a week or longer retreats. Then I learned to let go for the long run by joining an order of monastics. People whom I thought would support my path of peace turned out to be petty and controlling. I was evicted from where I thought was my life-long retreat only to pick things back up again.

Through it all, I started to notice what makes me happy from within and built on that. Internal happiness is free, within my control and cannot be taken away by anyone. This time, I was to let go of the self that wanted to let go. The self is the ego, which is linked explicitly with the phenomenon of "othering," rather than the sturdy sense of self that is by any reasonable measure a healthy thing. In Tenzin Palmo's words, it is "this tight little sense of solidity in the center of our being which is 'me,' and which therefore makes everything else into 'non-me.'" Ego is not so much a thing, then, as a condition: a narrowness and a paralysis and a grievous limitation.[1]

To generate internal happiness, therefore, simply stop thinking about ourselves and help others. The less we think about ourselves and the more we help others, the happier we will become. Our brain secretes positive chemicals corresponding to our positive emotions.[2] When we help someone, we are being generous with our time and personal resources. We are being brave because we are not afraid of losing out while we are helping someone else, instead of ourselves. Plus, we experience the feeling of love and well being when we help someone. [3]

Hence, I learned to apply the law of cause and effect to my advantage, which is the law of attraction in the mind, with speech and with action: do onto others as you would want done onto you.

For instance, I started giving away what I could, such as packed lunches with notes of encouragement for the homeless I know I always see when I go downtown. Although I had no bank account, no house and no income at the time, I felt that I had enough to share. As a mendicant, I relate to the homeless. Consciously I was not asking for anything in return, and yet I felt reassured of my current and future abundance because, after all, I have so much to share. In addition or perhaps due to the messages that my body and mind receive in not having to panic about poverty, I attract rather than repel opportunities for further material abundance.

When I am afraid, I notice the sudden onset of anxiety attacks. I acknowledge those thoughts and sensations, then notice the other side of the coin of fear, bravery. I never feel one side unless I own both sides. Someone who has never known happiness could not tell you what sadness feels like, someone who has never known sickness could not tell you what health feels like, and someone who has never experienced poverty could never know wealth when they encounter it. So I put, for the time being, that seemingly feeble part of me to use. The more I use that muscle to help others alleviate their fears, the more my personal fear diminishes or dissipates.

With sound intentions and balanced mindfulness, we reap what we sow, but the “we” is redefined. By helping others sow, all involved reap similar effects. Do unto others as we would want done onto ourselves is not only a moral imperative but a practical strategy for getting what we want in life.

A Twelve Step Program to Happiness

1. Compassion

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, vow to cultivate compassion and to learn the ways of protecting the lives of people, animals and plants.[4]

2. Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, vow to practice generosity by sharing time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.[5]

3. Faithfulness

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.[6]

4. Honesty

Aware of suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to the suffering of others, vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.[7]

5. Mindfulness

Aware of our thoughts, emotions, speech and physical sensations, label them as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral instead of creating entire dramas around them

6. Non-duality

Acknowledge that for every aversion or attachment that surfaces, we also embody their opposite.

7. Non-judgment

Note that stressors are effervescent and let cease the discriminating analytical mind’s critiques and aversion.

8. Pause

Take a few deep breaths and open ourselves up to the consciousness of the body, to a higher level of consciousness or to the universal hum.

9. Presence

Enjoy being fully present in the now, without worries about the past or the future. Abide in the open spaciousness and stillness, savoring any sense data that come to us at that point and any messages that emerge for us.

10. Action

Do onto others as we would want done onto us. Use the law of attraction to bring the effect we want into our lives by committing some small act of kindness everyday.

11. Dedication

Direct the invisible capital from our good deeds and kind thoughts to ourselves and others.

12. Gratitude

Be grateful for all that we have and received.

As Alan Watts reflects, life, as "in music, one does not make the end of the composition, the point of the composition." It was a musical thing where we were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played. And therein lies happiness.

[1] Carol Lee Flinders. Enduring Lives: Portraits of Women and Faith in Action. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

[2] Michael Anthony. How to be Happy and Have Fun Changing the World.

[3] Michael Anthony. How to be Happy and Have Fun Changing the World.

[4] Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

[5] Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

[6] Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

[7] Thich Nhat Hanh. For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993.

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