What do we all have in common? What motivates us? What is it that we’re all striving for? We’re all looking to avoid pain, difficulties and dissatisfaction. We all want to be comfortable and happy, and experience a sense of well-being in our lives. But most of us are looking for happiness in the wrong places.
Relying on External Situations Results in Dissatisfaction
We constantly seek pleasurable situations that we think will bring lasting happiness. We’re attracted to wealth, power, success, possessions, relationships, security and the like because we think they can provide us with the stable happiness we crave. But most of these pursuits don’t lead to the desired outcome.
Maybe we’re looking for happiness in the wrong place because we don’t see the impermanent nature of these things we crave. In fact, every situation, every thing we might acquire to secure this happiness is going to pass. External things aren’t able to give us lasting satisfaction.
Suppose you’re in the perfect situation: you’re on the beach in the best company, you’ve just had the best meal you can imagine, everything’s going exactly like you want it – then a fly or a mosquito comes by, or you see rubbish on the beach, and suddenly your perfect situation is shattered and the only thing you can think about is the problem that makes it imperfect.
There’s always a limit to what external things can bring us. Once the fascination and newness wear off, or situations change (as they always do), our minds default to varying degrees of dissatisfaction, which is expressed as a form of agitation. We try to get relief from this agitation by looking outward for solutions. Deep down, we’re troubled and don’t see how we get trapped—we’re like a fish attracted to bait. This cycle can be called the “dissatisfaction default mode.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should be pessimistic about our lives and the world. The world offers many very nice, pleasurable things like good relationships, meaningful work, good health and prosperous situations that provide comfort for a certain length of time. But the problem is that they are not totally reliable. Situations change. Friendships come and go, our children grow up and leave home, our finances change and our health becomes less robust.
We must become more realistic. No one wants to experience unpleasant situations such as physical pain, emotional pain, or death, but they happen nonetheless. There are many things we can’t change about the external world, but we can change how we relate to them. Much of the dissatisfaction we experience is due to our inner state of being, not just external conditions. And this is where meditation comes in.
Meditation Gives Us Access to Our Own Happiness & Well-Being
The mind holds innate qualities of well-being and clarity that lie waiting beneath the superficial level of dissatisfaction. The main purpose of meditation is to access, recognize and enhance the positive qualities of mind. The more we can do this, the less we need to rely on external situations for our happiness and the more we can rely on the natural, positive qualities of mind: love, contentment, well-being and peace.
Accessing our natural happiness and inner well-being is one of the greatest achievements that can be attained. They’re always with us because they don’t depend on anything external: no one can take them away. They depend only on us and affect everything in our lives in a positive way. It’s like discovering that there’s a hidden treasure within. To access this treasure, we begin by focusing inwardly – and for this we need training. Meditation is this training. As we meditate more, we gain confidence in our basic, innate goodness and well-being; this unlocks our potential and gives our lives tremendous meaning. In this sense, the question “Does meditation make you happy?” answers itself. Meditation doesn’t make you happy – it unlocks the “happy” that has always been there for the asking.
This article was adapted from Trinlay Rinpoche’s Mind Talk video “The True Source of Well-Being.” Mind Talks are part of Mindworks Meditation Courses, together with progressive meditation programs, guided meditations, and much more.