I recently met a spiritual teacher, and was invited to ask a question. As this isn’t my first rodeo, I decided to ask a question that was heartfelt, but tricky.

I said: during the pandemic, I have had meaning and fun, but less happiness. I don’t believe happiness comes from inside. I find it a kind of inspiration. How can I entice my happiness to come to me?

The teacher gave this answer: “Happiness is a choice.” (I believe there is a book with this title, too.)

I’m guessing this person had forgotten about depression, bio-chemically indigenous or situational. And about grief. Not cool, in my book. We were strangers. I’d have appreciated more caution. What if I’d lost someone in the pandemic?

Also, I don’t really believe much in choice. (Unless it is Roe vs. Wade). Between character, fate, and chance, I’m lucky to have even a medium amount of free will.

On the other hand, I do everything in my power to practice gratitude, mitzvahs, self-amusement, and friendliness. That is, I practice enjoyment. But it is not the whole picture.


Well, that isn’t the teacher for me, which is good, because I’m incredibly suspicious of so-called spiritual teachers. However, I started to wonder how people I respect would answer the question. And to my surprise, I could pretty much channel their answers!

My old therapist: You ARE happy. But it’s clouded by your anxiety. Work on lowering that, and happiness will shine.

My old Zen teacher: You and your happiness exist in a mutual field. How can happiness entice YOU?

My great aunt Tillie: Life is not meant to be happy, darling. (A Jewish variant on the Buddhist “Life is suffering.”)

Shakyamuni Buddha: Follow the Eightfold Path—right action, right speech, etc.

The Sage Hillel: If not now, when?

The checkout lady (She is a mythical character for me, representing common sense): Do something for somebody else.

My deceased but not forgotten cats: You’ll feel better if you rest up.

My two-year old grand-daughter (psychic, her vocab isn’t that large yet): Watch cartoons, eat popcorn, and hold my hand. Also, this soft blankie—which I am not sharing with you—can help. Get your own.

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About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well (https://miriamswell.wordpress.com). The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

8 thoughts on “Happiness

  1. All I can say is Thank you. I so often notice that people give “happiness” advice that doesn’t reflect the possibilities of depression or anxiety. They are finally being recognized by many as the illnesses they are.

  2. Boy oh boy….I’ve been thinking about your post all day Miriam. I could really go down a deep cavern with this one. Spiritual teachers…ugh….honestly, the fact they initiated questions – it’s a set-up from the start. I am going through a revolution dismantling any and all authority figures and (with all due respect), “spiritual teachers” are at the top of my list. Anyhow….

    In all genuineness, I think your grand-daughter has it right; hold your hand (with popcorn and blankie too). I have a dear friend who’s really been having a very tough year. When I finally got a chance to be with her in person she mentioned how everyone was giving her advice and the “secret antidote” to her anxiety and depression and unhappiness. What I said to her was “you know there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing that needs to be fixed.” I let her know that I would be there for her, that I in fact did not have any answers for her, and that I would walk through the fire with her. Because, everything changes. What feels true to me is meeting the person where they’re at. And that was the farthest thing away from your “spiritual teacher’s answer”. Pat answers that don’t allow or that shy away from intimacy and connection. I think Thich Nhat Hanh got it right when he said “the best gift we can give another is our presence.” And another quote I love from Arawana Hayashi (a Shambhala meditation teacher) “we can listen the other into their own wisdom”.

  3. Love the different perspectives on how to be happy. The checkout lady’s perspective resonates with me. One thing I’m wondering is what ‘happiness’ is for you. Is it an evaluation of whether or you are living your best life? Or having more positive emotions than negative ones? Or being in the zone because you are consumed with an activity? Or peace and tranquility maybe? Or all of these?

    • Good question! I differentiate between meaning–trying to live a good purposeful life–and happiness, which is more like joy, and more of a surprise. I’ve had joy in disastrous situations, but somehow the pandemic cut down my access to it. Maybe happiness is a kind of grace?

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