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Zen and the Art of Unreasonable Happiness

“There is no path to Happiness. Happiness is the path.” ~ Dan Millman

Over the years we’ve been bombarded by a plethora of get-happy-quick schemes. Everybody seems to have some sort of long-winded “secret” to happiness.

But when it comes down to it, there is no trick to happiness. When the chips are down, and our backs are against the wall, happiness is a choice. It’s up to us. We all have the capacity to cultivate our own happiness.

Being happy isn’t an if/when proposition –“I will be happy if…” or “I will be happy when”– It’s a will/won’t admonition. Being happy is about collapsing into something primordial inside ourselves.

It’s about letting go of expectations, genuinely letting go, and just being present with that innate, awe-inspired, drunken smile within. That place of inner-Zen, where your heart leaps over itself like a little red trickster god.

Happy happy, joy joy!

The most important truth is this: you do not need a reason to be happy. That’s the only “formula” you will ever need. Your ego will wrestle with the idea of this, but your soul knows it to be true. But, as with most things, happiness takes practice.

It takes discipline. It takes a riot of the heart. It takes staring into the abyss and laughing, wholeheartedly at whatever comes out of it: pain, fear, loss, grief, jealousy, anger.

The best way to practice the necessary discipline of happiness is through mindfulness meditation. This is the Zen-aspect of happiness: being present to that peaceful center within, despite the tragicomedy that our lives can be.

With enough practice and disciplined mediation, we can learn how to empower ourselves by controlling our “negative” emotions through “positive” action. We can become Masters of Seizing the Moment through the use of emotional alchemy.

We learn how to extract the maximum emotional satisfaction from each moment, despite the “quality” of the moment, while minimizing the amount of energy squandered on negative emotions.

Buddhist monk, photographer and author Matthieu Ricard talks on the habits of happiness –

It’s what Dan Millman referred to as unreasonable happiness; where, even in the face of some of life’s greatest tragedies, we can find sparks of happiness that can turn into raging fires if allowed to fruition.

The action is the thing. Most people act the way they feel. But this doesn’t have to be the case. We have a choice. With enough discipline and practice we can actually feel the way we act. For example: you can “feel” scared but “act” courageous. Similarly, you can “feel” road rage but “act” calmly.

With enough practice you can eventually feel the way you act. Through emotional alchemy, happiness truly is a choice. Philosophically speaking, the nihilism that arises from an inherently meaningless universe must be countered by the courage to bring meaning to the meaninglessness.

Charlie Chaplain said it best, “Smile though your heart is aching.” Indeed, the only way to be truly free is to choose happiness over meaninglessness. Our only freedom is found in loving the task of being a fallible human going through the motions of knowing we’re going to die.

The typical human knows that he knows; the learned human knows that he doesn’t know; the wise human knows that it doesn’t matter, and chooses happiness instead. With emotional alchemy we don’t learn courage, love, and happiness; we simply act courageous, loving, and happy; despite our feeling fearful, hateful, or sad.

The pretense is mere makeup. The action is the thing. The more unconditional we are with ourselves, the more we’re able to recondition the original condition.

Like Jonathan Haidt, author of the Happiness Hypothesis, wrote, “Human rationality depends critically on sophisticated emotionality. It is only because our emotional brains work so well that our reasoning can work at all.” This is the power of emotional alchemy. This is the power of unreasonable happiness.

Happiness is Contagious
Happiness is Contagious

The best part about being happy, especially if it’s unreasonable, is that it’s contagious. If you’ve ever stood in a Laugh Circle, you know what I mean. Try it: stand in a circle with your best friends. Then have everybody start fake laughing. You’ll be surprised how fast that “fake” laughter becomes “real.”

That’s because joy is contagious. Laughter is infectious. Happiness is a survival mechanism, when it really comes down to it. Especially for the social creature that is the human animal.

Let yourself be surprised by joy. Let yourself laugh for no reason. If not for yourself, do it for others. Happiness needs no reason, and neither do you. Just do it, and then pass it on to others. Allow yourself to be the first domino with a smile on its face instead of dots. Fall back. Let yourself go, and collapse into your joy.

The other dominoes will thank you for it in the long run. Nothing could be easier. Then again, depending upon your perspective, nothing could be more difficult.

But like his Holiness the Dalai Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

The first person you need to be compassionate with is yourself. Whether reasonable or unreasonable, choose to be happy.

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Happy happy, joy joy!
Happiness is Contagious
A taste of Happiness

Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.


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Andy Clarke

Lovely article & wonderfully worded. There is, however, an important distinction between mindfulness meditation & zen.

Samantha Giesige

Chaplin did not write the lyrics to Smile, that quote is incorrect.
Loved the article.

Darren Wray

“Don’t Seek Happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness.”
– Eckhart Tolle

Vickie England

My heart needed restoration to its original joy. Sometimes we give that joy away to other people slipping into their happiness and forgetting to sustain our own. Feeling better after reading this reminder. I must keep centered on self.

Susan T

It’s so good that you took the time to write this article. I needed reminding, so I wanted to thank you, even your name made me happy.

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