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Couch Potato Contemplation: Really Wanting to Be Happy

Hunker down in your favorite chair, get comfortable on the couch, or settle into your BarcaLounger and put it all the way back, on “full Barca.” Let go of all the activities, plans, and anxieties of the day. They’ll all be there when you come back in a few minutes!

Relax every part of your body from head to toe. Take a few deep breaths and bring your mind into the present moment. Spend a few minutes focusing your concentration, trying not to think of anything else but the process of your breathing. Try to get riveted on your breath, like it’s the best movie you’ve seen all year.

Now, think about what you really want out of life. Try to identify the things you are pursuing—material prosperity, good relationships, success at the job, a nice home to live in—and then ask yourself why you want them. What do you think they’ll do for you?

You think they’ll make you happy, right? You’re dreaming of and working for these things because you believe they will bring happiness to your life, yes? Just try to get clear on that: You are, in fact, driven by the same urge all other living beings have—to achieve happiness and avoid pain.

Next, try to identify in yourself the voices that suggest there’s something wrong with being happy. Maybe they’re whispering, “What a trivial goal! You should strive for greater things!” Or maybe they’re trying to entice you with the idea that pursuing your own happiness is selfish, or that you somehow don’t deserve to be happy.

Finally, review the points we’ve made in this chapter. The pursuit of happiness is not a silly or lesser goal; it is, in fact, rather difficult to achieve! If you’re looking for a real challenge, try just being content! In any event, it is hardwired into our nature to want to be happy and to strive to obtain happiness— it informs everything we do, all day long. Lose the idea that the pursuit of your own true happiness is somehow at the expense of caring about others, or that it is inimical to a spiritual life conceptualized as inherently dreary and laborious. How can we truly be of benefit to others if we’re not happy ourselves? How can we be helpers if we remain helpees?

End the contemplation with a resolution to try to be more aware of the parts of yourself that resist being happy, and vow to combat them with the tools of reason and true compassion for others.


Lama Marut (a.k.a. Brian K. Smith) is extensively trained in the spiritual traditions of India and Tibetan Buddhism. He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Religion and taught for over two decades in the academic world, first at Columbia University and later at the University of California, where he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2004. He lived as a Buddhist monk for eight years and has served for the past fifteen years as a spiritual teacher to students around the world. Lama Marut is currently the Spiritual Director of eight “Middle Way Centers” located in North America, Australia, and Singapore.

*This article has been shared with Inner Tapestry courtesy of  Beyond Words Publishing


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