The ultimate goal of almost everything we do is to be happy. Even when we do something for other people’s happiness, we wouldn’t be doing it unless on some level it made us happy too. But what makes you happy? And how can you become happier?
We all know the emotions we like experiencing: joy, love, kindness, serenity, wonder, curiosity – and the ones we don’t: anger, hatred, anxiety, jealousy and so on.
Meditation is a training in cultivating the emotions that we like experiencing, and letting go of the ones we don’t. So how do you do that?
To let go of unpleasant emotions, the mindfulness approach is first to allow them to be there: not resist them by tensing up or trying to distract ourselves away from them. Second, bring awareness to the emotion. Be curious about where in your body you feel it and what it feels like.
Anger, for example, can feel like a big, menacing, dark cloud hanging over you. But if you look closely at the cloud, it is just mist. If you allow the unpleasant emotions you experience to be there and pay attention to what they feel like, they evaporate like frost under the morning sun.
The main practise I’ve learned for cultivating positive emotions is the Metta Bhavana, which translates as cultivating unconditional loving kindness. During the meditation you focus on wishing happiness and health to yourself, a friend, someone you don’t know and someone you’re having difficulty with, one after the other. In doing so you are practising self-love and acceptance, appreciating your friends more, feeling warmth towards strangers and feeling compassion for you ‘enemies’.
Even though I have experienced the truth of these ideas, I still find it easy to forget them, and search for happiness outside of myself. But I find that a regular meditation practise reminds of what really matters for my happiness, and right now, I feel pretty good!