Archive for December, 2007

Be glad that it’s your fault!

When unhappiness strikes, we often lash out. We blame other people, we blame outside events, we do whatever we can to convince ourselves that it is not our fault. In a fight with our partner, we come up with all the things that he or she did wrong, and why we were justified to behave the way we did. When we’re feeling irritable, we insist that the actions of others are responsible for our mood, such as a driver cutting us off in traffic, or a work colleague talking too much. We go out of our way to blame everyone and everything for our mood, but seldom do we blame ourselves.

The reason that this behaviour is absurd is that we would be much better off if it were our fault. Anything that we are responsible for, we can change. If our irritability is the fault of another driver, or the fault of a work colleague, then we are doomed to feeling irritable forever. On the other hand, if we are responsible for our own irritability, then we have a way out. Hence, instead of hoping to blame others, we should hope to blame ourselves. We should look for every way in which we have contributed to our unhappiness, and the more we find, the happier we should be.

If we find this mind-set difficult, then we should ask ourselves why we want to blame others. Often, it comes back to self-esteem. We perceive that by blaming others, our self-esteem remains high, and that this will boost our happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The less responsibility that we take for our own happiness, the more we are bound to suffer. If we deny our ability to improve things, we will be stuck in the same place forever. Although blaming others protects our self-esteem in the short-term, the resulting unhappiness only makes things worse in the long-term, and it is important to realize this if we want to stop this destructive behaviour.

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Non-attachment: the true path to enjoyment

Non-attachment is a doctrine emphasized by many spiritual traditions. It centres around the idea of impermanence – that everything in this world is transitory, and thus we should cling to nothing. On first hearing, this advice may be misunderstood. We may conjure up images of the ultimate killjoy – someone who is passionless, uncaring, indifferent; someone who is excited about nothing, looks forward to nothing, and enjoys nothing. Fortunately, this view is far from the truth. Non-attachment does not imply the shunning of enjoyment. In fact, it is only through non-attachment that we can truly enjoy anything.

Everything changes. The flower that is beautiful today will fade and die tomorrow. When we cling and attach to things, the fading of such beauty saddens us. This is to misunderstand the nature of the universe. The truth is that everything changes. Our bodies age, our health fades, people die, new people are born. Our possessions – however precious and sparkling new they are today – will soon break, age, or no longer seem useful. Whether in days or years, everything is as fragile as the flower, eventually subject to change. Therefore, attachment does not bring enjoyment. In contrast, it invites suffering and disappointment. It is only through non-attachment that we can enjoy the things in this world without suffering from the inevitability of change. Non-attachment is the true path to enjoyment.

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