I’ve just come back from a few days in Scotland, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the Tibetan Monastery and Buddhist Centre of Samye Ling (pr. Samee Ling).
Samye Ling is a little piece of Tibet set against the hills of the Scottish Borders and nestling amongst the pine forests, heather and wildflowers. I could feel its vibrations stretching out towards me even before I began to walk the path that leads towards the main complex. The entire architecture is Tibetan with long oblong buildings and roofs that curve upwards towards the sky. Along the entrance path, two tall arches rise up painted in the traditional Tibetan red and gold and embellished with intricate paintings and designs. In the main complex can be found tranquil pools and waterfalls and wonderful huge statues of golden Buddhas, and the whole place is very, very peaceful.
The Shrine Room building has a wide flight of stone steps leading up to it from a large courtyard. Inside, the eye is greeted by magnificent Tibetan ornamentation and decoration and the great Golden Buddha which is the centrepiece of the room. Here I found the vibrations so incredibly powerful that after a short while, I had to sit down on one of the chairs arranged against the back wall. Once seated, peace descended upon me like a cloak being gently laid upon my shoulders. Within moments, I was in a place of utter stillness inside and I sank into an effortlessly deep meditation which lasted for about twenty minutes (ah, would that it were always thus!!). I emerged strongly grounded and centred, totally peaceful, and with an immense feeling of contentment. It was a wonderful experience.
As we drove back to Edinburgh where I was staying, I was reminded of a line from the Tibetan Buddhist prayer which begins: “ May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness ……” and I found myself thinking how one cannot help but feel content when the mind is still. This led to my musing upon the importance of finding happiness in oneself, not only as a way of peace and fulfilment but also as a wonderful way of self-healing. For in just the same way that one cannot be negative when one is relaxed, one cannot be unhappy if one is serene, for it is in that place of equanimity that the turbulence of the emotions is stilled. This is why truly happy people tend to be not so concerned with material riches. Nor do they angst over finding the perfect relationship. Somehow, even when facing challenges or ill-health, they still manage to be happy.
So how do they do it?
It’s long been accepted that there’s a direct connection between the body and mind and that our thoughts affect our bodies. Our bodies respond to the environment, and they react to the ways we think about ourselves. Limiting beliefs, negativity or any toxic mental patterns are going to cause cortisol to be pumped around our systems most of the time which can lead to illness, disease and to generally undermining our health. So it makes sense to think about pleasurable things as much as possible to provide the antidote to this!
The good news is that you can be happy right now by changing your thinking and your attitude. You can choose to be happy – and generally speaking, the only person who’s going to stop you from doing this is you! So here’s a few suggestions to help you along the way:
Begin by thinking of all your problems as challenges. Instead of focussing on how difficult something is, start looking at it as an opportunity for you to change and make your life better. Every challenge is a lesson to learn and a chance to grow and become all the stronger for it. There’s usually an upside to any issue if you’re prepared to look for it – so make a point of focussing on that instead, and practice eliminating the word “problem” from your vocabulary!
Try not to sweat the small stuff. Remember that whatever little thing is irritating you right now will be irrelevant in a year, a month or even a day, so why wind yourself up? Tell yourself: “I’m just going to put this on one side for now,” and then get on with the other things in your life. It’s easier than you think to do this.
Resolve to let go of grudges and be kind to yourself and others. Research has shown that this is a big factor in feeling happier. Kindness releases a powerful energy which helps to build relationships and fosters positive feelings for yourself and those around you.
Choose to spend time with friends who are positive because that way you’ll be buoyed up by their positive energy. Notice how frequently you make comparisons between yourself and others (whether you think you’re better or worse than them!), and consciously switch off your critical thoughts. Everyone is a unique individual and being judgemental in any respect is detrimental to your happiness. Also, don’t talk about plans, dreams and ideas to people who are negative because they’re likely to pull you down and generally be unsupportive. If you want an opinion, ask a positive person, and wean yourself off the need for approval from others.
You are what you eat, so make an effort to eat healthily. Processed junk foods will leave you feeling sluggish and prone to health problems. So avoid the pizzas, burgers and chips and go for more fresh vegetables and fruits and try to buy organic produce whenever possible. Also remember that exercise produces endorphins (these are those happy hormones which are so healing for your body). Even walking for 30 minutes a day can enhance your state of mind, reduce stress, help to keep down your weight and make you feel happier.
If you’re not already doing it, learn to meditate. Research has shown that it calms the nerves, is good for your health and supports inner peace. And if you can commit yourself to trying to practice more awareness of living in the NOW instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, that will provide much grist for the mill.
Being able to express gratitude or appreciation for the things that you have (rather than the things you have not), has been found to help with stress, foster happier moods, more optimism and bring better health. Gratitude causes beneficial shifts in the body’s biochemistry, reminds you of the positive things in your life, and can turn bad things into good things. It can remind you of what’s important in life and crucially, remind you to remember to thank others for their gifts, kindness and help. Simple acts of kindness cost nothing and are very healing for both the giver and the recipient.
It’s a good idea to start a “gratitude journal” and write down all the things you’ve encountered each day for which you’re thankful. As an alternative, you could also spend a short while each night before you go to sleep making a mental list of things for which you’ve felt grateful during the day. In this way, you can start training your mind to think in a more appreciative fashion.
And finally, remember nothing in life is ever going to be perfect. Happy people are able to accept what can’t be changed and instead put their energy into the things that they can control and are able to improve. So, when change enters your life, resolve to accept it and see it as something really positive. And when you can’t change something, practice acceptance of that, too.
I hope these ideas are helpful for those of you who would like to find ways of feeling happier and are useful reminders to those of you who are already working on themselves in this way.