It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. Psalms 118:8
What makes you happy? Spending an evening with a close friend? Dancing? A nice craft beer? Going shopping? Winning a game of volleyball? Watching a favorite TV show? Cooking a delicious meal?
Great! These are wonderful aspects of life, and they are worth enjoying. Still it is important to recognize that because these things make you happy, not having them means you’re not as happy. Happiness is always dependent on the outside world, and the outside world is always out of your control. Therefore happiness is always somewhat outside of your control.
Sure you can influence the outside world. You can generally create a life you want, you can build habits of happiness, but you can never control everything. You can never predict accidents and upsets, and therefore you can never count on happiness.
What are you to do? Live a life ruled by the vicissitudes of fate? Mitigate the ups and downs of fortune with insurance policies? Diversify the outer conditions that make you feel okay? These are fine solutions; but they don’t address the root of the problem: You depend on something outside of yourself to make you feel a certain way. You never know what this outside thing will do, so no matter how much you work on outside conditions, you’ll never have lasting happiness.
No, instead you learn to find something deeper than happiness, something inside of you, something completely unaffected by the outside world. You learn to embrace the ups and downs, the happiness and unhappiness, like the thrill of riding a roller coaster. You find joy—what some call equanimity, or peace, or even okayness—in the process of living. You allow yourself to experience both positive and negative emotions, embracing both, knowing neither one will last. You don’t identify with what you’re feeling. You’re not a happy person, or a depressed person, or an angry person. You are a person who happens to be experiencing happiness in one moment, depression in another, and anger in another. These emotions say nothing about who you are.
Who then, are you? Who is the person whose peace is so all-encompassing that no outside conditions can affect it? This is where religion comes in. Different religions have different names for the part of you that is untouched by outside conditions, but I believe they all point to the same thing. More importantly, they all offer practices to help you reach an awareness of this part of yourself. Whether your aim is the realization of enlightenment, recognizing the universal and all-forgiving love of God, or the witnessing the present moment, religious practices help you build habits of getting in touch with the part of you that is beyond happiness and unhappiness.
Do things that make you happy. Enjoy life. Invite friends over for an evening of dancing, craft beer, and a delicious meal. The excitement you feel is temporary, fleeting, but this knowledge lets you enjoy it even more. Every moment you remember that the things humans created outside of ourselves won’t give you lasting joy gets you closer to the things inside of ourselves that will.