The Mental Road To Happiness

  • Happiness
  • Healthy Aging
  • Mind Health
  • Seasons of Life
  • Wellness

“If your attitude is not right, then even if you are surrounded by good friends and the best facilities, you cannot be happy. This is why mental attitude is more important than external conditions. Despite this, it seems to me that many people are more concerned about their external conditions and neglect the inner attitude of the mind. I suggest that we should pay more attention to our inner qualities.”

~ The Dalai Lama

Working with people in an intimate setting as I have for the last 17 years, I have come to realize we all share one common quest — to be happy. The mental road to happiness seems like it should be such an easy path, but for many of us it doesn’t come without effort. For me, happiness does not always come easily because my mind doesn’t always let it be easy. 

Have you ever really listened to your mind? Maybe you have noticed the constant chatter it makes when you’re trying to get quiet — around bedtime, sitting on the porch or walking on the beach? Or maybe you’ve heard it “beating yourself up” when you make a mistake or you’re feeling frustrated or less than confident. In fact, studies show that 80% of our thoughts tend to be negative — and that can really get in the way of maintaining unconditional happiness.

The secret to happiness is also the secret to a long and fulfilling life — and it starts with not believing everything your mind says. As my teacher likes to say about that “voice” in your head, “You are the only one in there, don’t you want to make you happy?” This wise person’s name is Michael Singer, an author and teacher who wrote “The Untethered Soul” and “The Surrender Experiment,” both of which I highly recommend. 

Throughout man’s search for happiness and “meaning” in life, philosophers, neurologists, psychologists, religious leaders, yogis, gurus and scientists have all theorized on how the mind works, dividing up our brains and thought processes into various parts. Freud called them the Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego. Richard Rohr, author of the “Immortal Diamond,” called it the True Self versus the False Self. This list could go on and on.

Singer describes it as the Personal Mind and the Impersonal Mind. 

The Personal Mind is the place where all of the melodrama takes place. The one that is loud, and mostly negative. It is a very alluring place, which seems to have all the answers. It’s actually just a “holding tank” of your life experiences and personal preferences. This is the part you built to protect yourself. This is not wrong, it’s just what we do to feel like we have a place in the world. 

The Impersonal Mind is the part of the mind where your “true wisdom” lives. It only appears when the mind is quiet and when the Personal Mind does not have all your attention. This is where the word “inspiration” comes from, the place where there’s no blocks, just free-flowing energy, your spirit, your true essence, your True Self. 

One of the deepest ways to live a happy life is to distinguish between who YOU are and who you are not. If someone asks “Who are you?”, how do you reply? “I am Ann. I am 58. I am a retired teacher. I am the wife of Don. I am a mother of three.” If you really think about it, these are how one would describe you, but do they really define who YOU are?

If you are not defined by the roles you play in your life, then who are YOU? YOU are the observer of your life. You are not the “voice inside your head.” You have the ability to listen to this chatter or not. When you truly understand this concept (and it takes practice!), you can choose to be happy and content with confidence because you know you are the one in control of your thoughts and feelings.

We often get so caught up in the chatter from our Personal Mind that we miss the good stuff life is trying to show us — the beauty of this day, a flower in bloom, the miraculous colors in the sky. You have to get out of your head, or Personal Mind, to experience those things and truly connect with life. Then we can say it is not life, the world, our possessions or other people that are causing us to be happy or unhappy. It becomes YOUR choice.

You might be saying, “How do I go about living more in the Impersonal Mind?” Experts may have different ways of saying it but the practice of letting go is the common thread. 

“Letting go involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it. It means simply to let the feeling be there and to focus on letting out the energy behind it. The first step is to allow yourself to have the feeling without resisting it, venting it, fearing it, condemning it or moralizing about it. It means to drop judgment and see that it is just a feeling. The technique is to be with the feeling and surrender all efforts to modify it in any way. Let go of wanting to resist the feeling. It is resistance that keeps the feeling going. When you give up resisting or trying to modify the feeling, it will shift to the next feeling and be accompanied by a lighter sensation.” says Dr. David R. Hawkins in his book Letting Go.

I personally find that if I allow myself to pause, relax and let go the instant I feel any Personal Mind drama taking over, then I have a deeper understanding of the practice of letting go a little more each time. A great everyday way to practice letting go is to relax and release when you feel anxious or uncomfortable inside. A few places to practice this is when someone cuts you off in traffic, or the person in front of you in the grocery line is taking forever. Basically, when something tics you off!

  1. Pause and notice that you are feeling tense and angry, rage or irritable. 
  2. Relax your shoulders and chest. 
  3. Take 3 deep belly breaths. 
  4. Stay with it until the release starts to happen. 

Every time you relax and release, your heart and mind reset back to happiness, which is everyone’s natural reset position!

There is a freedom in knowing you don’t have to change your life to be happy. You simply have to change the focus of your mind. If you want to be happy and content, learn to “quiet” your mind and stop listening to “the voice inside your head.” Be aware of your thoughts, but don’t let them consume you. Eventually, they’ll become like a babbling brook in the background. 

As Henry David Thoreau explained, “Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will elude, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” The more you relax, release and let go, the higher you will climb on the mental road to happiness!