We live in a culture that allows women unprecedented freedom of choice: We can accept or reject marriage or motherhood, pursue a college education, and choose any career we like. As a result, we can carve out a degree of independence that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers could not have imagined.
And yet, an abundance of choice and freedom doesn’t seem to be bringing us happiness.
In the article “What Makes Women Happy?”, published in the Guardian in 2006 author Geraldine Bedell points out the paradox of being given multiple choices. We don’t want go back to an era where being a wife and mother was the only choice and yet with an abundance of options, for every choice we make we have to give up something else. As a result, we often spend more time questioning our choices than enjoying them. In the end, our abundance of choice does not seem to be making us happy.
This lack of happiness has led to a search for solutions. Bedell points out that over 2000 self-help books are published yearly and these books have a near-universal message—that we must get in touch with our true selves to find happiness. Still, it is difficult to figure out who we truly are among the “clamour of friends, mothers, in-laws, bosses, partners, media and everyone else.”
So, how do we discover what truly makes us happy?
Several things score high on any happiness survey. One source of happiness is “social embeddedness”—being engaged with the community and having social connections. For example, members of community organizations tend to be happier than those who are “too busy to speak to their neighbours”.
Also high on the happiness checklist is love. Married people consistently rank happier than those who are not married, but Bedell points out happy marriages are not based on quid pro quo (“if you have the kids on Saturday, you can go to the gym on Sunday morning”), but on unconditional love and giving. In other words, people who care about others are happier than those who are preoccupied with themselves.
Bedell mentions something else that makes people happy: activities that create a sense of “flow”. These activities induce a “complete absorption in a task so that there’s no awareness of the passing of time.” Flow activities include, among others, singing, dancing, gardening, and writing.
But is there something more fundamental, more immediate, that will help someone find their true happiness?
Go within to find true happiness
The path to finding true happiness lies in going within ourselves, first.
Picture sailing on the ocean. If you are in turbulent waters, it may seem like the whole ocean is against you, but if you can glimpse the bottom of the sea, you will discover it is completely still and calm. This is similar to the mind. The surface or conscious level of the mind is constantly filled with thoughts, often conflicting with each other and impossible to turn off, but the deepest level of the mind is calm and still. If we can reach this most silent level of the mind, we will discover that it is the source of all our intelligence, creativity, peace and happiness.
The way to reach the silent, or transcendental, level of the mind is with the Transcendental Meditation technique. TM is a technique, unique in the world today, that lets us naturally and easily ‘transcend’ the noisy surface level of the mind to reach the mind’s very deepest levels.
Here is how one individual describes his experience of transcending:
“My mind transcended all sensory and mental experience to an absolute state of no change. Yet, it felt real. It was the most abstract sense of pure existence in peace, but as palpable as any sensory experience. As I floated in the serenity, all vanished, yet nothing was lacking”
The experience of transcendence is the ultimate ‘flow activity’. In transcendence, we are absorbed into the quiet singularity of the self and experience a source of pure happiness, beyond the experience of time, space, and objects.
And this is the reason that the TM technique is easy to do. The conscious mind is unceasingly looking for greater happiness, but nothing in the relative world is so joyful that it will satisfy the mind for long. The experience of TM meditators has shown that the deeper levels of the mind are more charming than the gross, so once it knows how, the mind goes there effortlessly.
Even better, with repeated experience of transcendence through the regular practice of TM, the deep level of happiness we experience during TM stays with us throughout the day. We no longer have to look for happiness outside of ourselves; we have a permanent and complete experience of joy within us all the time. Firmly established in ourselves, we feel comfortable with our choices, easily engage with the community, love unconditionally, and are able to glimpse the higher power within us that is greater than anything in the world outside us.
In practicing TM, not only do we find true happiness, but we naturally bring happiness to all around us. This is true fulfilment in life; in this state of easily-maintained inner contentment, the multiple choices of life we encounter bring us not sacrifice, but increased joy and fulfilment.
Nader, Tony. One Unbounded Ocean of Consciousness. Kindle Edition, p8.