Psychologies: You talk about happiness as a mental state. That is, as something that is available to everyone. Why, then, is happiness so difficult to achieve?
Leonardo Arena: the main difficulty is that happiness is not a goal to be achieved, but a path. It is difficult to find happiness, because we are used to thinking of it as something we strive for and do not possess. Therefore, we feel disappointed, not finding happiness, because we are looking for it somewhere outside ourselves.
So, happiness is identified with the achievement of a particular good. And in many parables dating back to Taoism, it is said that we already have everything we need to be happy.
You call to seek the hidden treasure in us. Where can we start this journey?
Lao Tzu said: without leaving the yard, you can know the world. Finding a hidden treasure always starts with awareness. It can happen in a dream or because of a chance meeting: we notice that we are missing something. We don’t know exactly what exactly. Although the subject of the search is unknown, we are looking in different directions until we understand: search is a new acquisition of opportunities that we already have. You don’t really have to go anywhere. What we have is already with us.
Success, money, career have nothing to do with happiness?
No. We strive for success, but then, having achieved it, we do not feel satisfaction, because we understand that this is not what we were really looking for. But this is not a defeat, because the main thing is to notice the moment of the crisis, to understand that behind our aspiration was an attempt, albeit erroneous, to find ourselves. And from here you can move on.
Followers of Sufism live by the principle: “To be in the world, but not of this world” …
Yes, a person can do whatever he likes, set himself any goal, but if he has no inner freedom, if he depends on what he has achieved, his life will have no meaning. It’s all about the way of understanding life. A person can be very successful and still remain himself. It is important to be aware that real happiness is not a goal, but how we go to a goal.
Today, many people lament that they lack something, and Taoism calls for being content with what you have. How can these contradictions be reconciled?
Being content does not mean not having aspirations and desires. But if you have not been born a crane, there is no need to envy the crane. Anyone who lives the dream of being a rock star will be forever disappointed …
Let the other can achieve goals that are inaccessible to me – this does not mean that his life is more successful than mine
They often say: if I had a bigger house, if I were on television, if I had love, a better job, I would be happy. But, arguing in this way, I myself deny myself happiness, because, associating it with the achievement of some good, I will always depend on others.
There is such a parable. The horse in the stable laments that it is less valued than other horses. But when those others are sent to war, she realizes how lucky she is. I cannot envy the other, because I do not know what his fate is. Everyone lives their own life. Let the other can achieve goals that are not available to me – this does not mean that his life is more successful than mine.
Many oriental stories call for the possibilities of the present. How to notice the signals that life sends us?
The answers are always before us, but expectations prevent us from seeing them. We are like a character in a Buddhist parable who does not notice that the door to the dungeon where he spent many years is open and remains a prisoner.
Likewise, we make the same mistakes, over and over again experiencing situations that hurt us. We feel uncomfortable in this or that environment, and yet we strive for it. This inevitably leads to psychosomatic disorders, headaches, fatigue, and anxiety.
Let me give you an example of career growth, which often forces us to make compromises that some part of our being does not accept. In short, it is not chance that we are faced with people or situations of a certain type. We cannot blame others for being unhappy, only we ourselves are the masters of our own destiny.
One parable tells of a man who walked all night to visit a friend, but just before his door turns back. Is happiness also the ability to change course, to look for new ways?
Yes, while realizing at every moment what we really want. Most would certainly visit a friend, since they had expended energy on the whole night of the journey. And the hero of this story turns back, because on that snowy night, when he was walking to a friend, he had already experienced the sensations he was striving for. He saw the beauty of the night landscape – he no longer needed to see his friend. Even more, a conversation with him could disturb his peace.
In general, to be happy, sometimes you have to be able to stop at the right moment …
Exactly. Having tasted what you’ve been striving for, you can end your day. If we talk about everyday life, this means not overusing food, paying attention to the body’s signals that it is full.
And you also don’t need to take on everything at once, be too active. This is a call to moderation – not to humility, but to understand every time what is really good for us and what is not.
About the expert
Leonardo Vittorio Arena – a specialist in oriental philosophy. The compiler and commentator of the book of oriental parables “The Magic Pagoda and other stories about how to find happiness within yourself.”