The Pursuit of Happiness
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
- HH Dalai Lama
Have you noticed how mainstream media is espousing mindfulness, compassion, empathy, and happiness suggesting that these qualities are good for your overall health and well-being? Unfortunately, such news doesn’t seem to seep much further than being a good read or news program. The fact is, Americans when compared to other countries on happiness, rank about 20th. In my work in health care and sexuality, it’s very rare to encounter true well-being and happiness within the walls of my office. I am optimistic (because I’m an optimist), because this culture is very thirsty for authentic happiness.
The reason I write, teach, and counsel patients about cultivating qualities such as compassion, empathy, insight, relationship attunement, exercise, and healthy nutrition, is because these qualities are the path toward happiness. Notice I didn’t mention more money, more vacation, more golf, more shopping, another home, because materialism has failed as a path. And yes, you can guess that not even more orgasms will be the ultimate happiness path. Studies suggest that once you earn an income of $60,000 year, anything over doesn’t necessarily make you happier. In fact, as incomes increase, happiness indexes show a decrease in happiness.
Our capacity to be fully present and recognize another’s suffering, generates happiness. Compassion, meaning our ability to hold another’s suffering and a desire to alleviate their suffering, is a very active process. Many of my patients hold a position of why does their partner have to feel a certain way, why can’t they just get over their “problem” and get on with it. Despite their insistence for their partner to "get over it", neither person is happy and they stay stuck in a holding position of “rightness” at the expense of a loving partner. I must admit having been in that situation at a time in my life when my partner stated that I should take the emotions out of it when I was in great duress. After all, as he said, he was more logical than me, and I was more emotional. Interesting conclusion.
When we are skillful in the ability to be compassionate, empathy springs forth, which provides the “relating to” the emotion the person is feeling. When we relate to their feelings of sadness, insecurity, jealousy, fearfulness, or shame, we are in resonance and attunement, which let’s the person in despair know, I’m here for you, it’s all okay. Within this space, intimacy is borne and a genuine and authentic acceptance experienced. Ultimately, compassion provides the gateway to deeper love and happiness. A very active and generous process that welcomes life as it shows up, just as it is, without judgment. An interesting side note, research concludes that this active process is a very felt sense, meaning, it can't be faked. Either it's genuine or contrived. As I say to patients, check up on your life for the evidence. If your life is reflecting intimate relations with your partner, rejoice, and keep cultivating this genuine attitude. If your life is or has reflected conflicted relations and resulting breakups, well, practice the exercise listed below as these qualities can be developed. It's living a more skillful life, rather than choosing insanity of doing the same thing over and over and wondering why the results are the same.
The unfortunate news to these underdeveloped states of mind such as compassion, it leads to poorer health, increases in blood pressure, anxiety, stress, inflammatory processes, and relationship breakdown. I’m certain the reason our divorce rates are so much higher in the U.S. as compared to other countries, is skillful attitudes of compassion have not been developed or even encouraged. As a culture we place greater value on human “doing” rather than human “being”. And it is within the space of "being" where whatever arises moment to moment just as it is, brings well-being of body and mind.
Here's the good news, there is very compelling data that continues to emerge on how to cultivate positive states of well-being that lead to healthier and happier people. It requires a good dose of daily discipline to master the skillful life of happiness, but I know it’s truly possibly for you. Below is a helpful method that when practiced daily for 20 minutes (with hopes of at least 30), you will begin to experience a more peaceful and spacious life. Give yourself a 30-day challenge and you can check up on yourself. See if you experience greater well-being and ask those around you if they are experiencing you in a new way.
May you all have happiness and may your health and sexual well being prosper.
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Sherri Aikin is a Fellow of Integrative Medicine, Nurse Practitioner, Sex Counselor, Mindfulness Facilitator, and Life Coach.
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