Wanting happiness

Still on the subject of what do we really want (?) –

We are often (I’m tempted to say always) affected by our surroundings. The people, weather, physical environment, and cultural milieu, etc., that we are immersed in open one set of possibilities for action and close others. Whenever we choose one thing, we are not-choosing a whole raft of other things. Such is life, and this is not a complaint. It’s only a problem if we feel we should have the whole world of choices all the time, which is a child’s view of the world.

It has been a gradually dawning understanding (for me) that we are each a product of our times and environment. What was normal in 14th century China has nothing to do with what we think of as normal in English-speaking countries today.

We are also affected by the more close-up factors of our environment. Hot weather may make us sleepy; a chronic medical condition may affect our moods; family members and friends who are very difficult or very delightful will also color our world. It’s no wonder we often feel that we are mainly responding to circumstances and not creating them.

Everyone, everywhere wants to be happy and doesn’t want to suffer. What we call happiness and what we call suffering may vary wildly, but this basic desire to be happy is universal.

What the Buddha emphasizes as a starting point in the quest for true happiness is the close correlation between the ethical quality of our conduct and the felt tone of our experience. Bodily deeds, speech, and thoughts can be distinguished ethically into two broad classes, the unwholesome and the wholesome. The Buddha noted that the unwholesome is a source of misery, the wholesome a source of blessedness. Greed, hatred, and delusion lead to harm and suffering while their removal brings well-being and happiness.
Bhikkhu Bodhi, from his introduction to The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, p.32

Our task is to honestly and openly observe and assess our own motives and actions, measuring them against the Buddha’s general guidance. Is this thought/word/deed wholesome or unwholesome? What about the one we’re contemplating for later today?

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