Happiness: The Holy Grail!


‘Happiness’ is interesting because there is controversy as to whether it is an emotional state or a deeper state of being. As an emotion it could be said to be ‘pleasure’ or a warm glow inside our belly, perhaps the solar plexus. It could also be said to be the absence of unpleasurable emotions such as anger, fear or sadness. But one thing that can be said about happiness is that a great many people crave or desire it!

In his article “Opening up to Happiness”, Mark Epstein made the point that in Western culture we are looking for happiness in all the wrong places. He then went on to speak about Buddhist ideas that ‘gasping’ for things that create pleasure and ‘condemning’ what is unpleasurable, leads to unhappiness by default. I tend to agree with both Mark and Buddhist wisdom. Happiness cannot be arrived at when we are in a state of attachment to outcomes and material things.

This does not mean that pleasant outcomes cannot happen or that we cannot have beautiful or expensive material objects, rather it simply means to be in a space of non-attachment to these things. They come and they go! Attachment means that we experience emotional highs for the pleasurable experiences and emotional lows for the unpleasant experiences which counteract happiness. Happiness is a balanced inner sense of openness to both experiences, and perhaps it is a resilient mind-set of making deeper meanings out of the unpleasant ones.

Non-Attachment Through Adversity

I recently caught up with an old friend who I had not seen for a number of years, who over the past twelve months lost his home due to a land slide, lost his livelihood (which was tied up with him home), and lost his long term intimate relationship. As we talked it became apparent that there was residual pain around his losses, especially for his relationship, however, ultimately he was still happy! What is amazing about my friend is his depth of awareness and his commitment to spiritual practice. He embodies a lifestyle that embraces spiritual or higher meanings that make his experiences “OK”. This ‘OK-ness’ is something that can make or break us through transformation, adversity or even trauma. There is resilience in accepting what we thought was unacceptable, so we can “receive the pleasant without grasping and the unpleasant without condemning” and align ourselves with happiness (Mark Epstein)

When I speak about acceptance, I do not mean allowing abuse to continue, nor do I mean to not make pro-active life-enhancing choices when we have the ability to do so. Rather, I am referring to accepting what we have no control over so we can be in a state of non-attachment to the outcome. This also does not mean that we will not feel normal adaptive emotions associated with the death of a loved one, a significant loss or adversity. Of course we will, and there are important psychotherapeutic processes to go through to honour those emotions. What I do mean is that we do not need to make it worse for ourselves by condemning ourselves, the world, other people or even God.

What Is Happiness?

I believe happiness is both an emotion AND a state of being! Happiness is far more than pleasure versus pain. I agree that like the Holy Grail, the more we grasp for it, the more elusive it will become. To settle into a state of happiness is to come home to one’s self with compassion and acceptance. It is to open to life and love with wisdom, integrity and healthy boundaries. Happiness is about creating, giving or pursuing something meaningful IN A WAY that embraces our life force and says “yes!” to our heart. It is the actualization of our purpose and real connections with people we love.

What is your experience of happiness?

When has a state of happiness been easy to attain and maintain?



10 Responses to “Happiness: The Holy Grail!”

  • Oh wow – to be happy with all that going on in his life….that is true inner happiness :)


  • Anne Hannan:

    Great topic Vanessa….I think I have always searched for happiness….
    After having lots of disappointments I now feel an inner strength and with
    that comes happiness for me…..

  • Great post Vanessa. I’m right into the joy/happiness state right now. No matter what our circumstances, to remain happy is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. xxx

    • Hi Sue, thank you for your comment. Happiness is beautiful gift we can give ourselves. Some people try to make themselves happy, but this is just masking deeper emotional patterns of suffering. True happiness shines naturally from deep within ourselves…

      Have a fantastic day
      Lots of love

  • Hi Vanessa, love this thoughtful and thought provoking post :) for me I believe we can choose to be happy no matter what is going on, I also believe that happiness can be found in the tiniest things and in the space between breaths, for me happiness is that wonderful emotion we equate with joy, fun, adventure, laughter and love…

    it is also for me a state of being where all thought, worry, control, planning, and expectation is released and in stasis where I am just a floating mote dancing on the wind in the summer sun this is more a feeling of complete peace with what is, was and might be… knowing that all is as perfect as it needs to be right now in that moment no matter what else is going on outside of the space between my breaths.

    • Wow… how beautiful Annie! I agree completely that happiness is often found in wonderment of the smallest things and breath is the key. I love the way you expressed that letting go of the mind or mental constructs, helps us to attain happiness. Going into a place beyond mind helps me to connect with my inner happiness too….

      Have a fantastic day
      Lots of love

  • Happiness is being happy to be me, first. Not because I did something, achieved anything or helped someone. Of course, those things may contribute like frosting enhances a cake yet the cake is whole and complete and happy even without the frosting. I look on happiness as an emotion, a feeling, and a state as something you can attain and maintain, that goes beyond happiness, such as being in a meditative state. When I laugh, I feel delightfully happy! When I’m sad I’m aware that this is a transitory space and that I will pass through this feeling and that I am still okay even while I am sad. Sadness for me usually lasts about 3 minutes though, as I prefer quick release, or re-programming (Timeline Therapy) to learn from an event, rather than staying emotionally stuck.

    • Hi Nerelle, thank you for your comment. I love your insights! I agree, happiness is ultimately a state or feeling that arises out of ourselves that is happy for just being alive rather than achievement.

      Lots of love

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