Where Does Our Happiness Come From?

May 28th, 2012 | 3 Comments

There is an old Buddhist parable about a woman who sends her young son to the store with 10 rupees (yes, it’s an Indian story – stay with me) to fetch cooking oil for the evening meal.

On the way home, the boy falls and spills half of the oil. He returns home in tears, devastated that he has let his mother down.

The mother then sends out her 2nd son, again with 10 rupees, to purchase oil from the vendor. He too trips on the way home, spilling half of the oil. However he returns home with the proud pronouncement that he was skillful and lucky enough to have saved half of the oil. Were it not for him, it might have all been lost.

Lastly, the mother sends her 3rd son on the same quest. Of course this son also spills half of the oil on his return trip. He delivers the half full container to his mother and states in plain facts what has happened, and is neither sad nor proud of the events. He proposes to solve the problem by offering to do work in return for 5 rupees, to replace the lost oil.

This is the lesson of equanimity. The 3rd son was not attached to the outcome in any way.  A full container of oil is needed to cook for the whole family, so he identified the problem and put his energy into finding an efficient solution.

Things are as they are. Equanimity is a form of balance. Not a balance between left and right, but rather the personal balance that we keep upright as the waves ebb and flow beneath our feet.

Where does our happiness come from? For most of us, the source is external. We draw our emotions from the people and events around us. Our interactions set the tone for our own experience. When those who’s opinions we cherish positively reinforce our worth, we are elated. When we feel unloved, we crumble.

“Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Those people who seem immune to comments and criticisms, and are able to maintain a consistent level of contentment, have mastered the practice of knowing themselves so well that they cannot be pushed into irrational self-judgments.

The Dalai Lama is called a god as often as he is called a terrorist. His response to both is “nonsense”. Someone so sure of who they are takes their value from within. These people are not buoyed by praise from others, nor do a vacuum of attention, or negative intentions, from another, deplete them.

This is quite the practice. One of my students today told me that I looked tired and sad. It was an accurate observation. A conversation had sent me there. In truth, I had allowed it to – unwittingly, of course. To continue down that path, one might seek instant gratification in the form of food (it’s no coincidence that our self-worth is housed in our belly), soliciting a reprieve from the other end of the conversation, or calling upon another source of external validation.

Think about it. This is why we call our friends when someone else rejects us. I’m still valuable, right? We are replacing that external reinforcement of worth – subconsciously from a guaranteed source (our closest friends and family).

We do this because; let’s face it, sitting in our own shit sucks. It’s easier to find someone to mirror your awesomeness back to you than it is to sit on a pillow and go find it yourself from deep within.

That’s why the call it a practice.

What’s worse is that once you discover a taste of it, or that this practice works even once, you remove all of the excuses for not knowing how to find it. No more emotion-ordered ice cream for you.

In the meantime, you can still delete the painful emails.



Andrea Crossett

May 29, 2012

I remember that story :)


Jacqueline Huff

May 29, 2012

Comment: Thank you Chris. I really needed to hear this today for an issues I am working through. What a great perspective ~ so very powerful. Take Care ~ Jacqueline


Matt Fisher

May 29, 2012

This is fabulous stuff; thanks for sharing. It reminds me of that ol’ adage: “you can be part of the problem, or part of the solution”. Recriminations, whether externally directed or internally, exacerbate the problem and serve no purpose other than allowing one to ‘vent’, but the relief created by venting is fleeting, indeed. (Same goes for self-congratulation.) Taking ownership of the problem, then taking steps to improve the problem, whether it’s spilled oil, or a broken heart, are what’s key.
Thanks again. Much appreciated.

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