In conversational Cantonese, the characters for “happiness” are “open heart.” To say “I want happiness” in Cantonese is literally “I want open heart.” In other words, to be happy is to keep our heart open.
Our heart is the energy center for giving and receiving love. So, if happiness is keeping our heart open, then happiness is also being open to giving and receiving love. This connection between happiness and love is well underscored by two of my favorite sayings transcending time—one by a modern day spiritual psychologist and another by a 13th century poet and mystic:
To be happy, love must mean more to you than anything. ~ Robert Holden
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi
Unhappiness results from withdrawing behind our internal walls and closing off our heart to protect it. This need to retreat and shut down could be due to any number of reasons. All of us, at one point or another, have felt threatened and vulnerable. In those instances, our survival instincts automatically kicked in and put up a protective shield to save us from being hurt (further).
Unless we learn to recognize our ego-based protective instincts and not let them run our lives, we don’t know that we ourselves close our own heart and cut off our own happiness. Instead, we erroneously believe that circumstances and others make us unhappy. In reality, when we feel unhappy, it’s because we choose it, even if we may not be aware of doing so. Recognizing that happiness is up to us—not something that comes and goes with possessions or the whims of others—is very empowering, don’t you think?
Choosing Happiness and Love
With all that said, if we want to be happy come what may, what do we need to do? When times are tough, circumstances are threatening, how do we keep our heart open? When we feel let down by others, how do we curtail our instincts to build a fortress around our heart to protect it? This is a big topic, but here are some ideas:
Count your blessings, not woes. Whenever we focus on what’s wrong or lacking, we identify with the fear of not enough. When we’re in fear, we cut off love. By actively focusing on who we are independent of circumstances, what we have and/or are able to do, we aren’t denying the presence of challenges, if any. Rather, it’s about shifting our consciousness to abundance, which connects us to the vibration of love. When we shift away from being in fear, we open our heart to love and happiness, which are intrinsic qualities of our true essence.
Don’t match others. Our automatic subconscious reaction is to match others’ energy and mimic their behavior. That’s why we reflexively commiserate with others, pull back when others do, and fight when feeling attacked. In any situation, we can choose a different reaction than one matching what comes at us. By cultivating this consciousness, we can keep our heart open to allow happiness to flow, love to circulate, even when others’ behavior doesn’t objectively encourage it.
Mind your expectations. Think about how often you’re unhappy because things didn’t turn out the way you expected, or people didn’t behave the way you wanted? When we don’t feel happy, it’s because we’ve introduced “should’s” and rules by which life and others must abide. When we drop ego expectations, we restore the natural flow of happiness and love in our consciousness.
Cultivate compassion and understanding. Nothing shuts down our heart faster than judgments. As long as we’re human beings, we will judge. However, we don’t have to react automatically to judgments. Instead, we can filter them through compassion and understanding. This allows us to see the limitations behind offenses and the fact that, by virtue of being human, we are all fallible. Compassion and understanding help keep our heart open by softening judgments.
Practice forgiveness. Forgiveness frees us from our internal prison of suffering, by letting go of anger, resentment and bitterness—and self-loathing when forgiveness of self is necessary. Forgiveness keeps our heart open for happiness and love to be expressed and felt. It doesn’t excuse an objective offense and make it right. It just helps us to end the suffering within ourselves and to open our heart again to the natural flow of happiness and love that seeks us always.
Recognize your inner resources. We all have courage, resilience and other amazing inner resources with which to pick ourselves back up after falling. We can all cultivate our trust in life and believe that we can absorb and bounce back from any setback or loss. Many world-renowned figures failed many times before finally succeeding in the objective eye. For instance, Walt Disney filed for bankruptcy multiple times before finally building the empire we see today. They are no more special than any of us. More importantly, we deserve to be happy and loved as much as anyone.
Ask for and accept support. When times are tough, our instincts will have us withdrawing. That further feeds our feelings of separation and aloneness, and challenges us to keep our heart open. During one of these times, dig deep and access the humility within yourself to ask for help and support—and graciously accept it when offered. This world is filled with well-intended brothers and sisters who love to lend support. Can you think of a better way to invite happiness and love to flow in your heart than to accept an extended hand that wishes to help lift you up when you feel down?
Be here now. Young children are happy because they haven’t built internal barriers to block the flow of love and happiness. There are no past upsets to get over, nor future worries to fend off, only the perfection of the present moment to savor fully. We can’t be children again, but we can certainly practice returning to the present moment. It can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths to ground ourselves in the now and consciously keeping our heart open in the process.
To sum it all up, it is always, always a matter of choice whether we open or close our heart. By extension, it’s up to us to allow or cut off the flow of happiness and love in our human experience.
What do you think about the idea of happiness being an open heart and love? What other ideas may you have on how to keep our heart open? Would love for you to share below in the comment box!
Thumbs up: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net
Bottom happiness character: http://www.tiptopsigns.com/images/T/chinese_happiness_tn.jpg
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