A student asked me a very good question the other day, and I had to think awhile before I responded. It is a question that many people never ask themselves and as a result miss an opportunity to apply some very important teachings. The question was “how do I know whether I am happy or just in denial?” When we talk about denial, we are talking about a defense mechanism that our minds use to ignore pain. We suppress unpleasant subjects and bury traumatic memories in order to function. Many times this suppression can lead to anger that is in turn suppressed, and a vicious cycle forms. Anxiety, stress and depression usually follow.
Anxiety, stress and depression often lead to physical illness and more severe forms of mental disorder. So when we confuse denial with happiness, we may be setting ourselves up for more suffering and perhaps catastrophic illness.
The only way to recognize denial versus happiness is by truly being aware of your inner landscape. If you are feeling any anxiety or stress, chances are you are in denial. If you feel guilty or shameful, you may be in denial. If you constantly have concerns about the future or can’t stop obsessing on the past, you may be in denial. Happiness will have none of these things and, in fact, nothing else matters. Happiness is it’s own reward, and no other concerns bother your mind. A good way to tell the difference is how we feel if we don’t get what we want or lose something we want. The more we are attached to that desire the farther we get away from happiness.
One way to understand the difference between happiness and denial is the comparison to the difference between a cloudy and sunny day. Imagine that the sun is happiness and clouds are thoughts that cause us suffering. When we are truly happy, there are no clouds that block us from the sun. This is because we have shifted our perspective from living on the earth to living in the stars. Our consciousness is no longer constrained by gravity or the weather, we can see over the clouds (thoughts) to the sun (happiness).
When we are in denial, we may know that the sun (happiness) is there behind the clouds, but we cannot see it or feel it so we pretend it is sunny. This is also known as the fake smile or laugh. When we know something is supposed to be funny but we don’t feel happy enough to smile or laugh, and we do it anyway, this is denial. We can oftentimes pretend to be happy when we know we should be happy but don’t feel it. Coaches say “fake it to you make it.” I am not sure that this is better than forcing us to admit that we don’t feel happy.
Another way of describing it is that happiness comes from the heart and denial comes from the mind. Happiness bubbles up and denial is forced downwards. When you are happy, everything happens spontaneously and synergistically. When you are in denial, everything has to be micromanaged and controlled. If plans go awry, and you get frustrated, you weren’t happy at the outset. No matter what kind of mask or bravado you hold out to the world, on the inside there is nothing but fear and frustration, anger or guilt.
When we are happy, nothing else matters. That is a short hand way of saying that nothing else exists other than my happiness. Spiritually and metaphysically, when we are happy nothing else affects us because we are at a higher vibratory rate at which the denser energy of attachment, doubt and fear cannot exist. So when we are truly happy, we can watch people and things come and go without it affecting us whatsoever. So if we experience loss or gain, it will not affect us. When we are in the stars, looking down at the earth, clouds have absolutely no affect upon our emotional state or well being. We can respond to any situation with a genuine smile and the knowledge that it doesn’t matter.
Someone asked me how I would feel if someone I loved was diagnosed with cancer and died. I responded that I would have compassion for that person and I would be happy. This person looked incredulous and questioned how I could be happy in a moment like that. First of all, everything in this life is a gift, whether we win the lottery or contact cancer. The cancer is a gift to show us what we are doing to cause suffering in our lives and gives us an opportunity to change. We certainly can be compassionate about the experiences many people go through when confronted with a diagnosis of a terminal illness. However that is a cloud that can either block us from the sun of happiness or we can rise above it and see that the sun is always there.
Conversely, denial would have a different reaction. We might go numb, because with denial we are blocking ourselves from feeling anything except for pretend feelings that are imagined to prevent us from experiencing feelings we might think are inappropriate. We may go in the other direction, and get extremely angry or sad because our denial will not allow us to accept the reality of the situation. All of these reactions are signals that we under the cloud cover and blocking ourselves from the sun.
So if we are in denial, how do we get to the happiness? The first step is to get totally honest with ourselves. Our hearts can’t lie, but our minds sure can. So we have to get into our hearts and look around a little bit. When I say that, what I mean is to stay still long enough, to stop distracting ourselves long enough, to examine how we really feel about our life. I believe that all intellectualization aside, this is where the tire rubber meets the road. Are we really happy with our lives, or do we wish our lives were different. If we wish we had another job, another mate, another house, another set of parents, family or friends, the truth is we are not happy.
If we finally admit that we are not happy, in order to be happy, we have to change one of two things. We either have to change our circumstances or we have to change our minds. There is a great story about the Dalai Lama. One time he received an obviously wealthy woman who told him about how terrible her life was and how unhappy she was. She asked him what she could do. All the Dalai Lama said was “change your mind!” To the Buddhists, the only path out of suffering is to control our thoughts and what we think about. This requires great discipline, courage and practice.
So do we think “happy thoughts” to cover up the pain? No, this is denial. The only way to change our mind is to admit to ourselves that we are unhappy and that is wonderful. In other words, we have to be happy that we are unhappy. This is the true path to enlightenment. When we can admit to ourselves that we are unhappy and know that it is an illusion for our own enjoyment, then the unhappiness disappears like the hoarfrost in the sunlight.
This is how we can be happy when discovering something we don’t like. We simply realize that we can be happy not liking the situation. It is simply a choice, whether to be happy or not. When we can be happy knowing that, we raise our consciousness above the cloud cover and can see the truly incredible sights of the sun (happiness).
James Robinson has enough life experiences to fill five biographies. A trial lawyer for almost 30 years, a cattle rancher, horse trainer, dog breeder, restauranteur, alternative healer, international seminar leader, ordained minister and deacon, father, surivor of two marriages, and international entrepeneur, James has been successful in everything he has done. He has studied with philosophers, internationally known gurus, healers and sages. Through all of his trials, tribulations, successes and especially his failures, James has learned a lot of lessons about suffering, pain and happiness. He has written scores of articles and regularly shares his wisdom on the internet, facebook, twitter and Selfgrowth.com. James regularly travels to all four corners of the world to share his wisdom, healing and humor. www.divinelightmaster.com