Categorically Happy


“Truly life sustaining health, wellness and happiness cannot be found in a bottle (pill or alcohol), under a surgical knife, in a new car, new clothes, new home, girlfriend, wife, sister, brother, preacher or teacher. It can’t be incised, removed or put in place. It cannot be manufactured or recreated. It can only come from within. Good news: it’s already there waiting to be discovered!!” ——–May 28th, 2015. Coop.

“Are you happy?” Those three words now resonate loudly in my head almost every day. Not that it is a bad thing but before early last December, I’d never really contemplated happiness. “Of course I’m happy.” “What do you mean, am I happy;” I replied to the question posed by a good friend (LT) over lunch. I am William Cooper, heart surgeon, highly educated, spiritual, married with children, a great family, neighborhood and friends; some like myself who would myopically proclaim: blessed and highly favored. So how could I not be happy?

Later I admitted that invariably, like many others, the Ego and I have sought happiness in this and that, the material and immaterial, only to realize that none of it is sustainable. The lack thereof has stifled progress as we employ conditioned responses where no substance in fact exists. We over estimate risk and therefore derail from the path that leads to the very thing that quells the insatiable ego and false desires. The lack of happiness allows fear to get in the way and clouds the path and yet we know that on the other side of fear is everything we desire. And yes, faith and prayer leave us unsatisfied. We have intercourse with the world but neglect to intercourse with our innermost self in all its glorious realization.

I went on in the conversation to bounce around the idea by claiming satisfaction with this and that but the truth is, I couldn’t really answer the question simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without categorizing happiness in to its various components. I started taking my friend around the wheel of life, a framework I was introduced to in B-school. The wheel breaks the various categories of one’s life down in to 8 categories like slices of pie: career, money, health, friends/family, marriage, personal growth, recreation/hobbies and physical environment. The wheel asks the question; “how satisfied are you with the various domains?” When considered in this manner, it is much easier to proclaim ‘satisfaction’. But the truth is I could not blanket the pie with simple, uncategorized and unqualified happiness.

That question, really put me back on my heels and I began to ask it over and over again. Even today, I ask the question but now, the answer comes with much more clarity, understanding and resolve.

In early February, shortly after my epiphany with happiness I was on my way to India to meet a great surgeon who I have admired and wanted to meet for some time. It just so happens a speaking opportunity would allow me to spend a day with him while I was there in the city of Bangalore.

My journey took me from Atlanta to Newark for my connecting flight to Mumbai. After getting through all the Newark international security checks, I realized I needed something to read on the long 17 hour flight to Mumbai. I strolled over to Hudson News and began to browse the various books and magazines on the shelf and there it was: 10% Happier, by Dan Harris. I didn’t really know Dan Harris nor had I read any of his books (I think this was his first), but the title was too top of mind for me to ignore, considering my recent encounter with the idea of happiness and the fact that the question, ‘are you happy’ still lingered in my head almost daily. I picked it up, casually flipped through the pages and turned it over to read about the author on the back cover. Dan Harris, yeah that’s the arrogant little prick from Good Morning America. I am not sure why I didn’t really care for him but that was the thought that came to mind. How can I read this book from someone who I don’t really care for? Oh well, it is time to go. The question and topic were too tantalizing for me to allow my unqualified disdain for the author to stand in the way of me and my quest for “happiness”. I bought the book. And I am so ‘happy’ that I did.

It is not my intention to do an extensive book review here. I suggest you read it for yourself. It is about the author’s struggle with happiness and his use of meditation to “tame that little voice” in his head. I must say Dan Harris’ 10% Happier took me on a fascinating journey in to Dan Harris’ life; ironically, while I was on my way to India the country that is arguably the origin of the blissful connection (meditation) to what some may describe as the Kingdom of Heaven. I also have to admit that in a number of ways, I am/was just like Dan Harris: humble upbringing, well-educated, arrogant, ambitious and yes categorically happy, but un-categorically not so.

Shortly after I began reading the book, I realized that I was absolutely wrong about Dan Harris. I made false assumptions about him based on very little information and quite frankly ignorance. He seems to be a great guy with great intentions who struggled to tame that “little voice” in his head that led to many destructive behaviors. He too acknowledged how quick he was to judge and deploy false assumptions about the various characters he introduces in the book.

I was first introduced to meditation in the spring of 2011. The technique I was first taught focused on the breath for 20 minutes twice a day as a method of relaxation and stress reduction. Over the past several years, I was inconsistent at best. After my India trip and reading Dan Harris’ book and several other references, I decided to get back to it. For a while, I tried the concentration breathing technique. It felt good, but I wanted more. Despite employing a different technique, the desire for more is a struggle and I have to remind myself that it is the journey I seek and not the destination. Ego won out and I switched to the transcendental technique and oh Glory! The first time I went to a place that was so peaceful I did not want to leave. But that’s not reality. The reality is we have to interact with the world around us less we go to the mountains of Nepal and live as a recluse.

Transcendental meditation is but one of many techniques that have been shown to reduce stress and improve a number of other conditions. Meditation allows one to respond to the world around us rather than react. So here’s a little prescription. And good luck, taming that little voice in your head!

Namaste!!


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