Yeah right! No!… I’m serious, even a little epiphany so. I’ve long realized that much of the pleasures of life seem to occur in the anticipation of them, in the desire more than in sating that desire. (i.e., the Tantric side of yoga—world-embracing rather than world-denying). The conclusion of a desire or goal—the sated phase—is ultra fleeting, to the point of being anticlimactic. If your interested in this, begin by watching this short video on Vacations (if that link fails to work try The Fast Draw: Vacations on YouTube). If neither works, read the summary at the bottom of this post. (photo: happy at last?)
♦ During the years I spent hitch hiking the world I’d occasionally visited upscale supermarkets in the capital cities and feasted my eyes on the goodies—the soul food I enjoyed growing up in America. I recall doing this in Ouagadougou (capital of Burkina Faso) after hitch hiking across the Sahara desert. I must have spent a few hours inside the air-conditioned market until I was completely satisfied. I then went outside and had a snack from a street vender (Ovaltine and a fried thing as I recall). ( photo: feast your eyes )
♦ When my ex-wife and I separated, I stopped eating for a few weeks to help get me grounded. I stayed at a friend’s house and each day would prepare the most exquisite meal I could for him. I have never enjoyed food as much as during that time. Nothing makes food so fine as hunger, and it is in the anticipation where the joy truly lies. You can notice this even is normal situations. Next time you have dinner, wait until you are extra hungry, then see how splendid the first bite tastes! The second will be a little less, and the third less still…and so on, until you may end stuffed and think better to have stopped in time. (photo: ouagadougou, burkina faso)
Food offers the clearest example of anticipation’s effect upon happiness. The Dutch study covered in the video focuses on vacations. However, I’ve found this same dynamic in just about everything imaginable, although also particularly noticeable in shopping and sex. Why don’t we notice this happening more in our lives? Perhaps because we’re so caught up in the process… you know, the blind-spot blinds! (photo: shopping and sex… yes!)
Applying the Secret to Happiness
Pondering this video, I realized the essence it speaks to lies behind everything I do. When I am playing music, sweeping the floor, making something, and ___ (you name it)___, I am happiest when my awareness is at the edge of my experience peeking over my shoulder to the next moment. I always thought of this is ‘being in the moment’, but it is more like pushing the moment a tad ahead of the equilibrium of ‘now’ (1). Trying to describe this is tedious; I can only imagine what reading it is like… sorry.
Shortly after seeing the video, I played the shakuhachi (blowing Zen). I deliberately tried putting a tad extra anticipation toward the next phrase (a few seconds ahead) I would be playing. I enjoyed it. Now, I often enjoy blowing Zen, but just as often I get so bored, I nearly fall asleep. The thing is I’ve never had any particular insight into the why, either way. (photo: sweep your cares away)
This research helps link my blowing Zen experience together with all other life experience. (Like yoga, blowing Zen is one of those rare activities that connect you with yourself dynamically, yet passive enough to notice the subtler emptiness and mystery.)
Certainly, this ‘secret to happiness’ is no panacea. I must still “…Strive On Diligently”. Here that means I must strive to remember to apply what I now realize. Remembering what I know to be so is where the rubber hits the road. Well, at least realizing this subtle dynamic is a step forward, eh. I guess I could say that freedom for me lies in realizing all the various bio-hoodwinks that jerk my chain. It is not that I will ever be truly free. Still, I do anticipate being a little more truly freer. 😉
The Moral of this Story
Desire is not the culprit that leads to our sorrow and ruin, but rather it is sating desire that leads toward this end. The more quickly we sate one desire, the sooner another arises to take its place; our biology is just not adapted to a rapid rate of sated desire followed by fresh desires. Slowing this satiation rate is patience. I guess that makes patience the true secret to happiness. Perhaps, I’d add perseverance. Patience and perseverance are happiness is a nutshell.
Summary of research on vacations and happiness
Researchers from the Netherlands set out to measure the effect that vacations have on overall happiness and how long it lasts. They studied happiness levels among 1,530 Dutch adults, 974 of whom took a vacation during the 32-week study period.
The study, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.
After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people. How much stress or relaxation a traveler experienced on the trip appeared to influence post-vacation happiness. There was no post-trip happiness benefit for travelers who said the vacation was “neutral” or stressful.”
Surprisingly, even those travelers who described the trip as “relaxing” showed no additional jump in happiness after the trip. “They were no happier than people who had not been on holiday,” said the lead author, Jeroen Nawijn, tourism research lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.
For the full report, see Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday.
(1) Another thing I’ve long noticed is that when I truly do sink totally into ‘now’ now, a new anticipation instinctively bubbles into awareness. I reckon this is the hunter-gather driven instinct to keep on the lookout for the next meal, no matter how content in the moment I, the animal, may be. Life moves on, despite any efforts or thoughts to the contrary. I actually use this process when I get to feeling burned out, depressed, or confused. Simply put, I devote effort to emptiness, sincerely watch stillness. It always seems to work… when I reach sufficient sincerity. Reaching full contentment with nothing, that contentment gives birth to restlessness, and off I go in “happy anticipation”. The process is portrayed well by the Couplets and the Co-generating Principle.