Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment

Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment

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I picked up Ezra Bayda’s Beyond Happiness (Shambhala Publications, 2010) with a challenge in mind: Would reading this snap me out of a low mood? I was feeling extremely challenged. I had pulled a muscle in my back; there were noisy workmen in the building whose presence had made even going up and down the stairs a major production; and a deep freeze of nearly 0-degree temperatures had me thinking going outside was not desirable. These factors contributed to the perfect storm for me – I felt cooped up, deprived of the sun and just plain grouchy.

In Beyond Happiness, the author draws on Zen teachings to show that many of us look for happiness in things that are external. Meaning if we find the perfect partner or win the lottery, then we will finally be happy. Bayda shows us that being present in the moment is how one truly finds contentment. He also offers the Three Questions (Am I happy right now? What blocks happiness? Can I surrender to what is?).

Was I happy right now? Nope. What blocks happiness? Well, the cabin fever I was experiencing. Could I surrender to what is? Good question! I did become absorbed in reading the book, which was indeed “being in the now.” I enjoyed Bayda’s sense of humor in his writing and also appreciated anyone who used one of my favorite Woody Allen quotes: “I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.”

An interesting section is the one on what blocks happiness. Human beings, the author explains, feel they have the right to be happy. When they are not happy, then they feel cheated – compounding negative feelings. “Having a sense of entitlement also guarantees that we will eventually feel like a victim,” Bayda writes. In addition to entitlement thwarting happiness, there is also being caught up in emotions as well as conditioned behaviors, such as seeking approval.

Mindfulness, compassion, gratitude, and generosity are offered as paths to contentment. The author provides exercises for meditation and opening the heart. As I continued to read, my mood did improve. I practiced some of the exercises and even though as I meditated, I could hear the drone of the worker’s tools in the background, it was no longer annoying. “The purpose of human life is to awaken to who we truly are,” the author writes. Was I beaming or dancing for joy? No. But I no longer felt grouchy, no longer deprived. And I felt I had received good advice from a compassionate teacher.

— review by Diane Saarinen

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