If someone told you that happiness was within your reach, without a moment's delay, would you believe them?
The "counterintuitive" nature of that proposal is exactly what Derek Lin, a prolific author and Taoist teacher, said can be found in the teachings of Taoism.
"There’s nothing to stop us from making changes today that will result in a complete transformation [towards happiness]," Lin told The Huffington Post.
Lin's new book, The Tao of Happiness, comes out on Nov. 17, and in it he shares stories from Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu who lived more than 2,000 years ago. Tzu's parables illustrate a guide to happiness that Lin said runs counter to many common notions about success and fulfillment.
"When we talk about happiness in the Tao we have to be very specific in defining the deeper meaning of it," Lin told The Huffington Post. It isn't the "temporary" or "conditional" joy we experience after getting a new gadget or even paying off our mortgage. "That happiness will only last for a short time,” Lin said.
Taoism offers a different approach. In the simplest sense, Tao is a Chinese character which means "the way" or "the path." As a philosophy, Taoism is a body of works compiled by various sages from more than 2,000 years ago, which explores “the way of life, the way of the universe, the way of existence, and the way of reality,” Lin said.
From the Taoist sense, real happiness is a “process” and a lifelong journey that doesn't rely on external factors. The key to true happiness is within us, Lin said, paraphrasing Tzu's philosophy. Lin continued: "We should journey through life with a carefree heart no matter how bumpy that journey may be."
There's research that backs up this approach to happiness, too. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, studies happiness and has found that a person's genes and life circumstances aren't the only things that determine it.
Positive thinking, self-care, "living in the present" and other "intentional activities" comprises roughly 40 percent of the factors determining our happiness level.
Lin adds another dimension that would fit under that category of "intentional activities."
“The very last section of the book has multiple chapters dealing with death," Lin said. "The bottom line is we cannot fully embrace life unless we truly understand and accept death.” Coming to terms with death as a “natural part of life” can help us better appreciate the time we do have on this earth.
Like pondering death, striving for this deeper sense happiness takes effort and isn't always easy, but it "endures the test of time... is always present and doesn’t go away," Lin said.
People who have attained that level of happiness “know what their purpose is in life,” he added. “They walk around with intent and radiate that inner joy.”
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