By Ajahn Brahm
To live happily is to live in peace, with acceptance, with love—not with love as in how you love a person, but how you love life. You might not always get along with your loved ones, you might argue or quibble with them, but you love them nonetheless. Similarly, life might give you a hard time, but you can always love life. We need to open the door of our hearts to life. When things get difficult we do not think, “This should have never happened.” Instead, we accept it as part of life; it is where we learn and grow. I do not call it suffering, I call it “growing pains.”
It seems as if there are more people who are “unhappy” nowadays, compared with the past. This has to do with expectations. So many people are unhappy today because their expectations of themselves and of life are too high. If you are not in the place you want to be right now, move where you want to be to your current situation. Adjust your expectations and then you will be satisfied with life. Where do expectations come from? They come from ourselves, from society and our world. Do not listen to the world, do not worry about living up to those expectations. Listen to your heart; listen to wisdom. Where you are should be where you want to be. That is the secret of happiness.
Don’t force yourself toward an unrealistic goal. If you have an unrealistic goal you will fail and when you fail you will feel like you are not worth anything, so lower your expectations. It is quite intuitive, but it runs counter to what we have been taught. In this world, we tend to listen to what others tell us. We listen to experts, but they also don’t know. Knowledge and wisdom are always a work in progress; it is never complete.
For example, people always think that to be happy you have to be successful, which is completely wrong. There are some psychologists who say that you have to be happy first and that success will follow. Neither are true. Instead, happiness is success. It is not what others think, write or say about you; you need to be happy with yourself first. When you can be kind and compassionate to yourself, only then can you show kindness and compassion to others.
If you have children, please be kind to them. The education system here is too focused on competition. Parents need to accept that half of the children in any country have below average intelligence. This is logical; it’s what the definition of average means.
Going to a top school or university is not going to make them happy. It’s other stuff, like being together with family. What your children need is time with you. Not being told off, not having good grades or good clothes. If they are happy, they are successful.
Children in Finland, for instance, do not start school until seven. They never have any homework, and they continue to score at the top of the international education scale. They grow—they are not pushed or forced—they grow at their own rate. As much as one does not force a tree to grow faster, we should not force our children. Why do we treat our kids like products in a factory? Why do we force them to do not what they want to do, but what the parents want? Having a good time is an important part of learning. Children are inquisitive, they want to learn, but if you force them you stunt this inquisitiveness.
Ajahn Brahm is an internationally renowned Buddhist teacher and bestselling author. A Theravada monk for over 35 years, he is abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia and spiritual adviser and inspiration for Buddhist centers throughout Asia and Australia. Ajahn is known for his support for the revival of women’s full ordination in Buddhism in traditions where it has been lost. His books are bestsellers in many languages and he regularly tours internationally.