Cultivating Happiness and Calm


There are no happy people. There are no sad people. There are people who may be in an emotional state of happiness or may be in an emotional state of sadness. Happiness and sadness are not attributes of people; they are conditions a person may experience at a given moment.

These conditions, these feeling states, have causes. The good news is that if we can begin to understand the causes and conditions leading to happiness we can begin to cultivate them. If we can understand the causes and conditions that lead to unhappy emotions, we can reduce our exposure to them, possibly by stopping the things that we do that continue to replenish our unhappy emotions.

We need to become students of ourselves. Each of us comes into the world with our particular genetic makeup that is like no one else’s. Then we have experiences that shape us. As we develop, the quality of love we receive, the food we eat, the accidents we have, the illnesses we go through all shape our body and specifically our nervous system. Science, religion, philosophy, and the experiences of other people can teach us much about what might work to make us happy and what might make us unhappy, but we also need to find out for ourselves what works for us as unique individuals. Eating chocolate, for instance, makes a lot of people feel good, but for some, it is a quick route to irritability and sadness. Some people can drink coffee in the evening and sleep fine. Others can’t drink it at all and get a good night’s sleep. These are things we need to learn about ourselves. This requires paying attention.

Sometimes it is helpful for our nervous system to be highly activated. Sometimes it is better for our nervous system to allow our bodies to be calm and relaxed. At work, or during strenuous play, or in the classroom, we hope for a higher level of activation and energy. When we are getting ready to sleep, we want to be able to relax. Our nervous system has momentum. It doesn’t usually change from high activation to relaxation in an instant. If we come home from a hard day’s work and watch TV shows about violence, crime and emergencies, listen to hard rock music, play a stimulating computer game, have an argument, read a horror story, drink a caffeinated beverage, eat a sugary dessert and watch the late news we may not sleep very well. The next morning we are tired. We consume more caffeine and sugar. We do a lousy job at work or school and we feel awful.

If, on the other hand, we come home from our stressful situation and do things that allow our nervous system to move into relaxation mode, we might get a good night’s sleep and feel rested in the morning.

It may take hours to give our nervous system time to relax. It may take several days to unwind if we have been binging on excitement. It can take years to build habits and lifestyle that foster a deeply rooted calm.

It behooves each of us to explore methods of creating more quietness in our minds and more relaxation in our body. Some activities that may help generate a calmer mind include:

Meditation is a powerful way to calm the mind and body. It is one of the most direct ways we have to turn on the relaxation response. It is also a way to learn about ourselves. As we observe our thoughts and emotions, we can see what stirs us up and what calms us. We can learn about our attachments and we can practice releasing them. Regular meditation practice enables us to know ourselves better and to balance our mind/body. It can activate our wise mind that knows to drop things we do that cause unhappiness and motivates us to do things and think thoughts that will give us more moments of happiness.


As you start your day, observe your routine as if you were a scientist hoping to understand how you manage your emotions and energy level. What are you doing or not doing to create your emotional states?

Observe your physical and emotional condition at various stages of the day. Do you get tired or unhappy regularly at certain times of the day or in certain places? Can you identify the conditions that might lead to those unpleasant feelings?

Meditate regularly. Try this:

Sitting in meditation, calmly observe your experience. Take each moment as it arises as the consequence of all the conditions that preceded it. The character of your thoughts and feelings is related to what you have thought, felt and done previously. Get that connection.

Then allow yourself to be so quiet in your thoughts and actions that you don’t stir up much mental activity. As mud settles to the bottom of a still pond, let your mind settle to stillness as you let go of the clinging and craving that normally goes on in your mind. Settle down. Breathe calmly. Be aware. Be quiet. Be peaceful.

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© 2001 Tom Barrett