Everyone on earth wishes to be happy, but many people never do become truly content. From my own perspective, it seems that the reason they are not happy is that they do not try to feel the joy that exists in their immediate circumstances. There is actually no condition that can be called "happiness"; rather, there is only a sense of being happy.
For example, one person may think that a rainy day is gloomy while another may welcome the rain. The reality of the rain is one and the same, but the ways the two feel about it are exactly the opposite. The one who can rejoice in the rain is the one who is happier. The same is true of work. When trouble arises at work, there are some who want to give up in despair, and then there are others who see difficulties as a challenge and rouse themselves to action. It seems that happiness depends on how one looks at things, how one appraises things, and how one responds to things.
The root of the Japanese word for happiness, shiawase, matches this way of thinking perfectly. According to a major Japanese dictionary, shiawase is the noun form of a verb meaning "to act flexibly according to circumstances." The peace of mind one gains from such action is what we call happiness.
One of the teachings of Buddhism is that the whole universe is contained in a single thought of one individual (ichinen sanzen, or "three thousand realms in one mind"). It means that the world around us changes when we change our attitude.
To those who are discontented and irritable, all they see and hear is depressing. The world around them is like the unpleasant odor that surrounds a drainage ditch. In contrast, when we have a single thought that is bright and pure, everything around us is proportionately brighter and purer. When the weather improves, just look at how the blue sky spreads wider and wider and the banks of clouds dissipate as they are blown before the rising air currents. One must call forth this sort of updraft from within one's own heart.
Along with many people in the world who seem unable to feel happy, there are some who seem to be masters of the art of enjoying life. One was Tachibana Akemi (1812 - 68), a poet and scholar of Japanese classical literature. In Dokurakugin (Reciting Poetry for My Own Pleasure), a collection of fifty-two poems, he writes:
Pleasure is getting up in the morning
And seeing a blossom that had not been there
The day before.
Pleasure is awakening after a nap to find
Rain sprinkling the garden.
He expresses pleasure at such small things as the blossoming of a plant and a midday shower. One who has this eye for the joys of life can be said to be happy.
Tachibana lauds other pleasures:
Pleasure is filling the empty rice bin
Knowing there is enough for another month.
Pleasure is when a rare fish delicacy is served
And all the children relish it, exclaiming,
Tachibana was a man who aimed at honest poverty. In his poems he straightforwardly expresses the joy of being able, because he has even a small income, to fill the rice bin when the bottom had been exposed, and of being able to have something good to eat for the first time in a long while. Herein lies the wisdom of being satisfied with little and experiencing great joy.
As happiness is not just an abstract notion, neither is misery. However, if one gets into the habit of being discontented and dissatisfied, then a feeling of displeasure will fasten on whatever takes place around one.
It appears that there are many people who feel happiness only when they experience some great joy once or twice a year. But if instead of hoping for rare moments of great elation, they managed to find pleasure in small, everyday things, their lives would be much happier.
Even in our daily work, it is possible to see things through eyes of joy as Tachibana did:
Pleasure is talking with a co-worker at the next desk
About one's good work.
Pleasure is the animation that takes over
When urgent business suddenly comes in.
Pleasure is being thanked by a regular customer
And saying, "Thank you," exchanging smiles.
At work, though tough problems may come one right after another, we should not think of them as hardships, but as pleasures. We can encourage ourselves by believing that dealing with difficult tasks makes us stronger. With this attitude, work becomes fun.
In the late eighteenth century there lived in the village of Bizen, in what is now Okayama Prefecture, a man named Aburaya Yoichibe, who was in the habit of saying "Thank goodness" quite often. When he awoke in the morning and saw his mother's face, he would say, "Thank goodness," and when he saw his wife he would say the same thing. Villagers nicknamed him Grateful Yoichibe. Once he stumbled on a stone and injured his knee, and although blood poured from the wound, he said as always, "Thank goodness!" A villager who was with him asked him why he was so grateful even though he had been injured. He replied, "I'm thankful I got off with only a small scratch." Like Tachibana, Yoichibe knew the key to happiness.
There are many ups and downs in life. Some things seem fortunate and others not. If one is rebuked for a mistake at work, one can take comfort in accepting the rebuke as good medicine and vow to be more careful. Just as it used to be said in Japan that the world is as kind as it is cruel, if there is someone who reprimands, there is also someone who consoles. What is important is to see that the one who scolds is also a benefactor. Many executives of leading corporations say, "Now that I look back on it, the chagrin I felt at being reprimanded on a certain occasion became a great asset."
If one imitates the lifestyle of Tachibana or Grateful Yoichibe, one's world will be broadened and one will feel much more at ease. We should always keep in mind that whether we are happy or miserable is determined by how we see and respond to things.
A happy life begins with small pleasures, which greatly multiply.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.