What is Radical Happiness?

Everyone wants to be happy and live a meaningful life, yet the way we usually go about it can only bring a very temporary happiness at best and, at worst, leads to extreme dissatisfaction and suffering. By making a slight but radical shift in the way we live our lives, a subtle sense of satisfaction and well-being can be ours even when things really aren’t working out. Most us look for happiness in circumstances and possessions, yet both the world’s great contemplative traditions and modern science tell us that circumstances contribute very little to our sense of contentment. The root of happiness is not to be found in our circumstances but in how we relate to them.

Lots of people hear that and say, “Duh! Of course happiness can’t be found in material possessions or by simply creating the right circumstances. If you’ve read a Hallmark Greeting Card you know that.”  But if we take a careful look, with an inquisitive mind, into how we actually spend our time, it will reveal that secretly most of us behave as if we do really believe that circumstances and things are the key to happiness.

And that is a conundrum: what we know to be true and how we’re behaving are out of sync. Some investigation is called for. In order to make a slight but radical shift in our life, we need to look closely at how we usually go about finding happiness and see what the issues are. And we need to really test our hypothesis: we won’t find happiness in situations and things, but we behave as if we will, day in, day out, most of the time.

Radical happiness can emerge naturally when we become used to remaining in the present moment and during moments of kindness and compassion. Radical happiness doesn’t mean that we are in a blissed out state of denial about all the crap. Radically Happy people experience sadness, and disappointment. But those feelings don’t overwhelm the subtle sense of well-being that permeates the mind of a radically happy person.

So what do we have to do to learn to be radically happy?

Two things:

slightly shift our way of relating to ourselves, and

slightly alter how we relate to the world around us.

It’s true that Buddhism speaks mostly about enlightenment. But without a solid foundation of contentment, basic sanity and a decent self-image, you can’t flourish in life—either as a spiritual practitioner or as a practitioner of daily life. Not everyone wants to become a Buddhist, but doesn’t everyone want to be able to flourish and enjoy what life has to offer? We all want to be able to cope, without totally losing it when things don’t work out.  And that last point is the heart of what Radical Happiness really is. It’s a subtle sense of well-being we can always access, especially when things are not so great.