By Ken Mondal

We have all heard this Buddhist teaching time and again. From the moment we wake up in the morning until we go to bed, everything that we do is geared toward finding happiness and avoiding suffering. This is true for all sentient beings from the lowliest insect to us humans. I can accept this idea intellectually but I still had some doubts. Therefore, I decided to check this out for myself and kept a journal of all my thoughts and actions upon awakening one morning.

6:00 AM. The alarm goes off (immediate suffering). Oh, how I hate that alarm clock. Please let me stay in this cozy warm bed just a little longer (happiness).

6:10 AM. Boy, my bladder is full (suffering). Run to the bathroom and relieve myself (instant happiness).

6:14 AM. Brush my teeth. I really like the taste of this new toothpaste (happiness). Good dental hygiene will keep my teeth from falling out (avoid major suffering in the future).

6:17 AM. Looking in the mirror. I sure have more wrinkles and gray hair (suffering). This whole aging process really sucks (MAJOR SUFFERING).

6:20 AM Turn on the coffee pot and smell the aroma of fresh brewed coffee (happiness).

6:25 AM. What’s for breakfast? Lots of choices in this country of abundance (happiness). A fleeting thought of all those people in third world countries who are starving right now (suffering aka personal distress). Enough of that.

6:45 AM. Walk into my closet and decide what to wear today. So many choices (happiness). Here is something I never wear. Maybe I should donate it to a shelter. There sure are a lot of homeless people. It makes me very sad (suffering). Enough of that too.

7:00 AM. Off to work. But wait. I just retired. I don’t have to go to work today (HAPPINESS).

Silly me for setting that alarm clock. I can do whatever I want. Maybe I’ll meditate. Maybe I’ll read a Dharma book. Maybe I’ll go for a walk in the woods. Or better yet I can do all three this morning (HAPPINESS ON STEROIDS).

You get the picture. I continued to journal all my thoughts and actions throughout the morning. It didn’t take me very long to verify the fact that I am quite self-centered and on a constant quest for mental and physical comfort and freedom from any hint of suffering. My compassion for others was all too brief and seemed polluted by personal distress. I certainly have a lot of work to do. No bodhisattva “diploma” for me in this lifetime!

Of course, none of these “happinesses” are really true and lasting happiness. They are mostly related to possessions and sense pleasures. We all get lured into these brief hits of pleasure not realizing how transient and unsatisfying they are. I am also a sucker for praise and a good reputation which rounds out the worldly concerns of cyclic existence. The suffering of pain is easy to understand. It wasn’t until I grasped the suffering of change related to the pleasurable things in life and the even more subtle pervasive suffering of conditioning that I began to see the ugly side of our present situation.

So, yes, we are indeed on a constant quest for happiness and freedom from suffering. It is our confusion about the nature of reality that leads to all our afflictions and negative karma and guarantees that true peace and happiness will continue to elude us.

Photo by Gen Heywood.