This is it! The final post in this 30 day project, and it seems fitting that this links to the very first post I published as part of it.
Yesterday’s teaching was all about focussing on cultivating positive intentions, and worrying less about actions. Well, today’s teaching is the natural extension of this, placing a little more emphasis on these actions that manifest themselves as a result of our intentions.
“What we do today is what matters most”
There are two key aspects to this teaching that make it perfect, in my mind, for the final post in this project.
The first aspect takes us all the way back to Song 1, where we talked about the process of creating an initial intent to pursue happiness. The chain went as follows:
Learning -> Conviction -> Determination -> Action -> Effort
There have been 29 posts in this Happiness x Music Project, all showing us a variety of ways that we can cultivate happier mental states. These 29 posts have all been concerned with the first three parts of the chain - learning, determination and conviction. Yesterday’s post in particular focussed on creating a genuine determination and conviction - or in other words an intention - which defines how we act.
This final teaching, then, is essentially not really a distinct teaching in itself. It says that we have spent this time learning about how to be happy - all that remains now, is to go out and put it into practice.
“Happy is as happy does”
This leads to the second aspect of today’s teaching, which is about making the most of the present. With the pandemic, a lot of us are keeping one eye on the future, thinking about when this will all finally be over. This inevitably means it can be difficult to stay in the moment.
But the present is all we have, and I touched on this in Song 6, which covered the teaching that all we need is the mind. If anything, we can use the knowledge that there is a deadly virus out there to bring our attention back to the present. Because now more than ever, we have no idea what lies around the corner.
In the Great Plague of Athens, it was reported that, contrary to what you would expect, people’s happiness levels generally increased. It’s thought that this is because the future was suddenly thrown into doubt, so all they could do was make the most of the present day.
This second aspect of today’s teaching is perhaps the most important. It's not just about what we do in relation to what we’ve learned about happiness - it’s about what we do now, today, in this moment.
“Steal a slow dance in a rain storm
And a kiss from who you love
Laugh and live with a half-full cup”
Buddhism says we should find whatever it is that makes us happiest, and completely immerse ourselves in it. The popular Japanese concept of ‘ikigai’ is based on this idea that when we are entirely absorbed in what we are doing, we discover little pockets of happiness. This is ultimately what Buddhist meditation is all about - absorbing ourselves in the here and now by being mindful of each in-breath, and each out-breath.
“It damn sure ain't in the lookin' back on the stuff you never did
Sometimes, you're gonna feel that, but life is better when
Happy is as happy does”
It’s a pleasing coincidence then that the album on which today’s song appears is called Here and Now (or perhaps Kenny Chesney was simply so inspired by this project that he made a whole album especially for this last post…).
“When it's all black clouds, find the sun
‘Cause happy is as happy does”
Finally, before I sign off on the last post of this project, I have a confession to make…
I know I set this up as 30 days, with 30 teachings, and 30 songs. However… because this is the last post, I thought it was only right to make it a little special. Therefore, I’ve included one more ‘bonus’ song.
Yes, I realise it's another Kenny Chesney one. But it’s a song that means a lot to me, and I always turn to it whenever life throws me a curveball - and I think we can all agree that this whole pandemic is more like a straight-up boomerang than a curveball.
“And she looked back over her shoulder
Pointed at the sign hanging up on the wall
'Everything's gonna be alright'”
It might not be something to be found in any specific Buddhist teaching, but I think it’s something we all need to hear during times like these, just to reassure us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it will be alright in the end.
“There ain't no doubt, it's gonna work out”
In Song 17 we covered the idea that ‘change is the only constant’. I think it helps to remember that no matter how scary or hopeless the situation might be, it’s not going to last forever. We will be able to meet loved ones again, we will be able to go out and watch concerts and sports matches, and we will be able to return to normal life.
So I want this to be the final message of the project:
“Everything's gonna be alright”
I just want to end by saying a massive thank you to everyone who’s either taken part or simply read the daily posts - the support this has received has been truly overwhelming. Even if the project has given only one person a little something to lean on or something to help pick them up during these crazy times, then it will have accomplished its goal.
Also, if you’ve been making your own Happiness playlist, please feel free to share it with me - it would be great to see which songs you chose!
And one last time...
Here's to happiness!