Happiness is the natural state for people, as difficult as our individual life journeys may be. It is not some imagined future after you no longer need to work, and it’s not some cinematic memory from your childhood. You’re supposed to be happy right here, right now.
Of course, many of us don’t feel like we are. That’s because we’re trying to be, and we can’t strive for and reach happiness. It’s not the result of an effort, it’s not a goal. It can’t be gotten at by ego.
Happiness can be unveiled though. Gardeners who willingly work in their garden, in collaboration with the sun and the rain, are engaged in the cultivation of happiness. You can too.
Start by looking inside. Spend time in meditation or prayer – time in your garden – so that you can fully perceive the rocks and weeds, the birds and trees.
Sweat and groan as you haul out the rocks, the emotional blockage that was created when you refused to fully feel the events of your life. The only way to do this is to feel the rocks.
Do nothing to pull out the weeds, the negative patterns of behavior that imprinted into your mind as you struggled to cope with the world. If you do nothing, they’ll stop being nourished and they’ll die – pulling on them just makes them stronger. Doing nothing can be very difficult.
Nourish the soil, seek wholeness in body, by intentionally seeking physical activity and whatever diet fulfills your physical form the best. Don’t read a book on gardening in the forest if you’re working in a desert. Listen to the land.
Nourish the plants, seek wholeness in emotions, by accepting and fully feeling whatever weather arises. You need both sunny weather and storms to grow.
Plant trees of right understanding by regularly reading spiritual and religious texts, preferably across multiple traditions. Don’t keep it too serious, though – it’s not spiritual if it’s always dreary and bleak.
Plant trees of right relationships by moral action, allegiance to a concept of virtue that you regularly redefine using your intuition and expanding frame of reference. Seek to guide all of that grows in you into positive, constructive outlets.
None of these methods of cultivating happiness will result in happiness. Not one. You’ll never get happy trying to be happy. These methods of cultivating happiness result in healthiness, wholeness, and spirituality.
But, in your gardening, sooner or later you’ll start unaccountably whistling and smiling. You’ll be pulling a difficult weed or your back will be hurting from moving a particularly large rock, and suddenly you’ll notice the sky or the grass or the birds. Maybe you’ll even sing or dance. It won’t be because of one tree, or some special fruit, or anything at all in particular.
You’ll just suddenly notice that you’re happy, and have been for quite some time.
In your clearing of the land and tending of the plants, happiness just somehow happens. But only as long as you keep working. There’s not much difference between happiness and living, if you can forget about being something in particular or wanting something in particular for a while.
Ultimately, the cultivation of happiness is the happiness it cultivates, you see.
For to try to say anything definite about the Tao is like trying to eat your mouth: you can’t get outside it to chew it. To put it the other way round: anything you can chew is not your mouth. So, too, anything you can define or imagine, anything you can understand or desire, is not the Tao. We can’t know it, we can’t feel or sense it, for the very simple reason that it’s the whole substance of knowing, feeling, and sensing, of living and existing. It’s too close to be seen and too obvious to be noticed or understood.
Alan Watts, Become What You Are