Meditation month is wrapping up, and though I’m pretty sure I’ve achieved nothing, I have—I hope—developed some insight into “real happiness.” The most pronounced of these is the insight that real happiness isn’t so great. In fact, for anyone with half an imagination, it’s opposite (“fake happiness,” “conventional happiness”?) is far superior. While conventional happiness is filled with bouts of joy and connection, not to mention endless congratulations, awards and achievements, Cold Beer and Beautiful Girls, real happiness has something to do with sustained attention and—can’t forget—accords with reality.

To those who will immediately object, stating how real happiness is wonderful and unshakable and everlasting, remember that this is the case only insofar as real happiness is real. Recall the First Noble Truth, the Truth of Suffering. The word translated as “truth” here is satya (Tib. bden pa), which also means reality. The foundation of the Four Noble Truths, or “realities,” is that reality is suffering. There is also the truth—or reality—of nirvana, but nirvana isn’t exactly happiness and, conversely, happiness isn’t exactly nirvana. In addition, unlike dukkha, which everyone can relate to and understand immediately, nirvana’s a horny concept.

For all its aforementioned glory, the problem with conventional happiness is that it’s just that, conventional. It’s not real. It’s not lasting. In each moment of joy hides a seed of sorrow. But born in this world, what other happiness is available? I won’t take recourse to some permanent nirvana here, because I have no reason to believe such a thing exists except on blind faith—and I’m no Abraham. (Nor, I should mention, do I have a reason to think such a thing does not exist.) The best option seems to be to change the ways I think about happiness and relate to it. Specifically, happiness as I experience it might be recognized as conventional happiness. This brings some relief. Knowing and feeling that a conventional happiness is ephemeral, I can’t help but enjoy it more. I am fortunate to have just that.

Despite all the times this month I’ve pretended that I haven’t had time to meditate, or the place, I’m grateful that I did, that I actually did have that opportunity. So, to conclude meditation month, I’ll leave you with this meditation from Nanao Sakaki:

If you have time to chatter

Read books

If you have time to read

Walk into mountain, desert and ocean

If you have time to walk

Sing songs and dance

If you have time to dance

Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot


Poem excerpted from How to Live on the Planet Earth by Nanao Sakaki, with permission from Blackberry Press.