Scholar and writer A.V. Subramanian wrote the following in the January 1995 issue of “The Theosophist”:
Belief in life after death in heaven…appears to suggest to some people that they need not, and indeed should not, seek happiness in this life on earth. They have even assumed that if they lead unhappy lives here, they have a greater chance of going to heaven after death.
If that is your thinking, um…okay. I won’t try to talk you out of your current misery if it’s going to drop a steaming pile of karma all over your future happiness. However, let me speak with tongue-n-cheek candor on behalf of we happy people: if you are miserable, hurry up and go to heaven already! Please feel free to engage in high-risk behaviors like smoking, skydiving or drinking unpasteurized milk. But just die already.
Sarcasm aside, while I don’t agree that current misery will equate to a happy adjustment in the afterlife, I concede with people who endure misery-today-for-heaven-tomorrow on this one point: having something to look forward to gets us through the day. It doesn’t matter if we strive for a crown of righteousness, 72 virgins, a couple of hours to read a good book, or a summer vacation, it’s easier to pull ourselves through the tough parts of today when we are holding on to the promise of something that makes us happy tomorrow.
Let me give you an example. A corporate executive friend of mine told me that the only way he survives the stress of his job is by having vacations on his calendar at all times. He told me something like this: “The only way I can get through some of the toughest work days–like when my boss is handing me my head, customers are screaming about a problem, or the competition is crawling up my backside–is knowing that I have a trip that I’m excited about taking in the future. Nothing takes the sting out of the winter wind like picturing myself on a sandy beach sipping drinks with a little umbrella in it.” Want to decrease your current unhappiness, stress or discomfort? Schedule something positive in your future. Look forward to it. Reach it. Enjoy it. And then schedule something else, and repeat that process forever.
It doesn’t have to be a vacation, and it doesn’t even have to cost money. Research says that even thinking about watching your favorite movie can increase your endorphin levels and your happiness. Or plan a date-night. Take a hike in the woods. The only requirements for a happiness-building activity is that (1) it’s something you schedule, (2) it’s something you enjoy, and (3) it’s something that you will think about from the time you schedule it and the time you enjoy it.
Happiness doesn’t only make discomfort bearable, but it also can help you to live longer. Terminally ill patients often live beyond their “expiration dates” when they look forward to an upcoming holiday with the family or the birth of a child or grandchild. Every holiday season, I read reports about patients holding on through the holidays and then succumbing shortly after the holidays pass. Schedule something positive in your future. Look forward to it. Reach it. Enjoy it. And then schedule something else, and repeat that process forever.
Now please open your calendar. Find an opening. Write in some happiness for this week. And use a pen, not a pencil. Doing so will make the challenges you face easier to endure, and it will serve as a carrot to pull you into life with joy. And as an added bonus, we happy people will stop praying that you will hurry up and go to heaven already!