Dear Donagh, [….] Why can't I be happy? I have tried so hard. I try to be friends with people, but they always reject me in the end. In the last two months alone I have been very hurt by three people, four if I counted another person who didn’t look at me when I passed her on the street. I can't see what they have against me. I'm a good person and I try to do my best. I wouldn’t mind if I was trying to hurt people or annoy them, then I could understand it. My mother tells me to be happy but how can I be happy with this situation? [….] Anne

Dear Anne, Notice that the word ‘I’ occurs in every sentence of your letter, including all the parts I omitted here. This is not the road to happiness; it’s more like a tree fallen across the road. Judging by your letter I would say you think about yourself too much. I know that all of us are inclined to do that when we are in pain. But you won't lessen the pain by thinking more.
            So what do I say? Forget about yourself? Yes, something like that. But that’s not a simple instruction. We can't just decide to forget. What we can do is decide to think about something else. The wisest words ever addressed to me were, “It’s not about you.” Life isn't about you, in this sense: it’s not about the ‘you’ that is trying to be happy. It’s not about the ego that is forever trying to establish itself and maintain itself and promote itself. There's a deeper you that doesn’t care about these things. The problem is not how to make the ego happy, but how to discover your deeper identity.
            You have tried very hard to be happy. It hasn’t worked. Then give it up, try something else. Concentrate on something else for its own sake and not because of how it affects you. Lavish your affection on a plant or an animal, but don’t stop there. Some do! Pick some old lady who has trouble doing her shopping, and do it for her for free. For free means: without looking for any kind of return. The simplest kind of return is money, and obviously don’t look for that. The more complicated and demanding return is gratitude and affection. Don’t look for them. Be free, and enjoy the freedom. When you can enjoy that freedom, know that you are living from your deeper identity. You know you don’t have to be grateful to yourself when you do your own shopping: you are free of the need for it. If you can be equally free of it when you do someone else’s shopping, then there is no difference between someone else and you. That's how we forget about ourselves, and that's how we learn the art of happiness, and that's how we discover our deeper identity. People have known it for a long time: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” When we take care of other people, their happiness becomes our happiness, their joy is our joy. Then it matters much less how ‘I’ feel, or how other people regard ‘me’.
            I hope this may be of some small help, Anne.

Donagh O'Shea

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