Depending on who you believe, either yesterday, the 17th, or next Monday, the 24th is “Blue Monday” – the most depressing day of the year. This fact was based on rather dubious “scientific” evidence and was originally part of an advertisement campaign by a Travel company hoping to encourage the early booking of summer holidays. However, the notion has found its way onto reputable news services and even gotten some support in mental health circles. Indeed, one of them has gone so far as to say that, given the economic climate, 2011 is gloomy enough to merit having two Blue Mondays, this week and next week.
It is an idea that fits into one understanding of happiness, namely, that most of our happiness depends on our circumstances. Because January is normally cloudy, and people spent too much money at New Year, and being back at work reveals that nothing has changed in their lives, therefore this must mean unhappiness. We have a deep-rooted instinct to seek happiness out there, either in a perfect job or career, a perfect relationship or friendship, a perfect place to live. If we accept this and because most of us have some level of imperfection in at least one of these areas, which was not magically resolved this over the holiday period, we are bound to hit a wall of depression.
However, research has shown that only a small part of our happiness comes from these types of external conditions. The models of happiness we get in the media tend to be happiness-in-the-perfect life, the perfect relationship, all white with no shades of grey. However, normal human life and happiness is always relative, and never unchangingly absolute. Furthermore, modern society tends to favour the disposal of situations or people whom we no longer have time for or have gotten complicated or difficult. Seeing this we frequently fall in to the trap of comparing our life to outside models, finding it lacking and thinking a quick fix is the answer. When this is not forthcoming we get disappointed and down, not realizing that happiness is possible even when things are not perfect, if we know where to seek it.
What meditation practice reveals is that most emotional agitation and suffering is, in fact, caused by the mind, not by external circumstances and certainly not by something as arbitrary as a date in January. It is part of the human condition to frequently feel – and not just on January 17th – that life is not offering us enough, or that we are not doing enough in it, or that we are under pressure with what we have to do. Some level of difficulty occurs to everyone from time to time, and it does not mean that something has gone wrong. Mental impression cross the mind frequently, and our happiness depends on how we work with them. Rather than chasing after happiness, meditation practice trains the mind to turn to whatever is happening at any particular moment, and to rest in that. Over time we gradually we get the strength to sit with the thoughts without getting hooked in them. As the old saying goes, difficulties may be inevitable – such as the weather or the blues on an January morning – but it is how our mind deals with this that determines what colour the day turn out.
Everything is material for the seed of happiness, if you look into it with inquisitiveness and curiosity. The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment to moment. There always is the potential to create an environment of blame — or one that is conducive to loving-kindness.