Years ago, a rehab institute asked me to help them with their sessions. I didn’t have much expertise in it at the time, but thanks to my youth and inexperience, I had a great deal of self-esteem. So, I accepted their invitation.

After a short while, the people I dealt with started to get over their depressions, their energy levels noticeably increased, and they started to laugh more often. I was happy and proud of myself until a friend, who was a rehab specialist, said to me, “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

I was more than a little confused by this, because I thought I’d done a good job.

My friend explained it further, “Feeling bad is what makes these people want to get over their addictions. When you make them feel good, their self-esteem increases dramatically. They then start to think their addictions are not a problem, so they go back to their old ways.”

This turned out to be the case unfortunately. Once they started to feel good, they went straight back to their previous states that made them feel bad.

I experienced a similar situation today, except I had a lot more to say this time. It’s common to see my students search for their older states of mind once they start feeling good about themselves. The mind can even twist the situation and ignore the current happiness because it “misses” the older unhappy state, so it labels itself as being “unhappy.”

One of my students complained about unhappiness, so I told him to observe himself. To his confusion, he realized he was happy, yet he was normally oblivious of it. He hadn’t realized he was happy, and what he believed to be “unhappiness” was nothing more than a string of habitual thoughts.

As this student started to feel good, he needed to prevent himself from longing for feeling bad, just like how addicts need to avoid their old addictions once they start to feel enthusiastic about life again.

Only those who understand the situation and free themselves from this defective sense of pleasure can avoid going backwards. The main requirement here is to avoid developing a poetic desire for life that lacks inspiration. The next is to abandon this faulty definition of happiness. Unfortunately, many teachings seem to point their followers toward this kind of life, which is actually fanatical, uninspired, and unnatural.

“People should pull themselves away from the desire to live. Isn’t this so, Master?” asked the student.

“Yes,” said the great Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, “Except they shouldn’t develop a desire to die at the same time…”