The Happiness Illusion (updated)

 

happiness is not good enough

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden

You are constantly bombarded by self help gurus that preach the mantra that happiness is the primary goal for you life. Take some time to observe your own life and calculate the amount of time each day or week where you feel truly happy. I’m not talking about the times you feel content, challenged, or at peace, but instead the emotion of feeling very happy or elated. If you are forever chasing some state of happiness where the majority of the hours of the day are filled with happiness, then you are setting yourself up to experience yet another emotion, which will be a feeling of disappointment. You immediately jump to the conclusion that there is something wrong with me. I must be doing something wrong or I would be happy all the time, instead of the brief forays into happiness I am currently experiencing.

I’m guessing your day is filled with time spent in some or all of the following emotions:

  • Feeling anxious.
  • Frustration with yourself, others, or some man made process or rule.
  • Feeling challenged by your work and/or people you work with.
  • Loving others or feeling loved.
  • Feeling the fear of the unknown or known.
  • Anger or being pissed off about something or someone.
  • Self loathing for not living up to your own expectations or the expectations of others.
  • Envy for things or envious of what others have.
  • Fleeting moments of bliss or happiness.
  • Satisfaction with accomplishing something or learning something new.
  • Feeling uninspired or tired.
  • Feeling appreciated or unappreciated.
  • Desiring stuff, money, sex, or some mind altering drugs or alcohol.

I could go on and on with this list of emotions we experience often on a daily basis. We are filled with all these thoughts that affect our well being and all the yoga and mediation in the world will not eradicate them from your mind, believe me I’ve tried. Give yourself a fucking break, you are an emotional bundle of somewhat uncontrollable thoughts and you know it. Don’t and I mean do not let some dumb ass on YouTube tell you that if you buy this, or practice this, all of this will go away, and your life will become one big vacation. You can’t exist in some state of continuous bliss; you are not the Dali Lama. Sure you can seek enlightenment and end all this suffering and discontent, and I hope you achieve it someday, but on the off chance you don’t then you are going to have to learn to live in the world you currently inhabit.

I think happiness is overrated, there are many other emotional states that should occupy your mind; those that are more valuable to you and to others. I’m not saying you should live in some state or misery, but chasing a state of happiness is an illusion. Replace that quest with these feelings or life goals:

  • Taking responsibility for you life, your work, and your decisions.
  • Feeling challenged by your work and the fulfillment you feel when you step up to take on the challenge, win or lose.
  • Feeling good about yourself because you are working at being more disciplined.
  • Being grateful for all the shit you have; just look around you and notice the type of life that many are merely existing in, and you will see you have a lot to be grateful for.
  • Developing an appreciation for the people in your life, family, friends, co-workers, and customers.
  • The quiet satisfaction you feel from learning that came from reading, studying, experimenting, watching, and listening.
  • Desiring more from yourself or desiring more from life than you are currently getting. Desiring more for your life is not a bad thing. A lot of great things have been done by people with a burning desire to accomplish something.

Suffering builds character

In fact I would challenge you to consider that happiness as your constant state of mind would put you at a big disadvantage in life when it comes to achieving what you want. You need to experience difficult times, challenges, and a certain amount of pain to grow as a person. Maybe you can be satisfied by all the obstacles you have overcome to be where you are today, instead of wishing for a life of ease and self gratification. If the totality of life consisted of sitting on a beach in the Caribbean and drinking one Margarita after another how happy would you be then?

Think back on all the things you have accomplished, the events in your life that bring back good memories. What about the time you landed that job you wanted, or met that special person, or obtained that degree or certification you worked so hard for. I’ll bet you weren’t sitting around bullshitting yourself in some blissful state of euphoria; instead you got off your ass and took action. Quit wishing for happiness and start doing something constructive; in the long run you will feel a whole lot better about yourself.

I used to watch all this motivational shit on YouTube from Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Eric Thomas, Les Brown, and Bob Proctor, but instead of motivating me it made me feel dissatisfied with my work and my life in general. To tell you the truth these people have some good ideas, but ultimately they are trying to sell you one of their books or have you come to their seminar. Meanwhile they make you feel unfulfilled about your life so they can generate more sales and then you just feel like shit when you could have been enjoying the life you have.

You already know what you need to change in your life to progress. You certainly don’t need someone else to tell you the areas of your life that are pretty fucked up.

Let me leave you with this quote from Gary John Bishop that comes from his book UNFU*K Yourself:

I expect nothing and accept everything!

Try living your life for a while expecting nothing and accepting everything that happens to you. If you expect to be happy all the time and can’t accept it when life sucker punches you then you are doomed my friend. Drop the stupid expectations and take life as it is served up to you, then you can at least control the suffering and enjoy the good stuff.

Namaste

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Stop reacting

I have always felt that we have a lot more control over what we think than we give ourselves credit for. It is interesting to watch how we interact with each other. Often these interactions set the tone for our thoughts. For instance you approach me at work and say let’s go grab a cup of coffee. I ask you how are things are going with your project and you start telling me about how unreasonable your client is and how you don’t have any way to address their clearly unreasonable requests. I nod a few times sympathetically, and recall a similar situation I had with one of my own clients this week. What started as a cup of coffee turned into bitching session about our customers, with no one walking away feeling any better. This is not unusual in most organizations happening over and over. So what’s wrong with this? Wasn’t I being empathetic? Sure I was empathetic to my co-worker, but not to my customer and I did nothing to change the tone of the conversation from what was negative to something positive. This is a pretty simple example of how we get pulled into conversations and instead of really thinking about how to control our thoughts, we just react.

You might think well no damage done, but think again. You go back to your desk and now you are focused on a difficult customer or what a pain in the ass this job is. Your colleague walks away no better off from the interaction, in fact you may have just reinforced his ill will towards his client.

What if instead of reacting to what people are saying you just listen or maybe even better you remove yourself from the conversation all together. I know this sounds weird but if you or someone else is intent on taking time to turn things into a pity party then in the long run you are doing both of you a favor by cutting it short.

These reactions are not limited to discussions. Let me give you a few examples of how we often react to various events during the day:

  • Someone pulls in front of or cuts you off driving to work. You hit the breaks and give them the finger. Nice start to the day.
  • Watching the news in the morning I see that someone with an automatic rifle that killed 14 people in a mall somewhere in the United States or Europe. I don’t visibly react but I think to myself the world is a dangerous place, I had better be careful when I am out in public.
  • You get up in the morning and go to make a cup of coffee and find that your kitchen looks like it had been ransacked by intruders. You fire off some expletive using one of you children’s name, roommate, or spouse.

Well I just thought this was funny.

React funny

In any of these cases you are spending your time as some kind of reactionary organism where stimulus and response rules the universe. I would be the last person to say that you will ever gain complete control over your thoughts and the way to react or not to those things that are happening around you. In fact I think because we all have a tendency to do some of this; thus the need to be very careful about what we expose ourselves to. It would also be giving up to say that you have no control over how you react to the events you encounter each day. There are ways that you can stack the deck in favor of being a rationale being and not a reactionary fool. Here are few things you can do to go from reacting to thoughtful responses:

  • Condition your mind – Read inspirational books, watch YouTube videos, read positive affirmations, or meditate. Remember you are training your mind, putting good things in to create that positive mindset, which will offset some of the negative events of the day, by starting from the right mindset as your day begins.
  • Know your triggers – If driving to work in heavy traffic is absolutely killing you then, start earlier in the day when traffic is not as hectic or use an audio book or some other means to take your mind off it.
  • Avoidance – I’m a big fan of just not exposing yourself to things that I know may be negative. For instance I quit watching all cable news stations and even local news. My only exception would be a few minutes of CNBC to get some business news. Avoidance is a risk management technique where you put into place ways to completely avoid the risk altogether and it works pretty well for avoiding negative bullshit.
  • Take responsibility – Instead of blaming the world for how you react to events occurring around you, take responsibility for your reaction. Quit blaming everyone else for your poor behavior and attitude. You know deep down, it is you who chose to perpetuate negative thoughts, to be critical of others, to blame the world around you.

If and when you decide you can control how you think, then you will be in the top 10% who do not react, but instead control their thoughts. You will be one of the few that controls  your own state of mind, and your happiness now becomes a decision not a reaction.

Namaste