Sometimes our lives are overloaded with notions of practicality and productivity. We believe that if there’s no planned purpose to an event or activity, there’s no point in doing it. In reality the best things in life are unplanned and without an appointed purpose.
We sacrifice a great deal of our time and sanity doing what we don’t want to do, so that at some arbitrary point in the future we can establish the freedom to do what we love.
We relentlessly pursue happiness in every imaginable way. We pursue happiness in material possessions, in social status, and in the acceptance and recognition we get from others. We even search for happiness in various versions of a future-promised afterlife. But these pursuits rarely give us more than fleeting moments of joy. We end up missing out on lots of thrilling life experiences and contentment because we fail to understand a very simple but easily overlooked fact…
The Search for Happiness Causes Misery
You can’t find something that’s already here with you. Happiness exists in this moment. It’s not something you need to find. That’s like trying to find the oxygen you’re breathing right now.
In reality, it’s the tension of your mind that causes unhappiness. If you’re not happy, it’s because your mind is focused on something that’s making you unhappy. And why is your mind doing this? Because you’re stuck in a vicious cycle of misdirected judgment, productivity and purpose that has you thinking about every imaginable time and place, except right here, right now. That’s not to say being productive is irresponsible, or that pursuing goals that have a purpose is wrong. The problem occurs when you base your entire reason for living on a point in time – an activity or achievement – that doesn’t yet exist. (Read The Power of Now.)
When we place all of our happiness on the idea of ‘getting’ something, checking off items on a to-do list, or achieving a future goal, we’re fooling ourselves. We’re like a puppy that’s chasing her tail. We keep running around and around, chasing that tail with every bit of energy we have, but we never catch it. And we never stop to think that it might be all the chasing that’s making us miserable. We’re too distracted with trying to win the game. As soon as we beat one level and see some success, we’re instantly in a hurry to upgrade our search and move on to the next level. We never stop to think that it’s not the failure to win the game that causes our grief, but the game itself.
We neglect to realize that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the problem. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to simply stand still and breathe.
- The smartest way to be happy with the place you live is to stop chasing the mansion you see on HGTV with five bedrooms, a pool, a fireplace, and a three-car garage.
- The best way to solve the problem of not having lots of friends is to stop worrying about having more, and instead appreciate the few good ones you do have.
- The simplest way to be content with yourself is not to achieve high admiration and praise from others, but to accept yourself fully for who you are now.
- The quickest route to happiness is to stop the pursuit of finding happiness and start the process of being happiness.
By letting go a little we immediately release ourselves of the grasping tension of the mind. But it’s not easy to stay in this mindset (the mind loves to hold on); it’s something we have to constantly cultivate.
It’s especially difficult when society tends to place more value on things and status, than on experiences. We are told to value what we do more than how we feel. This is complete nonsense when you think about it. The way you feel is far more important than what you own or how others perceive you. Isn’t the purpose of everything you do to feel good? Isn’t the purpose of that new gold watch, that important job title, or college degree to give you a feeling of accomplishment? Aren’t these things supposed to make you happy?
The problem with this is we’re basing our happiness on fleeting things and events. We’re deriving our joy from an acquisition or an achievement. This isn’t true, lasting happiness; it’s an addiction. We get a short burst of endorphins to our bloodstream from our new big screen TV, or new iPhone, or new title on our business cards, and then what happens? It disappears. It leaves us feeling empty and we begin looking for our next fix. (Read 1,000 Little Things.)
Our advertising and consumer driven culture doesn’t help us at all. We’re persistently showered with messages that we need this, or we need that. Every day on TV, the radio and online, we hear: “Buy this and it will make your life easier and happier!” If only we could afford that thing we may finally be happy. Wrong. Things aren’t going to make your life any better. I mean, buying a faster computer or acquiring a solution to a small problem you’ve been meaning to fix is great. You may feel a sense of joy and achievement for a few moments. But you’re still looking for your happiness outside yourself, in a thing.
It’s the same with productivity and goals. If only we could cross off every item on our to-do list, we could be content. If only we could achieve all of our goals and dreams, we could finally be satisfied. This thinking is based on the false belief that you’ll reach a certain point where everything is done. You finally made it! There’s nothing left in your inbox, all your projects are complete and your lifelong goals are achieved! Now you can rest easy and be happy.
But, of course, this point will never come. That’s because life is endlessly evolving. Every day is a new beginning. There will always be things to do. There will always be challenges, because everything in life is changing from moment to moment. If you reached a point in your life where you had no more problems, no more struggles, no more worries, your life would stop, literally. Game over. (Read Buddha’s Brain)
So, what can we do about this?
We Need to Stop Chasing Happiness
That doesn’t mean we stop trying to achieve our goals or striving for personal growth. It just means that we no longer base our happiness on fleeting, semi-permanent things.
There are obviously some situations where not chasing a task or result may have serious negative consequences (see paying your mortgage or rent). Excessive chasing, however, will inevitably make you miserable.
The reason chasing too much can be detrimental to your health and happiness, is you’re so focused exclusively on the future. Your identity is too deeply attached to outcomes that are uncertain. If something does, or doesn’t go your way, it will likely have an enduring effect on your mood.
Instead, we should base our happiness on the life we are living – on the beauty that is already ours, on desires that don’t shift from moment to moment. We choose to find our happiness now – in life itself. In fact, we don’t even need to ‘find’ happiness. We can be happiness.
Stop searching. Stop chasing. Happiness is already here.
Jonathan Mead is the creator of Paid to Exist and Trailblazer, platforms where he teaches people how to eliminate the separation between what they get paid to do and what they love so that they can contribute meaning to the world and live a life of freedom.
Photo by: Dirk Dallas