Lately, I’ve run into a slew of clients who are struggling to figure out what would make them happy. Should I live here, or there? Maybe if I got a different car? Is it my spouse — maybe we need to be divorced? I think I need a better job. If I could only … If they would only … If only … THEN I would be happy.
Many of these people have spent their whole life in quest of what someone referred to as “one up,” never realizing that there is no end to it. A person starts out as a child just wanting a bicycle to be happy. Then a 10-speed. Then a scooter. Then a car, any car. Then a new car. Then a bigger car. Then a fancier bigger car. Then the best car there is. Then more cars. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about — friends, houses, cars, boats, sex, jobs, appearance, titles, comic books, electronics, food, drink, approval, shoes — and on and on. Once we’re on the quest to find happiness outside ourselves, we are on a lifelong journey with no destination but perpetual frustration and disappointment. The belief that “more” will make us happy is just as pointless as tracing “more” in the snow and thinking we’ve cast it in stone. Each “more” quickly melts into a puddle of pointlessness, and we start all over again. And again. And again.
The search and grab for external happiness is an exhausting climb up the stairway to nowhere. It’s a testament to human persistence and hopefulness that people keep climbing higher and higher towards their ephemeral desires, ever anticipating that they’ll get to that magical happy landing, regardless of how long they’ve gone on with no resting place. Alas, there is no “there” there. Happiness has nothing to do with anything outside of us. But thankfully we are born with happiness built in. We ARE happy, until we override our natural happiness with our thinking about what happiness is or should be. As soon as we stop thinking about what it would take to make us happy, and stop analyzing our lives, we find that we simply are happy and content. The best part is, once we find our own internal, innate, easy happiness, we are satisfied and grateful for everything we have right now, in this moment, and pleased and delighted by anything else that comes our way.
Why do people ignore this short and simple pathway into happiness? It doesn’t matter. The reasons are different for everyone. Fear of laziness. Fear that it can’t be that easy. Not wanting to be like everyone else. It’s all just a bunch of thoughts we make up. Trying to figure out what thoughts are in our way is just as pointless as trying to keep climbing that stairway. It’s thought, that’s all, just stuff we’ve put into our heads. The thinking, whatever it is, that produces exhaustion and dissatisfaction isn’t worth our attention. Once we draw the line at the feeling and simply are unwilling to continue to feel that unsettling drive, that need, that anxiety about what we must have next, we are onto ourselves. Turn away from those uneasy feelings. Quiet down. Don’t pay any attention to the details of what’s on your mind. Let the thinking pass and the mind settle. Voila! Happiness bubbles up to our consciousness.
Non-contingent happiness flows through us continually, a natural wellspring of good feelings, unless we start thinking it’s up to us to figure out what we need, rather than simply living our lives. Being effortlessly happy doesn’t stop us from working, or reaching for goals. It just stops the striving and suffering, so we can fully enjoy our work and our results as life unfolds.