The world we live in is one of constant struggle, and you’re either always on the go or having to deal with the latest problem. The more we try to achieve happiness, the more it seems out of reach. It seems like the goalposts are always moving farther away even as we harder to reach them.
Why do so many people have this idea that once they “achieve” a certain status then everything will finally be okay? It’s not that true happiness is an impossible thing to find, the problem is that many of us are blindly chasing it. We compare ourselves to other people and think “Well if I had what he has then I would finally be happy.” But this expectation of happiness is a lie.
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Why are we so afraid of being unhappy
In our society today, happiness has been elevated to an almost unreachable status—the ultimate goal that we must all pursue relentlessly throughout our lives. And more often than not, if you don’t seem happy it’s assumed there’s something wrong with you, that there’s something holding you back from that joy.
It makes sense, then, why so many of us are resistant to being unhappy—the negativity is seen as undesirable and negative. And if unhappiness isn’t just some personality defect, but a natural part of the human experience, does this mean we’ve all been fooled?
The root of our problem is listening to what society thinks. We are taught that what society thinks about happiness is the gospel truth. They say that we need to make a lot of money, live lavishly, and be better than the masses in order to truly be happy.
Our fear of being unhappy puts additional stress and expectations in place that does not help our situation. Our natural state is to be happy. Look at the way children play. They don’t have any worries. They are living in the moment. Not worrying about money, or how they will eat next. Their default state is to be content. They aren’t overthinking and causing stress about what they should or shouldn’t be feeling. They feel satisfaction just from being alive.
Contentment vs Happiness
Happiness has become an unnatural state for human beings. It may be hard-wired into our brains but it was not meant to last forever. Humans have evolved to experience brief moments of happiness during their lives. But that doesn’t mean we are powerless to change this.
Here is an example: I am assuming that you are sitting down somewhere comfortable and reading these words right now. Let’s say you are on your couch at home in relative comfort. You aren’t starving and you aren’t in intense pain at the moment. There is nothing threatening your immediate life and well-being.
I’m at least 98% accurate with the assumption, right?
Now, let’s think of some things that could increase your happiness that you could do right now. Here are some possibilities. Standing up and jumping around like an idiot, playing with your dog, calling a friend, having a bowl of ice cream.
I’m sure that at least one of these options would at least temporarily increase your happiness if you did them right? So why aren’t you doing any of them? Instead, you are continuing to read these words.
The reason is that in this situation you are content. You are more content with how you feel right now vs how the option of putting in a little bit of effort to call a friend, get ice cream, etc.
Sure, it would be nice to have that little boost of emotion but your brain is telling you that you don’t have to put in the effort. Things are “okay” right now.
This is you choosing being content vs being happier right now. Don’t feel bad. It’s normal. We are wired to conserve energy and be content. This is why most people don’t pursue anything beyond the minimum to get through life. It is a survival instinct.
But don’t worry, there is still hope. You are not doomed to live in quiet contentment. There are options for you to break out of this pattern. The two main ways to crush your contentment are what I call the soft path and the hard path. Both are good and don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I have and do still use both paths even though they can seem contradictory.
The Soft Path: Don’t seek happiness
Eckhart Tolle has the perspective that happiness is not something that can be pursued. Instead, you should enjoy the present moment and make an effort to appreciate what you have. To aid in this perspective he practices living one day at a time. Or even more accurately, living in the exact moment. He believes that any kind of negative thought or mental suffering comes from either thinking about things that are out of your control or fixating on the past or future which you cannot affect.
He talks about resistance, which is when you resist what is. This in turn creates more struggle and stress, which perpetuates the negative cycle even further.
When you practice staying in the present moment, becoming aware of your thoughts and emotions without judging them or letting them affect you then all this resistance just melts away. It seems that most people are chasing happiness without an awareness of what happiness is. They are never content with what they have at the moment, instead, they fixate on what they do not have. This incessant need to always want more creates a compulsive cycle of stress and suffering which prevents anyone from ever being a truly happy person.
When I was at a very low point in my life, I found out about Eckhart’s two main books, The Power of Now, and A New Earth. His books made sense and changed the way I thought about my problems. It wasn’t an immediate fix but it was a faster fix than I expected just from reading a couple of books. They helped me feel inner peace again.
I highly recommend both of his books to everyone who wants to live a better happier life.
The Hard Path: Achievement and purpose
Earlier I mentioned people thinking that their happiness comes from being wealthy and living a glamorous life. There is a grain of truth to this thought. You don’t have to be rich but you do need to have enough money so that you don’t have financial stress. Having no financial stress is a lot different from being rich. Money makes life easier but it doesn’t make you happy.
The secret to happiness is achievement and purpose. You have to discover your purpose and have a mission to pursue. Most men fall into contentment because they don’t have anything they are working toward. They come home from work and waste time until they go to work again. They live for the weekend where they can waste more time until Monday comes around. Then they repeat these until they die 45 years later.
Their happiness is a lie. They think this is the way to live life. Just because it is common doesn’t mean it is correct.
Men are designed to create and conquer. We feel content when we can see the results of our work. This is why men need a mission.
Walk both paths to find your happiness
I know the two paths seem contradictory. How could two completely opposite approaches both lead to the same destination? Just as there are many ways to be successful, there are vastly different ways to find your happiness. I recommend you try both methods mentioned above so that you can stay balanced. It works for me and I am much happier than I was in the past. And there are likely other ways paths you can walk to find your happiness. You just can’t keep trying the same old ways that aren’t working. Be willing to try something new.
So is happiness a lie? No. But the ways we have been taught to find it may have been the actual lie.