If you have to try to be cool, you will never be cool. If you have to try to be happy, then you will never be happy. Maybe the problem these days is people are just trying too hard.
Happiness, like other emotions, is not something you obtain, but rather something you inhabit. When you are angry and beat someone up, you are not self-conscious about your state of anger. You are not thinking to yourself, “Am I finally angry? Am I doing this right?” No, you’re out for blood. You inhabit and live the anger. You are the anger. And then it’s gone.
Just as a confident man doesn’t wonder if he’s confident, a happy man does not wonder if he’s happy. He simply is.
What this implies is that happiness is not achieved in itself, but rather it is the side effect of a particular set of ongoing life experiences. This gets mixed up a lot, especially since happiness is marketed so much these days as a goal in and of itself. Buy a majestic and be happy. Learn yoga and be happy. But you can’t buy happiness and you can’t achieve happiness. It just is.
When most people seek happiness, they are actually seeking pleasure: good food, more time for TV and movies, a new car, party with friends, losing 10 pounds, becoming more popular, and so on. But while pleasure is great, it’s not the same as happiness. Pleasure is correlated with happiness but does not cause it. Ask any drug addict how their pursuit of pleasure turned out. Ask a serial killer who shattered his family whether pleasure ultimately made him happy.
Pleasure is a false God. Research shows that people who focus their energy on superficial pleasures, end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable and less happy in the long-run. Pleasure is the most superficial form of life satisfaction and therefore the easiest. Pleasure is what’s marketed to us. It’s what we fixate on. It’s what we use to distract ourselves. But pleasure, while necessary, isn’t sufficient. There’s something more.
If you want to start a high-risk business venture which will dry up almost all of your savings, go for it. If it fails, you will be happier than ever for the experience. It will teach you many lessons about what you want and didn’t want in life and it will eventually lead you to some job where you can earn the money that you lost. If you went for it, you will be able to look back and be proud because otherwise you will always wonder “what if?” and that will make you more unhappy than any failure will have.
The failure to meet our own expectations is not antithetical to happiness, and I would actually argue that the ability to fail and still appreciate the experience is actually a fundamental building block for happiness.
If you thought you were going to make a million rupees per annum and drive an Audi immediately out of college, then your standards of success were superficial, you confused your pleasure for happiness, and the painful smack of reality hitting you in the face will be one of the best lessons life ever gives you. The joy of life is not having a million rupees per annum salary. It’s working to reach a million rupees per annum salary, and then working for a 2 million per annum salary, and so on.
So, elongate your process. Make a mile long to-do list and smile at the infinite opportunity granted to you. Create ridiculous standards for yourself and then savor the inevitable failure. Learn from it. Live it. Let the ground crack and rocks crumble around you because that’s how something amazing grows, through the cracks.
Chances are you know someone who always appears to be insanely happy regardless of the circumstances or situation. Chances are this is actually one of the most dysfunctional people you know. Denying negative emotions lead to deeper and prolonged negative emotions and emotional dysfunction.
It’s a simple reality: s**t happens. Things go wrong. You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel scared, angry, annoyed, frustrated, sad or anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make you a negative person. It makes you human.
Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating someone in a video game. Starting a small business with friends and struggling to make money makes us happier than buying a new computer.
And the funny thing is that all three of the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant and require setting high expectations and potentially failing to always meet them. Yet, they are some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, yet once we’ve done them we look back and get misty-eyed about them.
It’s these sort of activities which allow us to become our ideal selves. It’s the perpetual pursuit of fulfilling our ideal selves which grant us happiness, regardless of superficial pleasures or pain, regardless of positive or negative emotions. This is why some people are happy in war and others are sad at weddings. It’s why some are excited to work and others hate parties. The traits they’re inhabiting don’t align with their ideal selves.
The end results don’t define our ideal selves. It’s not finishing the marathon that makes us happy, it’s achieving a difficult long-term goal that does. It’s not having an awesome kid to show off that makes us happy, but knowing that you gave yourself up to the growth of another human being that is special. It’s not the prestige and money from the new business that makes you happy, it’s the process of overcoming all odds with people you care about.
And this is the reason that trying to be happy inevitably will make you unhappy. Because to try to be happy implies that you are not already inhabiting your ideal self, you are not aligned with the qualities of who you wish to be. After all, if you were acting out your ideal self, then you wouldn’t feel the need to try to be happy.
Statements about “finding happiness within,” and “knowing that you’re enough.” It’s not that happiness itself is in you, it’s that happiness occurs when you decide to pursue what’s in you.
And with that, with regards to being happy, it seems the best advice is also the simplest, Imagine who you want to be and then step towards it. Dream big and then do something. Anything. The simple act of moving at all will change how you feel about the entire process and serve to inspire you further.
Let go of the imagined result, it’s not necessary. The fantasy and the dream are merely tools to get you off on your feet. It doesn’t matter if they come true or not. Live, just live. Stop trying to be happy and just be.
Kun Fayakun – “be, and it is”