Imagine this: You wake up in the morning with your blood singing at the thought of being who you are and doing what you do. As you go through the day you come radiantly alive with a deep sense of purpose. There are many times when you feel like sinking to your knees in involuntary gratitude at the tremendous good fortune that has been bestowed on you. You know that you are doing exactly what you were set on earth to do and each day is joyous beyond measure.
Does this describe your situation?
If it does not, can you clearly see that you are getting closer to it each week, each month, each year?
If your answer is “No”, I humbly suggest that you are wasting your life. And life is far too short to be wasted.
Are you experiencing authentic happiness?
We tend to use the word “happy” cavalierly and it has become debased. We are prone to say that trivial things make us “happy” – our favourite ice-cream or chocolate, a promotion, going on a vacation, getting a day off from work, winning at bridge, your mother-in-law deciding not to drop by after all.
I am not talking about a momentary rush of good feeling that we experience on such occasions. I am talking about a profound sense of well being that is with us all the time. A deep knowledge that our life is on track and cannot deviate. I’m talking about authentic happiness.
This does not mean that we do not face challenges, some of them quite serious. It does mean that even as we do what we must we are still conscious that, fundamentally, we are fine and always will be. We cannot but be so.
So, defined this way, are you authentically happy? If not, why not?
Unsettlement is the norm
I teach a deeply introspective course called Creativity and Personal Mastery at top business schools around the world and programs based on it to executives at well known companies. I have also been a contributing editor for major business magazines and have talked to thousands of persons, including many CEOs, about their inner lives. So I can make the statements I do with some confidence.
The vast majority of persons are not authentically happy. Even those who seem to have it all – great career success, financial prosperity, picture perfect spouse and accomplished children, sterling reputation – are not happy. They are not brimming with joy. Anxiety is a frequent and unwelcome guest in their lives. There is always an undercurrent of stress and it overwhelms them all too often.
Many of the persons – perhaps most of them! – who attend my programs live in a world dominated by a giant to-do list and it fills up relentlessly no matter how many items they scratch out. There is a constant undercurrent of low-level anxiety, of a feeling that there is always too much to do and not enough time to do it.
Does this, perchance describe your situation too? It does not have to! You CAN escape into the realm described earlier and live there much of the time if not always.
What do you have to get to attain authentic happiness?
That is a good question. What do you need to get to be happy? Say, like Aladdin, you were granted three wishes. What would you ask for and would it make you happy? Most persons have a wish list and vast wealth, trophy spouse, good health, close friends, stimulating job, lots of leisure, bright children etc figure in it along with stuff like fame, power and a body like Adonis (or Aphrodite.)
If you have such a list, throw it out. What I have to say may startle you.
There is NOTHING that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy.
I repeat, NOTHING. In fact, happiness is your innate nature. It is hard-wired into your being. It is part of your DNA. It is ALWAYS with you.
And the question that has probably popped up in your mind is,
“If happiness is my innate nature, how come I am not experiencing it? How come I am experiencing ‘My life sucks’?”
And my answer will startle you even more. You do not experience the happiness that is your innate nature because YOU HAVE SPENT YOUR ENTIRE LIFE LEARNING TO BE UNHAPPY.
Alas, ‘tis true, ‘tis all too true!
It is absolutely true that we have spent our entire lives learning to be unhappy. And we have done it unconsciously and unknowingly. The way in which we do this is by accepting that we have to “get” something so we can “do” something so we can “be” something. Thus we feel that we have to get a lot of money so we can travel to exotic places so we can be happy. Or we have to get into a relationship with a beautiful partner so we can have great sex so we can be happy.
These are all modifications of the “if-then” model and this model tells us that “if” this happens, “then” I will be happy. And I have heard thousands of variations if this:
I will be happy if…
I get a high-paying job
I become CEO
I get married to a beautiful and loving spouse
My son gets into Harvard
My husband would show some interest in me and the house
My wife would not start nagging me the instant I turn on the game
I had children
My children would grow up and go to college
My in-laws moved to Australia
I lost twenty pounds
I didn’t have this nagging headache all the time
I got ten million dollars
…and more and more and more.
Look at all the people around you and in your life. The only way in which you are different is the particular “if” you are craving. Look backwards at your own life. You may have changed physically but the principal difference between you now and what you were ten years ago is the particular items that appear in your “if-then” list.
This is really important, so don’t rush on.
Think of your life as it is right now, as you would describe it in your journal or to a close friend. It is an excellent idea to actually write it down and read it after a few days. You will notice that – explicitly or implicitly – you have a wish list in the document. “If” only this would happen, you will be happy. Or happier.
Think of the person you were ten years ago and what life was like then. Visualize it as clearly as you can. You had a wish list back in those days as well. Chances are good that many of the items in that long-ago list are now a regular part of your life. In programs I conduct, on average, about 80% of the participants acknowledge that they have received many of the items that they wanted a decade earlier. Despite this, their sense of well-being has not increased.
Quite a few are shocked to realize this. They wonder why.
The model itself is flawed
What we don’t realize is that the “if” I get this, “then” I will be happy model is fundamentally flawed. The model itself is fallacious. But, instead of recognizing this, we simply change the items we load on the “if” side of the equation.
I met a start-up entrepreneur who dreamed of cracking a million dollars in annual revenue. Five years later he was convinced that $100 million is the mark that separates the men from the boys and something magical would happen when he crossed that line. He is now chasing $1 billion and not far from it.
Don’t laugh. Variations of this are all around you and especially in your own life. Teenagers are ecstatic at the thought of getting their own set of wheels and a beat-up, 15 year old Dodge Dart is welcome. Two decades later it takes a new Lexus to get that same feeling and this one does not last either. What’s next? A Ferrari? Or a Ferrari AND a Rolls Royce? That won’t do it either. Nor will a hundred foot yacht or your own island off the coast of Greece.
Remember what I pointed out earlier. There is NOTHING that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy. The really pernicious effect of the “If…then” model is that it is supremely effective in preventing us from experiencing the happiness that is an inextricable part of us. The more we believe in that model and try to manipulate it to become happy, the more happiness eludes us.
That is how we learn to be unhappy and most of us never catch on that this is what we are unconsciously doing.
You have experienced freedom!
Have you ever come across a scene of such spectacular beauty that it took you outside of yourself into a place of profound serenity? A place of peace and healing calm?
Perhaps a brilliant rainbow after a sharp shower? Perhaps a snow-capped peak thrusting out of wispy clouds? Perhaps the rolling ocean with big waves crashing in a hypnotic metronome against pink, sandstone cliffs? Perhaps a jagged lightning flash in the midst of a storm of awesome, majestic power? Perhaps the aurora twisting in the sky changing colour and shape continuously in a never-ending dance?
You can recall such an occasion. Virtually everyone can. Have you ever wondered why you experienced what you did? It was not the place or the scene. The travel industry grows rich off persons who return to places of magical moments hoping to recapture them.
No! What happened was this: Somehow, inexplicably, at that instant, you accepted the world exactly as it was and you were OK with it. You did not think. “That is a great rainbow but it’s off to one side. If I could move it two hundred yards to the right it would be more symmetric and ever so much better.” Or, “That’s a beautiful valley but the tree in the foreground has too many crooked branches. If I had a chainsaw and twenty minutes I could make it more impressive.”
Such thoughts never crossed your mind! The off centre rainbow was perfect in its skewed position. The crooked branches of the tree had their own charm and were, likewise, perfect in their gnarled presence.
When you accepted the scene exactly as it was, when you did not crave for it to be something else or different in some way, your habitual ‘wanting’ self dropped away.
And, instantly, the happiness that is your inherent nature surfaced and you experienced its fullness. You did not have to do anything. It rose of its own accord and you felt it. And you know you felt it because you still remember this after all the years that have passed.
Your life is perfect!
Your life right now, with all of the trials and tribulations that you face, with all of the problems that weigh you down and cause you sleepless nights, is perfect. It is every bit as perfect as the scene you can recollect. And the only reason you do not experience that same well-being is that you do not accept this. You are busy rejecting one or more aspects of your life and striving with might and main to change it using the “if…then” model. And that model itself is flawed.
No wonder you don’t experience the joy, the sheer happiness that is your essential nature!
Does this mean that you stop striving? That you don’t try to achieve goals? That you don’t try with might and main to improve your lot or build your business or accomplish great things?
Of course not! You do all those things and with every fibre of your being. But you do it from the knowledge that whether or not you succeed has no iota of bearing on your essential wellbeing. If my entrepreneur friend achieves a billion dollars in sales, Great, Life is wonderful. If he does not, Great, Life is still wonderful.
The moment you sever that link in the “If…then” statement, the model drops dead. If it happens, fine. If it does not, still fine. And you discover that life is a blast and every day is full of wondrous surprises and all of life is a joyous journey of discovery.
And here is something strange, a wondrous paradox that many have discovered. When you drop your insistence that something happen in exactly the way you want it to, the chances of your getting what you desire increase greatly
A learnable skill
Is it possible sever the link in the “if…then” model? To accept life exactly as it presents itself even while striving to achieve a vision? To live a life of great joy and fulfilment where each day brings many moments of radiant aliveness?
Absolutely it is. It is a skill. No different from learning to ride a bicycle.
If this article struck a chord in you, please do leave a comment and ask a question. If others chime in and ask the same question or a variation of it, I will answer it directly.