For a good portion of my adult life, I was in constant search for happiness. At some point in my life, one or more of these thoughts have crossed my mind:
- I will be happy once I land a great job
- Life will be so good when I marry my ideal partner
- I will feel better once I can fit into my old jeans again
- I can relax once I’m on vacation
- I will be in such a better place once I have more money
- I will celebrate once I reach all my goals
- I like you…only if you like me back
- I will be fulfilled once I find my life purpose
I refer to it as If This Then Happiness (ITTH), where a condition needs to be met in order for happiness to be achieved.
This is fairly common in western society where so much emphasis is placed on the attainment of material things, power and status.
We work tirelessly and expose ourselves to severe stress at work in order to move up the corporate ladder and make more money to buy the stuff to make us feel good.
We believe that once we accumulate these things, our lives will be enhanced.
But from experience, the finish line to happiness keeps getting pushed back, as if I’m running a marathon that never ends.
As humans, we are never satisfied. We are forever chasing the next thing that will provide us pleasure. The scientific term for this is hedonic treadmill, where no matter what happens we always return to our happiness set point, or should I say unhappiness set point.
A shiny new car or a stunning black dress makes us giddy initially but eventually the excitement wears off. We become numb to the very effect that gave us pleasure initially because of familiarity.
So how can this be changed?
What is the secret to happiness?
Be Present = Be Happy
I am guilty of being absorbed in my own thoughts.
Being mindful can be a challenge but I know that it’s critical in living a fulfilled life.
When I focus on my present circumstance I don’t get lured into wanting to change it or wanting more even though it may bring me pleasure.
I find that taking things for what they are and never attaching a negative, a positive or even a neutral emotion or story to an experience can seize the mind from generating uncontrollable thoughts often leading to chasing something that either will give me happiness or alleviate pain.
Late last year, I was diagnosed with a serious illness.
Upon learning of the news, I was overcome with fear and all sorts of other emotions. Then my mind went into a frenzy – it was reeling back to the past then careening into the future, and back and forth it went. My mind created stories around the illness that brought even more torment.
But as I was walking back to my car from the hospital, I remember looking up and noticing how bright the sun was, and how the trees still had their leaves even though it was officially winter, and I heard the birds making sound yet I didn’t see them.
In a mere instant I was in peace. At that moment I was present.
For a long time I identified with the thoughts in my head. These stories are the interpretation of how I perceived external events. These stories painted a picture of sadness, fear, anger, hatred, jealousy, lack, but also elation, surprise, love, joy and peace.
These stories dictated my happiness.
Shouldn’t happiness and joy be unconditional? Why is my happiness hinged on certain factors that needed to be met (If This Then Happiness)?
Happiness is Unconditional
I can be happy if I stop filtering my experience through the lens of my ego. Joy is here if I stop listening to the stories my ego attaches to the experience.
Here’s an example of a life experience: I’m running late for a meeting. The stories my ego would create are that I will look bad in front of my colleagues and my client, and as a result I won’t get my promotion.
As a consequence, these stories, if I listen and believe them, can generate anxiety and stress within me.
What if instead, I was present to the experience above?
What if I just took the experience for what it is – that I was late for my meeting? In essence, there was no story crafting, or if there were stories, that I’m awake enough to know that these stories aren’t real; they aren’t the truth.
Once I stopped identifying with my ego, I understood the truth. The truth in that who I am is a magnificent being that is pure love and joy.
It is never fleeting. It is never selective. It is constant.
Happiness is not something to seek out there or accomplish. It is within, which is to be.
I have travelled to many places and taken up activities in search for happiness. I thought it was something I needed to attain. After all, if I wasn’t happy within, then it must be without.
What I failed to realize was that I wasn’t going deep enough within myself. The layer of the ego acted as a gate to my authentic self.
When I let go of my ego, I am in a state of joy and peace that is pervading.
It was merely a choice to BE through being present, which I never knew I had.
To be authentic is to be truly and wholly present to whatever experience is laid out in front of me. It is to experience life as it is, without judgement and colour.
To be in the now allows me to break free from my mind’s interminable chatter. In essence, by being present I dis-identify with my thoughts.
No longer am I dependent on the external to make me happy. Instead, I can be a state of being that is infinite and abundant.