“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
Whether we realize it or not, every single thing we do is done in the pursuit of happiness. Even altruistic behavior, charity and philanthropy, embody a search for happiness at its core. Some people simply feel happy when they make others feel happy, but personal satisfaction is the fundamental motivation behind the way they act.
If we all want to be happy, and we are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve happiness, why there are so many people struggling with happiness? If you ask others if they are happy, most people will not know how to answer. How can they not know if they are happy?
If you have to think about it, then you aren’t.
If the pursuit of happiness is such a generalized goal, how is that we are so bad at finding it? The reason is because we are looking in all the wrong places.
All Roads Lead to Rome?
What happiness means is very personal. It can mean a myriad of different things to different people, depending their culture, age and lived experiences. But the ways to achieve happiness are independent of what happiness means.
There are many ways to achieve happiness and neither way is better or worse than the others. But some are certainly more efficient than others.
All roads may lead to Rome, but some roads are longer, more dangerous and full of hardships.
In order to know which are the more efficient roads to achieve our destination -happiness- we need to know which aren’t.
The Not-So-Efficient Roads
Ironically, the most counterproductive roads to happiness are the most crowded ones:
To feel grateful is one of the most efficient ways to tap into a positive emotional state and of course is linked directly to a happy life. So anything that we can do to feel grateful is a step in the right direction towards a happy life.
However, reactive gratitude is the kind of gratitude we feel in relation to our material or physical possessions and our immediate circumstances. While in a negative or neutral emotional state, we choose to focus on a given area or aspect of our live with which we are satisfied, usually of physical nature. We tend to focus on things that are easy to recall and easy to quantify, in order to justify the reason why we should feel good.
The thing is, reactive gratitude is temporary and relatively weak. It is a quick fix to a complex problem. It is better than no fix at all, but sooner or later (and usually sooner) our focus will drift to those areas of our life that are not as satisfying as we know they should be, and this time we will need even more focus in order to feel grateful.
We can enjoy this state of gratitude temporarily, but we will remain stuck in our old patterns. Reactive gratitude is fragile because all it takes to knock us out of the state of gratitude is a change in circumstances or a change in our focus. Even getting the mail can kill it.
Living a passionate life is one of the most commonly given advises of the 21st century, and rightly so.
Passion is one of the strongest emotions we can evoke. When we are passionate about something, we feel no hunger, we rarely get tired, we feel that our senses have been enhanced, creativity flows as a river to the sea. This is what people often refers as to be “in the zone”.
Is a dreamlike state, when anything seems possible and there are no limits to what we can do or achieve. A common fantasy for writers and artists, but experienced and wished by everyone regardless of their individual circumstances.
The problem is that we can never have true control over passion. We are at the mercy of the emotion, and we hope that it last as much as it can, like a surfer riding a wave. The difference is that the surfer is aware that the ride will inevitably come to an end.
However, when it comes to passion, we expect that the wave last forever. We hope that someday we will be able to find a wave that we can happily ride until the end of our lives, so we search and we wait for this special wave. We look for it in our jobs, in our relationships, in our hobbies and even in our religions.
We switch careers, we move to new places, we burn bridges and we build new ones. Everything feels great at first, and we are filled with joy for some time; but then the excitement starts to fade away, and we don’t feel as passionate as we used to. When conclude then that this path we have walked must be wrong because if we were living our passion, we should feel excited every morning, every day.
So we jump again with the hope we will finally find it the next time, and when we do, we will call it our true passion.
But we will never find that wave, because it doesn’t exist, and it never will.
We have already discussed how power can be taken as a source of happiness. This, of course, can only be temporary, if we ever even achieve a -brief- moment of happiness.
Just like I said before, there are no “good” or “bad” roads to happiness, but some are way more efficient than others.
To use power and control as a way to achieve happiness might seem like a quick and easy shortcut, but when we take into account that whatever we achieve -if anything- will last less than what took us to get there, this doesn’t feel like such an attractive option anymore.
The most common mistake that people who base their happiness on pride make, is to focus on the physical manifestation of their achievement, instead of focusing on the personal growth that achieving actually provoked.
In other words, some people are proud about their titles, about the amount of money they have in their bank accounts, about the fact that they hold a high-end job or even about having a relationship with a trophy wife/husband. They focus their attention on the physical representation of their achievements and therefore, they will be happy as long as they can maintain such physical circumstances.
The thing is, no matter how many titles we have, sooner or later we will meet someone better prepared than ourselves, no matter how much money we gather, there always be someone wealthier; no matter what our job is, there always will be someone above us, or a better, bigger company, with better results; no matter with whom we are married to, if the relationship is purely based on physical factors, sooner or later the relationship will become nothing more than an empty shell.
To Be Loved
Love is the strongest emotion in the human emotional spectre. When we successfully tap into real love, there’s nothing on the face of earth that can knock us out. No wonder why so many people try to fall in love in order to feel better.
But there’s a big difference between loving and be loved.
Loving, as amazing as it is, it’s also risky, sometimes we get hurt; but to be loved is comfortable, we feel safe and special.
Knowing this, whether consciously or unconsciously, we try to find happiness in love, but when we do this from a place of fear, we settle for being loved and we throw away our chances to love equally.
We look for a person who loves us enough so we can feel better, and we left out of the equation our opportunity to love equally that person. So when we find someone who loves us as we have longed, but we do not love him or her back, we settle as if this was enough.
Of course we feel better being loved than not. But love goes both ways. A relationship where only one person loves and the other is allowing to be loved will inevitably provoke frustration and pain for any or both parties.
I believe that to love and to be loved are natural phases of human experience, but they must coincide. Love is like dancing tango: it requires both dancers equally engaged.
The Roads Less Travelled By
There are other ways to happiness. Sadly, these are not so crowded, but when we walk these roads, we sure feel different:
We have already discussed what proactive gratitude means.
Unlike reactive gratitude, proactive gratitude is not constrained by events or circumstances. When we hold a proactive mindset in relation to gratitude, we are no longer required to focus on the positive spots of our reality for which we are grateful, while trying our best to ignore those areas that have become a source of negative emotion.
The reason for this is simply because proactive gratitude is not defined by focus, but by mindset.
When we hold a proactive mindset, we feel grateful even for the things and events beyond our control, such as life itself, the challenges we have faced, the lessons we have learned, our mistakes and the growth we have experienced as consequence of such mistakes, our consciousness, etc.
By being independent from focus, when we hold a proactive mindset towards gratitude, soon such mindset becomes a part of our identity. We don’t need to make a conscious effort anymore to feel grateful, we are simply grateful permanently. It becomes part of who we are. Our circumstances become irrelevant and our gratitude needs no justification anymore.
Our life’s purpose is the fuel of our existence, the reason why we are here in the first place. Some people believe our life purpose is predefined, even before we are born; and others believe we have the freedom to choose our life’s purpose based on our experiences and particular circumstances.
Whether you believe one thing or the other, this is completely irrelevant. The important thing is to acknowledge the benefits of living a life driven by purpose.
Unfortunately, most people ignore the importance of purpose altogether and end up living life in autopilot. Their choices have little or no importance on a long-term schedule and even when they plan for the long-term, their plans have no meaning in the great scheme of things.
Living life without purpose is like driving through a foreign country without a map. When we realize we are lost, we ask those around us for directions, not knowing they are also driving without a map of their own, or even worse, with a completely wrong one. By the time the travel has come to an end, we regret that we never got to our destination, and in many cases, we never even figured out which was the destination we were supposed to drive to.
Figuring out or deciding our life’s purpose means drawing our map before we depart. This is a very personal and individual task. Nobody else can draw our life’s map for us; otherwise, purpose would be for sale in the stores. Failing to understand this has as consequence that people adopt other’s purposes as their own, not because they have come to a similar understanding (similar maps), but because they have not taken the time to draw a map for their own or believe to be unfit for doing so.
I don’t refer to physical growth, but to the desire to grow and improve us as human beings, to be better individuals every day.
As specie, I believe that our hunger for growth is as natural and predictable as our hunger for food. This probably has an evolutionary reason, but the meaning of growth has changed a great deal over the thousands of years humans have walked the earth.
It has little relevance what we think of as “growth”. The important thing about it is that we all have a conscious or subconscious need for growth, and when this need is obstructed in any way, our emotional state suffers greatly.
We seek growth as soon as we become aware of our consciousness. We feel the desire to explore the world around us from a very early age. As our physical selves grow, we naturally seek to improve our non-physical characteristics. We seek intellectual and social development and emotional mastery. Where and how we decide to grow is secondary, as long as we see ourselves growing steadily.
Even if we conclude that there’s no point in growing, that life is just a conjunction of circumstances between born and death, and that to strive for growth is irrelevant, this is by itself an act of growth. We shape our opinions based on our evolving beliefs, despite the content of such beliefs. Our hunger for growth is not a choice we make, just as our hunger for food cannot be altered by our decision. We starve whether we want it or not, whether we believe we need it or not. Just as gravity pulls us down despite if we acknowledge or deny its existence.
The only difference between a growth-inclined mindset and stagnation-inclined mindset is the speed at which we grow, and the direction our growth might take.
We might find happiness when we are loved, but this is constrained to physical circumstances and it’s usually conditioned. However, when we allow ourselves to love without conditions -unconditional love- we can tap into long-term, stable happiness very quickly.
Unconditional love is free from physical circumstances and need no one else in order to survive. We love because we want to, and as long as we want. This is stronger than any other feeling in the world.
There Is No Rome
When we walk every single one of the roads mentioned above, particularly after walking one or more of the efficient roads, sooner or later we will realize that there is no destination
We will never get to Rome, because there is no Rome.
We will come to the point when we will understand that happiness is found in the road, and not in the destination. We will feel grateful, purposeful, in constant growth and loving unconditionally, and that is what happiness means.
The purpose behind this post is not to describe happiness, such attempt would be as useless as it can be. Happiness cannot be described by words; happiness can only be experienced.
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