I have often debated with others what the key to happiness is and what it really takes to be happy. I believe that debate on what true happiness really is has been the center of debate for scholars and some of the greatest minds that have come forth over the centuries. Whether psychologists or business leaders, politicians or parents. The question of what really makes you happy has always lingered around.
Now before I continue dispensing my thoughts on happiness, let me ask you this – what do you really need to make you happy?
I’m serious, stop reading for a second, close your eyes and take a moment to really envision what makes you happy? Do you think being famous is the answer? Having an endless pot of gold so as to never have to worry about being able to pay the bills again? Maybe its some form of religion? Maybe it’s your looks and longing for the days when you were younger?
You see, I personally do not believe that any of those, in human terms, make you happy. The problem we have today is that our culture has conditioned us to become people of wants and needs. In other words, we are taught to make ourselves believe that once we get something, we will be happy. That to me is such a huge problem.
As a society we are teaching our kids and deeply rooting in them with this thinking of “get what you want, then you’ll be happy.” Be honest, you have the same thinking, no?
Look, I’ve been there as well. We all want that one thing. We believe that if we buy that new car, or get a new mobile, or travel to some far away place for a week’s worth of vacation is what will make you happy. However, I am sure that deep down inside each one of us knows that the “stuff” we want is not what makes us happy. It excites us and satisfies our cravings or “wants and needs” for a period of time. Yes, you may be “happy” that you recently purchased your new car, but three years down the road, do you really look at it with the same fulfilling excitement you had when you first sat in and drove off the dealers parking lot? It no longer fulfills you the same way and you probably wish you had the next model. Do you get my drift?
Let me explain why I believe that’s wrong and what you should really focus on to be happy. I’m not saying that I’m smarter then philosophers debating the issue for years, but having watched my kids over the past year I really am convinced that the answer is so simple. Authentic, continuous and everlasting happiness is really easily reachable. The problem we as a society have is that despite us knowing the answer, we still seek happiness elsewhere because it fills the void quicker for that one specific moment.
The types of happiness
We disillusion ourselves into thinking that we can “receive happiness” and I can break that down into three packaged forms.
First off we have the “I want everything” type of happiness. It’s this societal notion that we can get whatever we want, achieving whatever we want and we believe that will make us happy. We think that if we won the lottery and became millionaires that all of life’s problems would go away and ultimately money would make us happy. I personally know some wealthy people by societies standard and have had the opportunity to have intensive discussions with them about happiness – great people, however, the message that comes across is often along very similar lines – having whatever you want whenever you want will give you pleasure, but it definitely does not fulfill you and make you happy. Yes, you’re able to enjoy the nice, fun things in life but fancy gadgets and expensive cars is often a means to fill the real void of happiness. It just makes life, and ultimately paying the bills easier, that’s about it.
Don’t get me wrong here. Reaching for the stars and doing what you want to do is not wrong. Being rich, wealthy and/or famous is nothing bad. I have the utmost respect for people who work their asses off wanting to achieve a higher standard of living, and even more so for those that give back to the community. I love saying: “Hustle so you no longer have to struggle then you keep hustling so you can help others who are still struggling.”
See, the question it really boils down to for you here – is achieving wealth the ultimate form of real happiness. I believe it will not make you happy in the long run, it will only perhaps make life “easier.” As Puffy, Mase and Notorious B.I.G. said – Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.
Secondly, we have short term happiness in the form of performance achievement. You know the type that comes with achieving something, like finishing a triathlon or getting a promotion at work. I explicitly remember my third marathon when I was roughly 16. I had not trained and 2 weeks ahead of the race, I signed up. My mom signed my under 18 forms with a warning knowing that I had accomplished it before. However, this time I was nowhere near ready. Still, my stubborn head said let’s do it. That was probably one of the most gruesome races I have had. My knees were falling apart by the time I reached kilometer 30. I couldn’t go anymore, but there was no way I was giving up. I walked, I crawled (literally), all the way through the finish line. Yes, I was exhausted but after 4hrs and 45min of pain and suffering, I was happy. Nothing in the world could take that happiness away. Performance happiness is that moment of exhilaration of reaching a personal goal. No doubt, this form of happiness is powerful. For that specific moment you can be proud and it can be meaningful, however, it’s short-lived. Two weeks down the road, looking back at my marathon run it was just “another moment” in life. Great, what next?
Do you catch what I’m getting to? Once you reach that peak, you need to come down again. Look at some of the greatest companies in history. Many of them reached their pinnacle only to start dispersing and losing momentum. The reason is that such an enormous amount of energy can never be sustained in the long run. It just won’t keep you happy.
Lastly, I find that there are people who try to convince themselves of being happy through significantly dropping their expectations of life. They truly believe that by lowering expectations, they just may not be as disappointed in themselves or life, hence they must be living a meaningful and happy life? Take a look at your job. In 2008 we saw one of the worst financial epidemics in history. Someone that lowers expectations, is someone who had a job during that time and still works the same job today. There is nothing wrong if you feel great in your job for years on end, however that doesn’t mean your happy. Perhaps during this period, you feared to lose your job. Be honest with yourself. What emotions were you going through? If you look at your job today, then in comparison to a decade ago things seem much brighter, logically meaning that you must be happier now then you were then because you no longer fear to lose your job? The thing with this form of happiness is that it too is only immediate. It too is only ephemeral.
By now you must be thinking, what a douche. He thinks he has got it all figured out. Well, I kind of do. As arrogant as that may sound, but the answer to uninterrupted happiness is really straight forward and simple. Want to know what it is? If you’ve read this far then you must be like – spill it already!
Well, the answer is progress. Progress is equivalent to happiness.
Don’t believe me? It really is that straight forward. If you are not growing you are dying and ebbing away. I have really come to notice this principle through my kids. If you have kids think about this. If you don’t, ask someone who does.
When I look at our kids, you can tell that despite them being children (under 3), having their moments, crying, brotherly roughness and what not, they are still continuously happy. We can walk into a toy store, they’ll ask what everything is and what it does or if they may look at it. But they don’t go about screaming or yelling that they want something. What I have come to notice in them is that their source of happiness is the moments of growth. Those moments in which their eyes light up because they learned something new, like putting on their own clothes or going to the toilet. You can really tell that specific gleam in their face. Progress in learning is happiness. And kids will definitely teach you that. Unfortunately, we condition ourselves to seek happiness elsewhere, through the points I mentioned above, even though we know what long term happiness equals.
You persistently need to be moving forward in life. That is valid for all levels and areas – personally, emotionally, spiritually and professionally. If you can achieve constant forward movement in all those areas simultaneously and give back, then you will be happy. It’s like being on endorphins, non-stop.
If you don’t believe me, then just think of the opposite of progress. It too is simple. It’s when we stagnate. When you begin stagnating you begin becoming unhappy consistently. Personal example. My wife and I have had tremendous growth over the past years. Everything seemed like your typical picture book story. Our careers flourished, despite perhaps not being in “the” job, our family kept growing, we kept learning new things, certifications, travels, mediation and what not. In 2018 we were in a position to quit our jobs to focus on family. This continued over the years progress is what made/makes us happy. Albeit having done a lot in 2018, we now feel that on a professional level its time to move forward again. We don’t want our happiness to be fleeting and hence need to make bigger strides again. Make sense?
To simplify for your life, I’m sure you have heard of the saying that goes along the lines of, “whatever you want to achieve in life starts with the first step.” It really is true, but what it comes down to is for you not to focus on money, not to focus on the goal, not to focus on lowering your standards, but to focus on tackling the journey. Taking that first step and getting started. Moving towards your goal is the progress that will make you happy in the long run, not the moment of satisfaction of achieving it.
So whatever the journey is that you want to walk towards, start. I can only encourage you to take the first step and condition your mind to enjoy the journey. Whether you want to lose weight, start a new business or make a relationship right. Keep moving forward.
The easiest way is to start by examining your habits and rituals. Start there, move forward and I guarantee that the true happiness you seek is what you will find. The pure triumph of life.