Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Everyday we're sold a million different things to make us happy—weight loss plans and body shapers, gold chains and rap albums, university degrees and successful careers, steamy sex lives and perfect lovers, gizmos and gadgets and thingamabobs galore. How many times have you heard someone say they'll be happy when they lose the last 10 pounds, or when they start making real money, or when they finally fall in love? And their happiness hinges on these tangible things that always seem to dangle just out of reach. Those people will always be unhappy. They'll always be chasing one pre-packaged dream or another.
Happiness doesn’t come in a neatly shrink-wrapped package for four easy payments of $14.95 (free shipping and handling). That's not to say you shouldn't be a dream chaser. In fact, I think it's perfectly acceptable to find fulfillment and purpose and satisfaction in hunting down dreams and goals. But not in the dreams the world sells you. You won’t find happiness there.
Happiness, the true kind that fills your heart to overflowing regardless of circumstances, doesn't come from external factors like material things, dollar values, other people or physical appearance. It isn't built on things that expire, die, or become obsolete. That's why when people reach that goal they thought would make them feel happy and complete, they find themselves chasing another five pounds or the latest iPhone upgrade, or mending yet another broken heart. Because the momentary happiness that comes with the things they're chasing is just as fragile as the goals themselves. If the thing your happiness depends on can be undone in a moment, you're setting yourself up for heartbreak and unhappiness more than anything else.
The problem with all the things people typically chase for happiness is that, because they're external, they're all largely outside of our control. A disease can cause you to gain weight, your dream company could close, or your lover could break your heart…and then what? You're unhappy indefinitely?
Your happiness must depend on the one thing you can control - you
. Not your body, because that can be broken, abused or misused. Happiness depends on what's inside the shell. Who you are.
Sounds simple enough, right? And yet so many people are miserable with their lives. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and we were discussing our personal journeys in the pursuit of happiness. She said to me, "It's crazy to think that people choose to not want what's best for themselves... Happiness is a choice." And she's absolutely right. Being happy is a choice you make to be content no matter your circumstances. But I understand why so many people, myself included, aren't truly happy—because happiness is a terrifying choice to make and some people aren’t ready for that. It means looking inside yourself and facing all the personal monsters that are inhibiting your happiness. It means facing all your fears - of failure, inadequacy, death - facing your hurt and anger and resentment and issues of abuse and abandonment. It means facing all the wounds and loose stitches and broken pieces, unearthing all those nasty little thoughts and feelings and memories you pretend to forget.
That is no easy task. I know I've repressed a lot of things and held a lot of grudges. I have a lot of demons, and they're ugly as hell and quite frankly, I'm scared to come face-to-face with those things. But I realize I have to. Happiness is about illuminating the darkness within you, weeding out the less savoury parts of yourself to discover who you really are underneath all the bandaid solutions the world has sold you. What makes you tick? What keeps you going when all the odds are against you? That's where your happiness lies.
It's what Paulo Coehlo calls your "personal legend." (If you’re searching for happiness, I strongly recommend readingThe Alchemist.) That thing that makes you important to the universe, the role you're meant to fill, your undying passion. Chase that. Pursue that. That thing inside of you behind the fears and insecurities is the thing that will keep you going even when you're not in shape, in love or in a new Bugatti. It will allow you to learn from failures and smile despite storms. That’s who you are, and knowing who that is, and what that means is what gives you happiness that doesn’t expire. Just remember, everything that shines ain't always gonna be gold. But you'll be fine. You'll be good. You'll be happy.