What if happiness was utterly, absolutely, unarguably irrelevant?
How can that be? Surely the whole point of life is to find what makes you happy and keep doing it? Isn’t our purpose here on earth to enjoy being here on earth? Otherwise what…? Why…?
I totally bought into this. Clearly the point of life was to be happy. I read hundreds of books and watched thousands of ads that told me so, and told me how to be it. And if I wasn’t happy then obviously I had to change whatever it was that was taking away my God-given right to happiness. Happiness was a fixation, a goal, a birthright, a guiding principle, the emblem of success and a life-well lived. If I couldn’t say ‘Fabulous. Really happy!’ when someone asked me how I was, then something was badly wrong.
And I, believing this, along with everyone else who believes this, was on the highway to hell.
Because happiness is as out of our control as a butterfly landing on our finger. It is nothing but a fleeting feeling caused by a thought. Our thoughts change all of the time, flowing through our mind 24/7. Some of the thoughts we will hang on to, believe and we’ll experience whatever experience goes with that thought and if that is happiness, so be it. If it is not, then so be that as well.
In other words, happiness is random. It is out of our control. It is ever changing. It is unpredictable. It is utterly unrelated to the outside world. It is here one moment, gone the next. It is only our birthright in as much as it is our birthright as a human to experience a myriad of human emotions: sadness, happiness, peace, irritation, frustration, joy, gloom, ecstasy. They are all there for us. All equally out of our control.
And until we see the truth of this, we are stuck believing that:
a) happiness is necessary
b) happiness depends on living the life and having the things that make us happy
When we believe this, and we experience not being happy, we panic. We think we have to fix it. We scrutinise our job, relationship, house, friends, family, car, income. Which is the culprit? And because we are looking at the world through the low energy of mind which caused the feeling of unhappiness in the first place then all we see around us are problems to fix. Our job is unfulfilling, our relationship is messed up, our house is too small, our friends are disloyal, our family is demanding, the car is too old, the income is too low.
So we make the changes, we tinker around with all of this, trying to get back our happy. And our happiness will return of course because that is just the natural ebb and flow of the mind. And of course we believe that our changes have created that state.
‘Excellent’ we think. ‘Life is exactly as I want it to be. I have the job, relationship, house, friends, family, car, income of my dreams.’
But then… disaster! The energy of our mind dips and we get low, and again, we’re not happy.
Now we have two options.
We can continue thinking there is something wrong with our life – we change the relatively new spouse for an even newer one for example or move house for the 8th time.
Or we look around and think, ‘This is my dream life. And I’m still not happy. Therefore there must be something wrong with me. Maybe it is my brain chemistry or my diet or my child-hood or my personality.’ And we embark on either the fixing of ourselves or we try and blank out the unhappiness through drink, drugs, sex, pills, shopping, food, work or whatever.
It is a highway to hell. It is the surest way to ruin our life. Because the entire thing, the entire search for happiness, the looking for it in possessions or relationships or the blaming of self when it proves elusive is based on a myth. It is based on the most powerful myth to have infiltrated society since sailors used multiple anchors to stop their ships sailing off the edge of the flat earth. (Thank you to Michael Neill for that awesome anecdote!)
Was it cooked up by a combination of the self help industry and pharmaceutical industries to make billions. Or are they just as much the victim of this misunderstanding as we are. Who knows?
All we need to know is that nothing we can do can make us happy. Nothing will put a permanent smile on our face. There will be moments of happiness and moments of sadness, moments of fear and moments of calm, moments of gasping insecurity and moments of peace – whatever we own, wherever we live, whoever we are married to, whether we have 10 children or none…
We can write out our wildest dreams on paper and go all out to achieve them until we are all literally there – doing yoga in the Bahamas with Amy Schumer and our own personal sushi chef (actually that might just be me) – and there will still be moments when we are unhappy.
Happiness comes and goes. Our mind ebbs and flows. We experience different feelings. This is perfect. This is how we are designed. Not feeling happy from time to time is as natural and inevitable as feeling hungry or tired. Hungry means consider eating something. Tired means consider resting. Sadness means consider taking our thinking less seriously. That’s all. Nothing to fix or change. Ever.
When we see this, then oh my god our life opens up. It is not just that the search for happiness is no longer taking up our time and energy, it is that in seeing its total irrelevance we literally throw open the double doors of life.
When happiness is no longer a goal or a requirement we are free to:
explore and experience
We were so vulnerable before. We had to have a guarantee that this country or this job or this relationship would make us happy before we could risk ourselves or the five remaining days of our holiday allowance.
Now that we see nothing can guarantee happiness and also who cares then we are free to explore the world. We can hang out with the people who looked scary or annoying before. We can go to places where the weather is wholly unpredictable. We can take the job that we are absolutely unsuited for just for the hell of it. We can read the books and watch the programmes with which we disagree.
We can put ourselves in places and feel lonely. We can put ourselves out in the world and be rejected. We can say what we think and be labelled stupid. We can tell someone we love them and they can say nothing back.
None of it matters because our goal is not to be happy (or accepted, confident, affirmed or secure for that matter). We are simply here to explore and experience the whole damn show.
listen and create
This transformed relationship with the outside world creates space for a transformed relationship with our inner world. We know that the outside world cannot guide our decisions so we look inwards. We listen to what makes sense for us.
And this ‘what makes sense’ is so much more stable, secure, honest, loving and insightful than our previous life of chasing disappearing butterflies through a meadow.
From this place, we watch the energy of our mind ebb and flow, we see the thoughts that come from this place and the feelings they create. We see how our reality changes each moment and we realise that we are the creative force of the universe. We can do anything, create anything whether it is a simple phone call or a global empire.
And the beauty is.. indeed the freedom is.. indeed the miracle is that none of it, none of it, needs to make us happy.