A Unified Theory of Happiness

An East meets West approach.

Remain In The "Now" While Pursuing Your Goals

Five ways of aligning your ambitious goals with reality as it happens

There might never have been a greater need for serenity as we have now in the age of tantalizing technology and endless possibility. Everybody has the potential to become “somebody,” whatever this may mean for the individual. So, for better or worse, we try to reach this potential, with organized sports for the kids, self-affirmations for the adults, and energy drinks for us all! It is difficult to live a balanced life unless you stay away from demanding jobs, cities, and basically all ambitious goals. There are no easy answers. How do you tell a runner in the middle of a 100 meter sprint, “Relax. Take a break and smell the roses.” Given the fact that the Zeitgeist has become a poltergeist, it isn’t surprising that Eastern thought and practices gain in popularity. We yearn for peace and the “Power of Now”.*

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What we learn though is frequently confusing. I am amazed how often I have read on enlightened sites that we simply ought to do away with goals and ambitions. Really? Even my good ones? My passion to do good in the world? How about the back-to-school shopping? If I surrender to the pile of laundry, who is going to do it? Does acceptance of bad circumstances send out good vibes throughout the universe that will, in turn, reward me somehow with a good job? The big question is whether the pursuit of goals and present-mindedness can be brought into alignment. Believing that it can, I have devoted an entire chapter on the subject (www.AUnifiedTheoryofHappiness.com).

This is what Mark Twain said,

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

I am convinced that even the Buddha -the most revered role model for present-mindedness- would agree with Twain. When Buddha left the comforts of his privileged life to find a way to end unnecessary suffering, he was driven by this goal. His striving led to insights about our largely unconscious resistance to change and how to break through this resistance. He then spread the wonderful news about our human potential for open-mindedness and flexibility. By no means did he  mean that we ought not to set goals and become moronically dependent on others. What he meant, however, is that when we do set goals, we need not become tangled up in them**. Here are five ways of how to stay clear of entanglements:

1) Ground yourself in reality. Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively about how pursuing attainable, individualized and suitable goals creates flow experiences in our consciousness, making us forget time, ourselves, and even the outcome.*** Be honest with yourself. Are you pursuing a goal because you have the skills for it and a chance to realize it, or are you indulging in fantasy? Eventually fantasy leads to disappointment, a form of anger that robs you of your inner peace and prevents present-mindedness. One way to distinguish fantasy from reality is to:

2) Imagine yourself in detail doing nothing else but pursuing this one goal for a long time, locked up in a room for two years. If you don’t like the process of the pursuit, you will lack the necessary stamina. Lacking energy and becoming “tired of it all” too early is a major obstacle to present-mindedness. Therefore, also:

3) Pick worthy goals, goals that bring out the best of your human potential. If you pick a goal to be on top of the food chain, you will play the old survivor game. You will be busy competing with others as opposed to being your best self. A worthy goal never harms others, but serves humanity in one way or the other, connecting you with the present moment at all times, even when you sweat hard. Of course, don’t overdo the sweat for too long a period, and

4) Take meaningful breaks, which isn’t smoking a cigarette or posting something on Facebook. Meaningful breaks are those during which you pay fierce attention to your present moment. Your mind has to become still and focused, maybe on your breath, on muscles stretching, or on another person. The lasting calming effect of focusing on the energetic flow within and around you is astonishing. Various forms of meditation are great examples of this. But nothing is as important to present-mindedness as to:

5) Remember who you are. Take regular inventory and reconnect with your humanness. You are not your goal even though your goal maybe very important to you. You’re a human whose light permeates the universe, whose existence effects others’ existence at all times. Don’t lose that perspective. Cultivate it within your spiritual practice and within your human connections. Your goal can make you great, but not as great as the all encompassing, creative and mysterious universe to which you already belong. Knowing your place in the universe assures your serenity and your ultimate surrender to its everlasting changes.

*Eckart Tolle (1997). The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.

**You might benefit from reading Chapter 4: Ambition, in www.AUnifiedTheoryofHappiness.com for more depth.

***Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D., is the author of A Unified Theory of Happiness.

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