Living With Less Fear and More Happiness
Genuine happiness is a state that is always present in the here and now.
Posted Oct 03, 2016
Imagine you’re having a conversation with your friend and she tells you, “I can’t wait to buy a convertible.”
She dreams of summer days driving with the top down feeling warm breezes all around her. Once she finally receives the keys from the dealer, she’s convinced that happiness will ensue. She buys the car, and as she predicted, it does bring about bliss…for a while. After a few weeks, the initial excitement fades, and life goes back to its ho-hum pre-convertible state.
Perhaps this automotive example describes you. Or maybe you think, “That’s silly, I’d never get excited about a car.” But if it's not a convertible, I’m sure you can think of another tangible or intangible focus of your desire.
Intangible examples include being liked by others, developing a particular skill you’re certain will make you happy, or even being considered a guru with a large following.
The pitfall of striving for tangibles or intangibles is the happiness they bring about is temporary. You may feel an initial surge of satisfaction. But it will be soon be replaced by another desire. And the cycle will continue as it has ever since you can probably remember.
Craving creates a variation on the following:
"If only I could have (fill in the blank)."
This sentence is problematic because it prompts you to focus on what you don't have in the present. By being consumed by your desires, you’re expressing displeasure in the life you’re leading right now. Rather than finding happiness in what is, you’re expressing dissatisfaction and a craving for what is not.
Craving creates suffering because once we obtain what we desire, we either want more of it, or we’re afraid of losing it.
Take academic degrees, for example. You may earn your undergraduate degree after years of worrying that you’ll never finish. Once you do finally graduate, you may wish you went to a more prestigious school. Or now that you have your diploma, you set your eyes on a master’s degree. Once the master’s degree is behind you, you think you’ll be even more fulfilled with a Ph.D. But the Ph.D. isn’t enough, so you apply for a post doctorate…the craving has no end.
In the case of fears of losing what you have, you may live in a fabulous new house. But at any moment, your dream home can be destroyed by a natural disaster, or your unemployment can result in you losing it. Or you may have raised wonderful children. But they may move away or die before you do.
Nothing is wrong with earning academic degrees, working toward buying a home, and raising a wonderful family. In fact, reaching goals can add to your quality of life and help others.
The problem is when you make happiness contingent on a particular circumstance. Anytime happiness is based on a condition that must be fulfilled and maintained, you will suffer.
Unless you end the cycle of desire of wanting more of something or a fear losing what we have, you will bounce back and forth between these two extremes indefinitely. It’s a motion-sickness inducing, dizzying state—a boat ride gone wrong.
The good news is, there is a way to jump off the rocky vessel and land on stable ground. Having desires and fears is normal. But instead of linking happiness to wanting more of something or less of something else, the key is to switch from wanting to preferring. By preferring, we tell ourselves, “If I could have (fill in the blank), I’ll be happy. But if it doesn’t work out the way I had planned, I’ll be happy. I’ll work toward fulfilling a desire or allaying a fear, but my happiness won’t be contingent on the outcome.”
Taking this approach shifts happiness from the outside and brings it in. Rather than relying on happiness to be rooted in external forces, you tap into internal happiness.
In the end, true happiness comes from within. Any other form of happiness is a temporary state that will come and go—the latest and greatest convertible will only be replaced by another one next year.
No matter what life gives or takes away from you, genuine happiness is a state that is always present in the here and now.