Happiness is a Matter of the Imagination (Book Snippet 33)
We assume our unhappiness to be rooted in tangible circumstances; whether it is our children fighting, our husband’s silence, our mother’s constant nagging, our boss screaming, or our own psychological or physical imperfections. The more we believe this reality to be the source of our feeling, thinking, and of our actions, the more we are compelled to fix or correct it. We invest endless amounts of energy, time, and money to make it right, to optimize ourselves, fix the people in our life and improve our circumstances, hoping to be rewarded with happiness and peace of mind. We scramble to become smarter, more educated, thinner, prettier, stronger, more devout, calmer, richer, and more successful, try to acquire status, power, and material possessions. Not only do we push ourselves relentlessly, but we also drive our husbands or wives, children, siblings, or co-workers hoping their positive change and subsequent success in life will make us happy.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting any of these things whether they fall in the categories of wealth, beauty, knowledge, health or societal change. Personally, I have a strong pusher in me, a part that drives me to keep up on my reading and attend workshops to deepen my coaching skills in order to serve my clients better, practice Yoga daily and eat well in order to stay healthy and fit, and optimize my self-organization in order to get more done in less time. By and large, I enjoy the results my inner pusher produces. But as much as ‘doing’ and ‘having’ can please me at times, I have no illusion that none of them have the power to unfailingly bring me happiness.
We have been raised by our family, our peer group and, to a large degree by the media (advertising, news, pop-culture, social media), to believe that happiness is a destination that will be reached once we succeeded in creating it (replace it with any essential prerequisite of your choice). We believe that it is impossible for us to be happy if we somehow fail to create it. Worse still, these imaginary ‘conditions of happiness’ have been so deeply ingrained in our subconscious, we are completely unaware of the programming that runs our life. Ursula K. Leguin’s quote could just as well read “Happiness is a Matter of the Imagination”.
In retrospect, some of my clients attest to having been happier while they were still striving for it then after they had succeeded in creating it. At least during the striving phase they had the illusion that all could be well and surely would be well once they had reached their magical destination. Yet, after they succeed in creating at least some of it, they were barely able to enjoy their achievements for long. They now saw themselves confronted with two uncomfortable discoveries: having achieved it had a) not brought the anticipated happiness and/or b) briefly made them feel happier but now they were consumed with the fear of loosing it and struggled to find ways to create more of it — which actually led them to be unhappy and worried most of the time.
We find ourselves forced to somehow secure and preserve our must-have assets: our body, education, abilities, money, success, our handsome partner, our cute and talented children, or successful friends. As long as it is a perceived pre-requisite for happiness, we need to constantly create more of it in order to maintain feeling safe and accomplished. Any sight of our assets disappearing or dwindling (something that predictably happens at least to our physical appearance) causes great anxiety. Many of my clients are, by all traditional standards, very successful people. And many of them have made the disappointing and often painful discovery that happiness remains elusive to them. They cannot achieve, conquer, or preserve happiness and all their professional successes and material possessions have an unpredictable and momentary effect on their contentment at best.
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