Have you ever noticed how many conditions we put on our happiness?
We say we want to be happy, but then there’s traffic on the way to work, a loved one speaks to us in the wrong tone, we get rejected from a job we want. And all of a sudden, we’re not happy. We’re stressed or worried or disheartened. Is that all it takes? Is our happiness that cheap?
Putting so many conditions on our happiness seems unwise, especially when the outside world is outside our control. So, instead of putting conditions on our happiness, why not make happiness a habit?
Even if you adopt just one of the habits below, you’ll become happier. There’s no way you won’t. Plus, what have you got to lose? You thought getting that job would finally make you happy, then you thought that relationship would make you happy, then you thought the money would make you happy, but none of it really worked, did it?
No. So let’s talk about what does work:
1. They watch their thoughts and feelings
The next time you can’t sleep because your mind is driving you crazy and it’s making you feel anxious, ask yourself how you know that. Because, well, how do you know that? The only possible answer is that you’re aware of it. You can hear your thoughts and you can feel your emotions, can’t you? Yes.
What does this mean? It means that you are not your thoughts or your feelings. It means that you are the one who’s aware of them.
How much needless suffering might this save you? Every time you feel stressed, every time anxiety threatens to get the best of you, every time there’s a period of darkness in your life, you don’t have to identify with it. All you have to do, instead, is notice it. Watch it. Experience it. Be grateful for it, if you dare — after all, in a universe that’s mostly empty space, we’re immeasurably lucky we get to experience anything at all.
As Osho says:
“It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.”
2. They don’t cling and they don’t resist
Buddha said that “Life is suffering.” A bit dramatic, right? No. Because when life gives us an experience, we either cling to it or resist it. Not every time, but mostly.
For example, we might’ve just had the best sex of our life. Instead of enjoying and appreciating we had that experience, we try to recreate it. We want that exact experience again because it was just so wonderful.
Another example: we get rejected by a potential partner. Instead of fully experiencing the pain, we resist it. We push it away or push it down because we don’t like how it feels and so we wouldn’t dare let it all the way in.
Whether you cling or resist, you’ve just stored something inside you — something that was transient, by the way. So, now, instead of experiencing the moment in front of you, you’re actually experiencing the stuff you stored inside you over and over again. In other words, you chase the sex and you run from the rejection — instead of simply living your life as it comes.
Is that a recipe for happiness? Well, you’ve tried it. Does it work?
We could just, you know, experience things. We could experience them as this witness, this watcher that Osho mentioned. What would be so wrong with that? If we did that, we wouldn’t cling and we wouldn’t resist; we’d simply get comfortable with having different experiences as opposed to labelling them good or bad. Instead of clinging and resisting, we’d appreciate.
3. They don’t take anything personally
There are two reasons they don’t take anything personally. One of them is explained above. It’s not just you that clings and resists; we all do it. We’re all storing stuff inside us and then we’re all either trying to experience it again or trying to never experience it again.
So, if someone behaves poorly to you, it’s not about you. Something you said might’ve hit their stuff, sure, but it’s their stuff. They interpreted it as some kind of threat, some kind of abandonment, and so they lashed out. You can understand that, can’t you? You don’t have to agree with it or condone it or continue to allow them into your life, but you can have compassion.
The other reason they don’t take anything personally is that they know they weren’t here when the universe first burst into existence.
Do you mind that the Big Bang happened? Probably not. Do you mind that Saturn has rings? I doubt it. Do you mind that the Earth orbits the sun at about 67,000 mph? Probably not. Do you mind that it rains sometimes? I’d love to say that no, you don’t, but that wouldn’t be true. Do you mind that there’s traffic sometimes? Oh yeah, you mind that.
Can you see what’s going on here? The “closer” the moment gets to you, the more you mind — even though a moment being “closer” to you doesn’t make it any more personal than Jupiter having 79 moons. It’s all just a result of the Big Bang that happened 13.8 billion years ago, which created a gigantic mass of plasma, which led to Hydrogen atoms, which led to the nuclear fusion of Hydrogen atoms, which created stars, which created all the other elements, which make up everything we know and everyone we love.
It’s not personal. It can’t be personal.
4. They regularly contemplate death
It’s fascinating how difficult it is to accept that we’re going to die. It’s the one thing in life we’re guaranteed, and yet we find it almost impossible to come to terms with. We shy away from it, we get awkward when someone talks about it, we suppress our feelings of sadness when someone we love dies. Seems irrational.
Intellectually, we know we’ll die. But it’s always way off in the future that we’ll die. It’ll happen later, not now, so we just don’t think about it. And when someone we love dies, we don’t allow ourselves to fully experience their death. We suppress our sadness instead of experiencing it, which might look something like this:
“Wow, I’ve never felt this sad in my entire life. I didn’t even know I could be this sad. It’s so deep and so real. I must’ve really loved this person with all my heart.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Wouldn’t you rather do that than suppressing it all?
Chapter 17 of the New York Times #1 best-selling book, The Untethered Soul, is all about death. I suggest you read it. In the meantime, here’s one of the best parts of it:
“You fear death because you crave life. You fear death because you think there’s something to get that you haven’t experienced yet. Many people feel that death will take something away from them. The wise person realises that death is constantly giving them something. Death is giving meaning to your life. You’re the one who throws your life away; you waste every second of it. You get in your car, drive from here to there, and you don’t see anything. You’re not even there. You’re busy thinking about what you’re going to do next. You’re a month ahead of yourself, or even a year. You’re not living life; you’re living mind. So it is you who throws your life away, not death. Death actually helps you get your life back by making you pay attention to the moment. It makes you say, “My God, I’m going to lose this. I’m going to lose my children. This could be the last time I’ll see them. From now on I’m going to pay more attention to them, and to my spouse, and to all my friends and loved ones. I want to get so much more out of life!””
5. They welcome their “stuff” when it arises
I’ve asked many people over the years if they enjoy being bothered by things, and they say no. I’ve asked them if they’d like to stop being bothered all the time, and they say yes. So, then, why is it so difficult to change?
Well, we’re never taught how to change, for one. I studied self-improvement for years — I read books, attended courses, paid out thousands — but it was only when I began studying mindfulness and spirituality that I was told to welcome my “stuff” when it gets hit and comes to the fore. I thought, That’s weird. But sure, I’ll give it a go. Why not?
Remember habit #1, the one about being this witness, this watcher that Osho spoke of? That’s how you welcome your “stuff” up. You don’t get all involved in it; you just notice it. And then you’re able to welcome it. Hello, old friend!
But why welcome it? It can feel extremely uncomfortable, after all. Well, we welcome it because life is showing us what we need to let go of in order to be happy. That’s something worth welcoming, isn’t it?
Plus, what’s the alternative? Aren’t you tired of this “stuff” bothering you all the time? Surely you want to at least try doing something different?
6. They remain present at all times
Eckhart Tolle says that being present means we can be “free of problems, free of thinking, free of the burden of the personality.” The burden of the personality. That’s relatable, isn’t it? Because, my goodness, our personality isn’t so much fun all the time. We get involved in every thought we have, we always find the time to worry about the future, we take things personally, we suppress our feelings. No wonder we struggle to be happy.
Being present doesn’t allow us to get involved in every thought we have, it doesn’t allow us to worry, it doesn’t allow us to take things personally, it doesn’t allow us to suppress our feelings. Instead, it allows us to witness and watch these thoughts. It allows us to welcome any worries our mind produces. It allows us to not take things personally because — as we’ve discussed — scientifically speaking, they’re not personal. It allows us to experience our feelings rather than suppress them, and so they come and go rather than remaining inside because we stored them there.
Plus, isn’t being present just more fun? Think about the last time you had a great conversation. Were you off in your mind, thinking about what to say next? Or were you just there, bouncing off one another, completely immersed in the experience, enjoying yourself?
The present is accessible at all times. As Michael Jordan once said, “Y’all get in the moment and stay there.”
7. They use their will
Let’s say I offer you the following deal: if you don’t eat for the next 24 hours, I’ll give you £10. Would you take that deal? Probably not. It’s not really worth it.
Now, let’s say that if you don’t eat for the next 24 hours, I’ll give you £100. Would you take that deal? Maybe, depending on who you are. I could understand both taking it and not taking it.
Now, let’s say that if you don’t eat for the next 24 hours, I’ll give you a million pounds. Are you taking that deal? Oh yeah, you’re taking that deal. Would it be hard to not eat for 24 hours? Probably. But a million pounds! It’s worth it. Even if you were desperate to eat, even if you felt like you couldn’t manage another minute without food, you wouldn’t eat; the prize is too great.
What’s going on here then? Well, the incentive is clearly getting better. And the better the incentive, the more you’re willing to use your will.
Okay, so you said that you’d accept the deal of not eating for 24 hours to get a million pounds. It’s too good of a deal to pass up. You wouldn’t be able to resist making that deal.
But let’s say I add something to the deal. I say that, yes, if you don’t eat for 24 hours, I’ll give you a million pounds. But if you don’t eat for 48 hours, I’ll give you 10 billion pounds? 10 billion! Okay, well, now you’ll take that deal, thank you very much.
But hold on: just a moment ago you agreed you wouldn’t be able to resist taking the deal for a million pounds. You agreed you’d have to take that deal. But now, after this new deal has been proposed, you’re willing to resist taking the original deal, the one you were desperate to take?
This shows you have will inside you. This shows you can make choices, even if those choices are extremely uncomfortable. This shows that you can lose weight, commit to meditating, work on your craft every day, learn a new skill, be a better friend, be a better partner, be present more often, be happy.
You can do whatever you want — if you want.
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