The Only Two Ways to Live a Happy Life
How can you even tell whether or not you’re happy?
How do you know what mixture of the following makes up your definition of happiness:
- Cultural influence
- Material wealth
I could go on.
Happiness is an oft-debated subject, but there are only two ways to truly be happy in life.
Let’s go through both options.
The Never-Ending Path to Happiness
“One of the great insights of psychoanalysis is that you never really want an object, you only want the wanting, which means the solution is to set your sights on an impossible ideal and work hard to reach it. You won’t. That’s not just okay, that’s the point. “ — The Last Psychiatrist
Success doesn’t make you happy. It really doesn’t. The person you become in pursuit of success makes you happy. Happy isn’t even the most accurate word — something, like fulfilled, fits better.
I’ve said this often. I’ve given up happiness as a goal altogether. I like being useful. I enjoy playing the game of life and seeing how many points I can rack up for the fun of it. For me, happiness comes as a byproduct of doing the work. I “want the wanting.”
If you find yourself mentally leaning this way, too, you’re never going to be happy being idle. Even if you haven’t started that project or strived for that big goal yet, you probably feel anxious about your inaction — really anxious.
You’re simultaneously extremely ambitious and lazy. The cure? Find something you have the potential to be great at and fixate on it. And keep striving forever. Before I found writing, I’d failed at everything I tried. But once I found my thing, I realized it was something I could work on forever.
There are many ‘things’ for you to find. You don’t need one magic life purpose. You have more than one talent. But unless you find one that resonates with you and begin to work on it, you’ll stay stuck. And stuck is not a good place for the ambitious.
The Never-Moving Path to Happiness
“A man asked Gautama Buddha, ‘I want happiness.’ Buddha said, ‘First remove I, that’s Ego, then remove want, that’s Desire. See now you are left with only Happiness.’
As I said in the first section, success doesn’t make you happy. In fact, it can make you miserable. This is why famous and wealthy people kill themselves — they get literally everything they want and they’re still not happy.
Anytime you reach a new milestone in your life, you quickly get used to it and you just want more. You can’t fill the void in your life with accomplishments and materials.
In truth, you shouldn’t need anything to be happy whatsoever. You should be entirely grateful for what you have and focus solely on the present moment because that’s all there is.
The problem with focusing on the future and mortgaging the present is the fact that the future never pays off the way you think it would. It never cures you like you think it would. This is why many people who get rich and famous, who don’t kill themselves, end up finding spiritual growth and moving in the direction of Eastern Philosophy.
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer” — Jim Carey
You’re quick to forget how amazing your life is just because you’re alive. Hell, look at the current times. How many simple pleasures did we all take for granted before the pandemic hit? Who knew such basic freedoms were so valuable until we lost them?
The objectively best option is to just be content. But alas, we’re human beings with desires. We’re driven by biological needs. We’re influenced by culture. This makes spiritual growth a process just as arduous as constant striving for success.
So what is the answer?
Just Don’t Do This
“People are strange: They are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice.” — Charles Bukowski
Funny enough, I focus on the route of constant striving because it actually seems easier than achieving zen enlightenment. Paradoxically the process of attempting to remove your ego through mindfulness is quite goal-oriented.
We always seem to have a trap to fall into, don’t we?
Either you’re too attached to possessions, keep up with the Joneses. Or you become minimalist, attached to not having attachments.
I’ll get to the solution to the problem in a second, but first, avoid making this huge mistake. Avoid doing what most people do.
What do most people do?
They don’t constantly strive for success nor do they focus on true gratitude and contentment. Instead, they rationalize their lack of success as contentment. They get all the downside and none of the upside.
No true accomplishments rooted in their true talents means no real meaning. And deep down they’re envious of successful people and this causes them to never be truly content.
Yes, there are a handful of people who live modest lives and are not just okay with it, but happy and at peace with it. They’re the exception, not the rule. Hint — if you’re one of these people, you don’t leave comments on blog posts announcing that you’re one of these people.
This life in limbo manifests itself into the outrage we see in society. That energy derived from a lack of purpose in life has to go somewhere and people put it into the worst things — politics, mindless entertainment, substance abuse, and a myriad of other non-productive or spiritual uses of time.
I know exactly what this position feels like. You’re in a constant loop of anxiety. Your life is monotonous. You want to do something about it. Then you try to do something about it. You feel that tiny little jolt of motivation or glimpse of hope. It fades. You feel bad about yourself because you can’t motivate yourself. You can’t take care of the person you’re in charge of taking care of. This eats at you. You bury it. Back to the monotony.
Most people go through this cycle their entire life and then they die.
What to do about it?
The Paradoxical Answer
“Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself, or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” — Viktor Frankl
Focus on doing both throughout your lifetime — strive for greatness and be grateful for what you have.
Life is a paradox and there’s no correct answer.
The best answer I can give? Become a student of life for your whole life knowing you’ll never get the perfect answer.
Do anything but live in limbo.
I prefer the process of getting what you want first and then becoming deeply meditative about life later. Why? Because until you reach a certain level of success yourself, you’re always going to wonder what it’s like and you’re always going to feel a hint of envy for those who pull it off.
Also, getting what you want doesn’t solve your problems, but it can often solve your logistical problems. You can focus on your spiritual growth more when you’re not in survival mode living paycheck to paycheck.
Go ahead and try to achieve success from a petty place, get it, realize it isn’t what you thought it was, grow more spiritual, and then get right back to striving. I wrote for free, for years, to build up an audience to become successful and make a living writing. I accomplished it. And now I find myself still loving to write for the sake of it.
When you go through the whole cycle, you’ll realize that you can strive for a better life without the same level of ego and need for validation as you did the first go around. Also, you can meet some of your needs and be grateful for it, push for more resources, but not get attached to them.
Still, you have to start, right? You have to get out of that loop. How? Focusing on your strengths is a great start. Next, understand that no self-improvement teacher can force you to do anything. Only you can fill the gap between thought and action. Last, use your death as a lens to view your life and use your mortality to motivate you. Try that process and see how it works.
Why? So you get to go on your journey.
Not your boss’s journey. Not society’s journey. Definitely not the journey I want for you. Yours.
Start the paradoxical path, my friend.
Ayodeji is the Author of Real-Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement. Grab your free checklist here — The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Your Natural Talents and Strengths.
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