This post took inspiration on two, substantially different, books: Unwritten, by Jack Delosa; and Buddhism for Busy People by David Michie. Both of which I strongly recommend.
“Happiness is not the point of minimalism, it’s a biproduct. Discontentment comes from chasing happiness. By making the efforts and actions to lead a more meaningful life, I became happier.” Joshua Fields Milburn
“True happiness arises when we are able to change our minds rather than the world around us.” David Michie
“Feelings cannot exist without the thoughts that sustain them.” Jack Delosa
I believe happiness to be a deep sense of fulfilment that is not dependent on circumstances. I believe that the long-lasting, fairy tale happiness everyone craves and pursues, can only be found in each one of us. My happiness is only mine to have and dependant only on my mind, not in any external conditioning.
Unfortunately, when it comes to our wellbeing, most of us tend to overvalue external circumstances and undervalue internal ones. We keep convincing ourselves that our happiness depends on a certain outcome, person or lifestyle.
In our pursuit of happiness, we create our own superstitions by inventing a relation between two things that have no connection, just like black cats and bad luck. “I’ll have more time when I retire”; “I’ll be happy with more money”; “My life will be perfect if I get to be in a relationship with that person”. How does that sound?
For something to be a true cause of something else it must always work, independently of who applies it. If money is a true cause of happiness, then why are the wealthiest the biggest consumers of antidepressants? Why do lottery winners, always claim to come back to the pre-win mindset months, or even weeks, after the thrill of winning has worn out?
We confuse pleasure with happiness. We look for happiness in pleasure. We willingly and blindingly suffer from the I’ll-be-happy-when syndrome. I’ll be happy when I have the car, partner, house, job, holiday of my dreams. All these are desires that once obtained don’t live up to our expectations of them, because pleasure is a fiend requiring ever renewal and upgrade.
The unquestionable fact is that, if my happiness is dependent on something that I do not have, then I can never be happy here and now. And this is the only time I can be happy because this is the only time I do have. Not yesterday, not tomorrow. How can I have time in a place that does not exist?
I have previously written about goals and how ‘being happy’ was one of them, but have now realised that I can’t set it as a goal (Thanks Alex, you called it back then). Happiness is not a goal, nor is it dependant on goals, they are quite separate for once achieved we’re still not happy. Like JFM said, happiness becomes a biproduct of choosing to live more meaningfully. A biproduct of choosing to live in accordance with our values.
Evolutionary biology says that everything necessary to our survival makes us feel good. But in today’s modern world – whilst our basic biology hasn’t changed much from thousands of years ago – our basic survival needs are pretty much addressed from birth. If you’re reading this, you most likely have a roof over your head, food in your belly and a sense of safety in your everyday life.
I believe that we tend to invent survival wants, by competing in the realms of careers, relationships and lifestyles. We work on having the tallest building by flattening the surrounding ones. It doesn’t matter how high we get, there is always someone higher, but still we persist in climbing, even by stepping on our neighbours. This selfish competitiveness takes us on a relentless cycle that leads nowhere but dissatisfaction.
Science has shown that the feeling of happiness is the result of hundreds of neurochemicals produced by our bodies. Amongst them are adrenalin, serotonin, endorphin, oxytocin, dopamine, etc. These can be produced by putting oneself in a dangerous situation, smoking a joint or having an orgasm. Nonetheless, all have temporary effects.
But how can we get to prepare that long-lasting-effect biochemical cocktail? Pharmaceutical companies are eager to answer this question with a pill, but I propose that the answer lies within each one of us and that the path to happiness is paved by gratitude and contribution.
Gratitude is a habit. It requires constant practise to become good at it and part of self. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to discard gratitude and focus on the negative instead. We feel better by complaining about what we do not have (or maybe we’re just looking for sympathy), rather than be grateful for what we do have. Everyone has something to be grateful for.
If I am willing to constantly tackle negative thought patterns with gratitude, then I’ll surely be more thankful for what I have and see more clearly what I can give.
But why is taming my mind so important? Because before the feeling, comes the thought. Because what I think and believe, has a huge influence on what I put out to the world. And positive thoughts will undoubtedly, lead to positive outcomes.
THERE IS an existing relation between contribution and happiness. I read on how contribution is a true cause of happiness. How contributing to someone other than the self, leads to a sense of aliveness, happiness and fulfilment greater than anything one can obtain by other means. My personal experience backs up this cause and effect relation. I’m sure yours too.
In those moments that you focused on what you gave, how did it feel? How did it feel to bring pure delight to another by addressing a true need?
What does it feel better: to get something which you expect to? Or to contribute something to the society/person in need? I have no doubt that contribution stands in a higher position every single time.