Our lives are inundated with practicality and productivity. We think that if there’s no purpose to something, there’s no point in doing it. In reality the best things in life have no purpose.
We sacrifice our time and our sanity doing what we don’t want to do, so at some future point we will create the freedom to do what we love.
We seek happiness in things. We seek happiness in the acceptance of others, in material possessions, in social status. We even search for happiness in some future-promised afterlife. We sabotage ourselves and our entire lives because we fail to understand a very simple but easily overlooked fact.
The Search for Happiness is the Single Greatest Cause of Misery
You can’t find something that’s already there. Happiness exists now. It’s not something you have to find. That’s like trying to find your breath.
It’s the grasping of the mind that causes unhappiness. If you’re not happy, it’s because your mind doesn’t allow you be happy. And the reason your mind doesn’t let you be happy, is because you’re stuck in the vicious cycle of productivity, judgment and purpose. That’s not to say productivity is bad, or that doing things that have a purpose is wrong. It’s basing the reason for your existence on them that causes so much anguish.
When we place our happiness solely in “getting” something, completing a certain number of tasks on our to-do list, or achieving a goal, we’re fooling ourselves. We’re like a rabbit with a carrot stick attached to our heads. We keep chasing the carrot, but we never get there. We never stop to think that it might be the chasing that’s causing the problem. We’re too distracted trying to find a better way to beat the game. As soon as we reach one level of success, we’re hurrying to upgrade our search and move on to the next level of the chase. We never stop to think that it’s not the failure to win the game that causes our grief, but the game itself.
We neglect to realize that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the problem. Sometimes the best way to to solve a problem is to just stop caring.
- The best way to solve the problem of not having a lot of cool friends is to stop caring about having cool friends.
- The smartest way to be happy with the place you live is to stop caring about living in a two story house with a pool, a fireplace, central air and satellite TV.
- The simplest way to be content with yourself is not to achieve greatness and praise, but to accept yourself fully for who you are now.
- The quickest route to happiness is to stop caring about finding happiness and to start being happiness.
It’s especially difficult when our society tends to place more value on things, than on experiences. We value what we do more than how we feel.
This is completely ridiculous when you think about it. Because the way you feel should be more important than anything else. Isn’t the purpose of everything you do to feel good? Isn’t the purpose of that new car, that promotion, or college degree to give you a feeling of accomplishment? Isn’t that supposed to make you happy?
The problem with this is we’re basing our happiness on temporary things. We’re deriving our joy from an achievement, or an attainment. This isn’t true happiness; it’s an addiction. We get a short burst of endorphins to our bloodstream from our new TV, or new iPod, and then what happens? It disappears. It leaves us feeling empty and we begin looking for our next fix.
Our advertising and consumer culture doesn’t help this much. We are constantly bombarded with messages that we need this, or we need that. Incessantly, we hear: “Buy this and it will solve your problem!” If only we could solve that problem we may finally be happy. Wrong. It’s not the problems that are the problem. I mean, buying a more efficient vacuum or sowing on that button you’ve been meaning to for seven years is great. You may feel a sense of achievement for a few moments or days. But you’re still looking for happiness in a thing.
It’s the same with productivity. If only we could finish all of the things on our to-do list, could we be content. If only we could accomplish all of our goals, could we finally be gratified. This thinking is based on the illusion that you’ll reach a certain point where everything is done. You finally made it! There’s nothing left in your inbox, all your projects are complete and your lifelong goals are achieved! Now you can rest easy.
But this point never seems to come, does it? That’s because there will always be things to do. There will always be challenges, because everything in life is constantly changing. If you reached a point in your life where you had no more problems, no more struggles, no more worries, life would stop. The game would end and there would be no point left in playing.
So… what can we do about this?
We Need to Stop Caring
That doesn’t mean we stop trying to achieve our goals or striving for personal growth. It just means that we no longer base our happiness on fleeting, semi-permanent things.
There are obviously some situations where not caring may have serious negative consequences (paying your rent). Excessive caring, however, is likely to make you miserable.
The reason caring too much can be detrimental to your health, is you’re so focused on the future. Your identity is too attached to outcomes. If something does, or doesn’t go your way, it will likely have an enduring effect on your mood for the rest of the day.
Instead, we should base our happiness on permanent things. Things that don’t change. Desires that don’t shift from moment to moment. We choose to find our happiness in living. In life itself. In fact, we don’t even need to “find” happiness. We can be happiness.
So stop searching. You can’t find something that’s already there.