(Based on the book ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown)
What is the secret of happiness? How do you know when you feel true happiness? And what does it really mean to be happy? We often ask ourselves these questions at different stages of our lives, and every self-help book claims to have the answer. Moreover, the endless hours of “positive thinking”, constantly setting and striving for goals, and following visualization rituals can actually end up causing more anxiety. In reality, most of those books are born from a place of greed, with the aim of selling more books, getting attendance at webinars, and securing donations.
To sell big, you have to over-promise!
Unfortunately, these books do not arise from an understanding of what would help you. They don’t tell you that it is you who is often responsible, for example for your poor state, illness, condition, career, or suffering. Not the Universe or God. You! Of course, focused energy and visualization are beneficial, but you need to be prepared for when things don’t work out. It might be a success, or it might be a failure. And the Universe doesn’t care either way. That’s the main message: Everywhere you go, there you are. No one else.
Well, there is a book on the market, ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown (not only educative, enjoyable, but also honest), which is about allowing ourselves to live happier lives and accepting ourselves for what we are.
- If there’s a secret to happiness, it isn’t that the universe is a catalog from which we can order a new car or coffee shop.
Okay, I get it, you want a new car/house/shop/jewelry/lover. You have been visualizing it for a year, two, or five. You are waiting for a miracle to happen, even looking for opportunities, but you are still lacking the necessary amount of luck (and/or money). You believe there’s a system: your name is out there, on some special list… You just need to attract the damn thing! Like a placebo patient, you shout ‘hallelujah’ at each small positive sign or piece of evidence that things are going your way, and continue to believe you can control things outside of your control. It’s kind of 50-50 now… In the end, the project may come to nothing, but you are not prepared for nothing, are you? The Law of Attraction should work, they say. You expect the Universe to have your back, and give you something you truly desire.
Let’s see: on one hand, someone got their car, house, or shop, but on the other hand, 55 others didn’t. How so? Well, we have to keep our roots in reality, and this is what it looks like.
Of course, a car might make you happy for a year or five (and it’s a nice goal, no doubt), but it won’t make you happy forever. What might make you happier is understanding that there’s MORE to happiness.
The real secret is to accept the indifference of the universe, and to be as happy as if the coffee shop is NOT going to appear. So, the main message to remember and live by is: “If this doesn’t work out, as it may not, irrespective of my visualization and enthusiasm, there’s MORE in life that can make me happy. I am not getting too attached to this one goal.”
- We are obsessed with goal setting. It has become a way of life for many people, synonymous with achievement and personal progress.
We forget that nothing in life happens independently of other things. Our biggest problem is that we are striving for goals which are too specific or planned out. We invest too much in it and too specifically. This means that we sacrifice other aspects of our lives to reach one destination. And the funny thing is that the pleasure we experience once the goal is achieved is usually short-lived, and we get used to it. As Joseph Campbell wrote: “There’s perhaps nothing worse than reaching the top of the ladder and discovering that you’re on the wrong wall.”
So, what next? Another goal? One goal after the other until you’ll end up broken like Alexander the Great, who wept when he saw that there was nothing more to conquer?
- The success stories are fiction.
The success stories of the rich are misleading because they overstate the notion that the random events of the external world can be interpreted as the drive and will of the strong, dynamic goal-setter. But is this true?
Ta-ta! Again – you do not have the 100% control over your life that you want to believe. You are pushing in one direction, but life is pulling you back in the other. Sound familiar? Irrespective of how much you believe in yourself (despite it being a good thing), the forces of life (or the Universe) will continue to do their own thing. Sorry to tell you, buddy, but those forces operate independently of your wishes.
The jackpot – for one.
Fifty-five others – continue being miserable goal-setters.
We want something. Perhaps we get it, feel good for a while as a result, and then return to whatever default level of happiness or sadness we had before. Nothing really changes. The level of joy is probably set, just like DNA. Everywhere you go, there you are – with your 0.03% (or 99%) set level of happiness. Eventually, regardless of what happens, you find yourself back there again.
- “Go, get what you want” – a mantra of modern living.
William B. Irvine, a philosophy professor at Dallas University, offered the following experiment in his book ‘On Desire’: “Suppose you woke up one morning to discover that you were the last person on earth. Suppose that, despite the absence of other people, the world’s buildings, houses, stores remained as they had been the night before. Cars were where their now-vanished owners had parked them; the electricity still worked. It would be a world like this world, except that everyone but you was gone. You would, of course, be very lonely, but let us ignore the emotional aspects of being the last person, and instead focus on the material aspects. In the situation described, you could satisfy many material desires. You can live in a palace, you could wear expensive clothes, or have a showroom full of expensive cars. You could acquire not just a big diamond ring but the Hope Diamond itself. The interesting question is this: without people around, would you still want these things? Would the material desires you harbored when the world was full of people, still be present in you if other people vanished? Probably not. Without anyone else to impress, why own an expensive car, a palace, fancy clothes, or jewelry?”
Our desires diminish drastically if we don’t need to impress anyone. We are liberated from our desires. It is important to consider how much time and energy we dedicate searching for the approval of our peers. It’s quite eye-opening…
You indeed think it sounds ‘puritanical,’ but the point here is this: the things we desire only fuel further desires and teach us what greed is. The temporary delight when impressing others is a fleeting pleasure and gets us hooked wanting more, but it’s short-lived and ultimately controlled by other people or things. We choose whom to impress based on how impressive they seem to us, and if they fail to be convinced by our attempts, we end up feeling unworthy and anxious. This is neither a healthy nor a happy cycle…
We envy – we desire – we obtain
It pushes us to desire more and more. The wheel turns and the carrot dangles before us. It’s easy to mindlessly follow the carrot and it’s harder to think about what might truly make us happy.
By the way, it is not always a career or possessions/money, even travel can sometimes be such a distraction. So, please, remember: when you travel, you always take yourself with you. As Seneca said: “Sometimes we need a change of soul, not a change of climate.”
I understand, this may all sound dreary – how might we find hope amidst this hopelessness? Hmm… I believe, at the heart of this dilemma, we can find the answer:
- Happiness is a simple thing to which we all are entitled.
- Happiness is already rooted inside of us. For it to be strong and stable, our happiness should not rely on what we happen to have. Instead, it is fundamentally about who we are.
Next post – The Concept of Happiness (tomorrow). Stay tuned!