Updated: Sep 1, 2019
One of the most striking things I realized while writing this post is that you would think these five reasons would be the base of our education. Something our parents and schools would teach as the number one priority. In fact, they are not… and why is that? First of all, most schools, universities and curricula are not designed to teach happiness but rather a set of skills that will allow an income, a position, a role in society. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that UNLESS you do not first teach the foundations of happiness and what could block you from being happy in the here and now. I talked, in a post a few months ago, about the journey of Siddhartha Gautama (who later became a Buddha) from total unhappiness (despite extreme wealth, power, a big family and friends around him) to discovering the truth about what makes us unhappy.
I do not want to reiterate those universal truths here but take a different look at happiness since I have been hearing from more and more friends, colleagues and readers about how unhappy they are in their life, their jobs, their homes.
So here are the five common ways happiness is blocked—many of which I personally lived with for so long, believing they were the path to Happiness as I was wrongly taught by my school teachers or society at large.
1. The glorification of BUSY-ness
We live in a society that believes that being BUSY is good—and even healthy. I'm not even just talking about work, but being busy: from social activity, to sports, to work, to TV, to reading, etc etc etc. In fact, even when we decide we should take time for Yoga or meditation we ADD it to our schedule, making the schedule even more packed.
But isn’t it a fear of not being busy, of having a time with “nothing” to do that we are running away from? Did you know that in Buddhism Busy-ness is called Laziness? And why is that? Because by being busy we do not take the time to be with ourselves and are on autopilot.
“Life emerges out of the silence of our inner being. The life that we have in our mind, the life that is a reflection of our planning, the life that has been constructed out of bits and pieces in our environment—external conditioning, things we have observed in other people, things that influential people have told us—is actually not who we are. That pre-planned life is rigid. It’s artificial. It’s unresponsive. It doesn’t reflect the life that we were born to live.” - Dr Reggie Ray
You can read a great article here about that.
2. Working too hard
What is life if we don’t work hard and achieve a career? Well, you might be surprised that the number ONE answer dying people give when asked what their regrets are is, “I wish I had not worked so hard." Why is that? It’s because we are misguided as working, producing machines, and we feel our worth is only in delivering the produce of our work. Work is not bad at all and, in fact, if it is aligned with your true life purpose it can be a source of bliss and happiness. But this is only if is balanced with all the other elements of life. If you sacrifice your health, your relationship, your family or your friends, there is a chance that working hard is not going to make you happy. The other element is that 99% of the time, people who work really hard never had/took the time to really reflect on their life purpose and their true calling before starting a career. So yes they are “successful” by the metrics of money/career, but they often feel empty, lost, anxious and unhappy.
“Asking why you are doing something serves as a check and always moves your focus back to the big picture. Asking why helps you find out if your actions have come unglued from your goals. In theory, you could do this as often as every day, reviewing your to-do list to make sure it ties to your bigger goals. In my perfect fantasy world, I check my actions against my goals every day. In real life, once a week or once every other week is more realistic.” ― Stever Robins
3. You live an expected life and not YOUR life
This is another element that is often intertwined with the two issues above. We are taught at a very young age, by our parents, our school teachers, TV, newspaper and society that happiness is a certain life: to study in a big university, get a job at a big/known company, climb the corporate ladder, make lot of money, own a house, a few cars, probably a second home and go on holidays a few times a year in sunny places. Well guess what? When you ask executives or employees if they are happy in their job, most of them (above 75% in the US) answer they are not, despite having followed “the path." I have been there myself and there is not a week where a close friend or a “friend of a friend” contacts me to discuss a career or life change with that exact same path. In fact none of them, not even myself, ever took the time to really reflect on what is MY LIFE and not the one expected by my parents, my family, my friends or the society at large. Well if you don’t take the time to know where you want to go, it’s easy to understand why you would get lost in transit.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." - Steve Jobs
And this is probably one of the most powerful speech about this...
4. You are afraid of TRULY looking inside
It’s a little bit like if you were to go to the beach one day. You would have many options for activities, from tanning on the beach (the safest, easiest option), to swimming, sailing, snorkeling or scuba-diving in the deep ocean (which would require time, training and managing your fears). As we take the time to reflect on our life, career and choices, most of us just do “sun bathing”. Some take more time and might do some swimming, or even sailing or surfing. But getting to know the ocean requires much more—you have to dive. And dive deep. So are you sun bathing with your life? Snorkeling? Surfing? Or Scuba-diving?
“Your vision becomes clear when you look inside your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” Carl Jung
5. You don’t want to be vulnerable.
In a world where everything needs to look perfect, from Photoshopped models, to luxury products as a symbol of success, to a curated and edited social life, we have learned not to show any failure or weakness, so as not to be, in our minds, a risk to be rejected or excluded from the pack. This, in fact, plays on very old fears in our reptilian brain—as an animal in a pack, if you are different, sick or weak, you are a liability for the others. The world of business emphasizes this— individual weaknesses are not accepted as they are seen as a liability for team and company performance.
The issue with this model is that it is an impossible goal and a totally fake reality. Humans are imperfect. And our imperfection is what makes us unique and capable of growth and learning. Therefore, if we do not embrace our vulnerability and recognize and show our weaknesses, we are doomed to be unhappy. We would be cutting off true human contact, destroying the possibility of empathy and removing our ability to be compassionate (all of these being pillars of sustainable happiness). Brene Brown TED talk below is one of the most powerful videos on this subject:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown
I was going to put ten reasons and not five, but I realized that these are the most important ones. We share them. I lived them and often fall back into them. So it's a daily practice for me to make sure these reasons don't come in the way of my happiness. Try to practice them and witness, observe, when you fall in one of these traps. I also realize that they have a lot to do with our definition of success. But that will be for another post :-)
Are you ready to explore?
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Until next time,