Most of us forget to focus on the fundamental ingredient of happiness – ourselves.
How many of your goals are about you?
Our goal setting tends to focus on things we can achieve ‘out there’ – out in the world.
I’m going to earn X amount a year. I’m going to buy a new car. I’m going to travel to 6 countries by the time I’m 60.
Most of us know to focus on experiences rather than things. So don’t focus on the new car, focus on the feeling of freedom, or exhilaration, or whatever that new car is going to give you.
But there’s a short cut to all this right?
Focus on the one having the experience.
There’s a line in Hamlet that’s always stuck with me:
‘There is neither good or bad but thinking makes it so…
… I could be bounded in a nut shell and regard myself a king of infinite space.’
To an extent, our experiences are largely a reaction to outside stimulus. You see an old friend, you feel happy to see them. You eat something tasty, you enjoy the sensation. You watch a scary movie, you feel terrified.
But none of these reactions are fixed. Maybe when you were a child you thought the Play School theme music was scary. Now you’re an adult, it has no impact on you at all.
So your reactions are fluid and change over time. And to an extent, they can be controlled.
What’s more, we tend to classify experiences into good and bad. The warm sun on your skin is a nice feeling, so that’s good. The smell of the compost bin in high summer is pungent, and that’s bad.
But that’s a pretty subjective assessment. Some people don’t like the feel of the sun. Some people love the smell of compost.
And we have the power to subjectively change our relationships to certain experiences. So maybe peas used to make you want to vomit when you were four. But then you push on through, and over time, you realise that peas actually aren’t so bad, until finally, you actually quite like them…
(… and then you find yourself arguing with your four year old who keeps throwing their ‘yucky’ peas on the floor, and the cycle is complete.)
So we have a capacity to choose whether things go in the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ basket. We can find ourselves bound in a nut shell, and regard ourselves a king or queen of infinite space.
Of course, there are limits to this in the real world. I think maybe some of the monks go hard on this – practise non-attachment so everything is neither good nor bad, but just “is”.
Fully realised, they are fully free to determine their own experience in life.
I don’t think that’s really a practical option for most people, but we can still apply the wisdom in our own lives.
The way I see it, there is a discipline in choosing to be happy. It is something we have to work on – as much as possible we should be choosing to have a grand ol’ time of it, whatever is going on for us.
We should also be focused on the realities of our life – our financial situation, our relationships and all that.
But we also have to recognise that all the work in the world on that front won’t amount to much if we haven’t developed a capacity to choose joy, choose happiness and choose satisfaction and contentment.
We could be king of the world and regard ourselves prisoners of a nut demon.
Especially in a world and a culture that seems to celebrate whinging and moaning and complaining about how hard you’ve got it.
Again, gratitude is the key. Be grateful for what you have. Celebrate your peas, your compost, your cosy little nut-shell.
Get this discipline in place, and happiness will come easily to you