The search for happiness

Photo by  Brooke Cagle  on  Unsplash

Almost all people are unconsciously or consciously searching for happiness. In this article I’ll discuss some of the ways people are looking for happiness and how effective they are. For most of us looking for happiness is such an unconscious process that we keep on repeatedly trying the same things even though they do not work for us in the end. The purpose of the article is for you to understand the ways that you are trying to be happier, to let them go and be more consistently happy.

At some point in life most of us (temporarily) know what we want to do with our lives. Most of our decisions have one big driver: happiness. What will make me happy? That is the big question we ask ourselves. It is the question behind other questions. When I’m talking to a coachee and I ask them ‘Why’ three times or more the answer is often: ‘Because it makes me happy’.

Me: ‘Why do you do this job?’
Coachee: ‘I want to make good money and love the work I do.’

Me: ‘What do you like about money?
Coachee: ‘I can do the things I like, go to a restaurant, go on nice trips and live in a nice apartment.’

Me: ‘And what do you like about those things?’
Coachee: ‘It makes me feel good, it makes me happy, it makes sure I have nothing to worry about.’

When I ask most entrepreneurs why they put all that work in building their company, they tell me they want to get to a certain result: make it work, make it to the next funding round, get investment, build something people want or they say we’re having so much fun together, the team is great and I love spending my time doing something useful.

So when I ask why do you like working with the team? Or why do you want to build something people want? Their answer is: “It makes me happy”. The first question is relating to an experience and the second to a result. 

People are usually doing what they’re doing either to get to a result or to have a certain experience, both of these things they do to make them happy.

The people that are experiencing what they want are currently really happy about it but are sometimes are looking for a new experience to make them even happier or something similar in a different area (health, wealth or relationships).

The people that are trying to get to a result are usually only happy because of a thought, a thought that says that what they’re working on, is something useful or that will make them happy, when they get to the end result. I’ve heard quite some fantasies from the people that are result oriented about what will happen when they reach the end goal: they’ll go relax on an island, buy a big house, start a family or drink mojitos all day. Probably they will not do this, but they’ll be happy for a few days, then get bored and pick a new target that is more difficult to achieve. 

Now let us dive in a little deeper into these two ways people, maybe you too, are trying to be happy: looking for happiness in results and looking for happiness in experiences.

Looking for happiness in results

A lot of us are looking for happiness in results. A result could be getting a promotion, a relationship, getting married, getting attention, getting a house, becoming slim, fit or muscled, going vegan, getting more energy to use during the day, gaining knowledge or know how, getting a child, getting a degree, etc. Nothing wrong with these results, what could be wrong with going vegan (and saving the world)?

It is only that we think that those results, facts or things will make us happy. We definitely do get a temporary high, most people feel that the birth of their children or the day they get married are the happiest days of their lives. Everyone feels happy when they achieve a result but the problem is that this happiness does not last. It fades and if you’re lucky it last a day or two. When my daughter was born I felt two days of intense love and afterwards I was back to normal but just a lot more tired than before. Not to say that I do not adore the sweetheart but it has not changed my happiness levels permanently.

When we achieve a result and it lasts, we are happy for a few days and then it becomes the new ’normal’ and we go on trying to achieve a next or an even bigger result. If our company sold 1000 tomatoes we go on to try and sell 2000, if we married a beautiful man we want to have children, if we buy a house we want to renovate it, etc. The happiness of the situation leaves us and we’re in search of a new result. To conclude, achieving a result is fine but results do not make us permanently happy.

Looking for happiness in experiences

The other very popular way of searching for happiness is in experiences. A nice experience could be going on a (long) vacation, meeting a new friend or lover, getting a new job, using a new drug, changing your profession, starting a new sport or habit, having sex, getting a massage, eating and drinking, etc. I have to say, this is a much better approach to happiness.

Experiences give us a lot more happiness than results. That is because it is not a moment where it, a result, happens and then it is over. Experiences can last hours, days, weeks or sometimes even months. And some experiences are repeatable although it might cost some money, effort, etc.

The problem though with experiences is that you get used to them and they lose their magic over time. I’ve been to quite some big electronic music festivals throughout the world and it is never the same as the first time. I’ve been with my girlfriend for nine years, the relationship gets better every year but the newness is gone, it has become my new life situation. I cannot imagine my life without my girlfriend. Well what can I do about all this? I could start listening to rock or jazz and I have some new festivals to go to or I could look for a new girlfriend but that would only be a short-term solution since the magic of those new experiences would also wear off in the end.

Some experiences we repeat daily, like our favorite food and beverages, and they give us a small dose of pleasure but in the end they do not make us happy, they are happy experiences but they do not make us permanently happier.

Looking for happiness in ourselves

So after a while we can realize that sadly external circumstances like our results or experiences can not permanently make us happy. We are stuck with ourselves in the end: ‘Wherever we go, there we are’. It is the reason that after a few days of overwhelming beauty on some beautiful island, couples start arguing about the same usual things again. In contrast, we might also feel uneasy or bad when we’re home alone with nothing to do. The popular Indian guru Sadhguru once sarcastically said: “If we are alone and feel bad, we are obviously in bad company”.

If we are not happy, that is what needs our attention, we need to look inward and see what the problem is. Otherwise we carry our problem with us in whatever life situation we find ourselves. We strive for happiness but never find it, expect for short highs after a result or a nice experience that does not last in the end. That way we do not become happy because we are not happy. The results and experiences only temporarily make us happy. So.. we can conclude that we are the problem. If we are not happy, we can do things to make us happy but maybe it is better for us to find out why we are not happy already.

So we start our journey with meditation, yoga, introspection maybe with a psychologist, psychiatrist or a coach (like me). We look inward and see what irritates us the most about ourselves or others and life. The last two are just a reflection of ourselves. In zen they say: An angry person gets angry. That means that the situation triggers something which is already inside and wants to come out.

We can perhaps talk to others for answers or think and find answers within ourselves. Some of the issues or problems we find can be let go off, can be accepted, can be felt, some of them can even be solved. We can learn a lot about ourselves, get new insights which give us a better experience and understanding of our lives. Once we act on our insights, change our behavior, tackle our fears or let out our pent up emotions, we can feel better. After the short-lived high of an insight and the feeling of an improved mental state of mind, it again becomes our new normal and loses the happiness.

Some of us at this point look for spirituality or religion for answers. Nowadays a lot of people are attracted to meditation, prayer, healing, mindfulness and yoga for insights. We are looking to be touched by God, Buddha, spirits and energies. Maybe they can save us?

In meditation we are looking for our mind to be quiet, maybe if I try harder, I can relax more deeply. Oh.. wait.. are we looking for spiritual experiences?

All kidding aside, although these activities are great and they can give us nice insights and provide great and sometimes powerful experiences, they are a way that we’re trying to make ourselves happy through a certain experience or result. Through doing these religious or spiritual things, even if they are only in our heads, we try to experience more happiness, get blissful states or get epiphanies that change us and make us happier. Even a spiritual experience, spiritual awakening or enlightenment can give you insight into our true nature or give us a temporary blissful experience but in the end you’ll find yourself back in the same reality.

After a few years we can find that spiritual or introspective activities gives us nice insights and quiet time but it they do not make us happier in the end. We achieve some results, we have beautiful experiences, we had the insights but we’re still here and not much happier. It didn’t work in the end. We can not make ourselves happy. Not that we are depressed but this whole happiness thing did not work. And that is exactly what we needed.

Letting go of happiness

Experiences and results do not last and make us crave for better results and experience and in a few days the improved self or improved life situation becomes our new normal self. If not results and experiences that create a better life situation or insights in our daily lives and our true nature can make us permanently happy, then what can? Nothing can.

Absolutely nothing can make us permanently happy. The buddha already said that all life is impermanent, that means not only our lives including our emotional life but also our life situations, all experience and all results. Everything is bound to come up and come to an end, there is no permanence. Even those pleasurable circumstances and experiences end. There is not a permanent happiness we can create. There is absolutely nothing to do, nothing to experience and no result that can make us happy or that will last.

So there is no need to run to work, to strive to get a better job, to create a better world, to clean the house, to get a man and get married or to go to the club tonight. There is absolutely nothing to do because it is all impermanent and will not help us.

So what can we do? Whatever we feel like. We can start to understand that we are free and there is nothing we need to do. We can do everything, but we don’t need to do anything. We can just relax. Nowhere to go but here and nothing that we can do will make us more consistently happy.

And that is when… we start see that when we have this realization, that then there is peace, there is relaxation and slowly through that relaxation, there is something coming up. Something we did not expect: there is joy. Not a high of intense pleasure like with good sex, the best birthday ever, your wedding day or something like that. But a subtle but noticeable joy that pervades all experiences. You start to feel joyous or… happy. A background happiness that is there in everything you do, doing the dishes gets a lot better when you realize you do not need to do the dishes ever, but you can do the dishes whenever you like, it will not bring you something. We can meditate if we like, we can change the world if we like, we can do anything we like but we don’t need to do anything because that will not make us happy. Because we do not need to do anything we can relax, we can chill and be one with what happens, in this moment, in this experience, there is peace, there is joy, a sort of mature happiness.

So what makes us happy then? The freedom to let be, relaxing deeply in whatever you do, knowing that your life does not permanently get better if you create a result or have an experience or insight. We just are and if we let go, we relax and not try to get to some state of mind or body or some life situation. If we do not chase life but let it come to us, then there is appreciation that life comes to us, without us having to (mentally) sweat the situation.

If we really do this, if we really give it a try: not to be happy, not to be appreciated, not to get attention, to get to something or to some result. IF we really do not try, then we can experience our normal state of mind, without the stress of trying to reach something or do something, and we find that our normal state is.. happiness.

How well do you spend your energy?

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Energy, alongside time, is our scarcest asset. It depletes every single day. So it is crucial to be very keen on how we spend our energy. Whereas there are different types of energy, here we talk about mental energy. That sometimes - if in abundance - gives you the feeling that you can take on the world, but also that energy that - when depleted - can make you feel stressed and even depressed.

Many of us unconsciously waste energy on energy draining activities. For example, we do work we don’t like (we come home more exhausted than when we arrived at work), or we spend our time with people we actually not prefer to be with (we need to pretend, put on this social mask).

However, most of our energy is continuously drained by our thoughts, our mind machine generating thoughts we need to process, contemplate, judge, and doing something with. It starts running when we wake up, and it doesn’t stop until we finally sleep. That’s a lot of work besides all other responsibilities we already have given ourselves.

Often people spend their thoughts on judging other people. Why he did (not) do or say this and that to me, and why she was doing better (or worse) compared with me. We are generally unaware that such thoughts about others originate from within ourselves.

For example, when we seek confirmation or appreciation - at work or from a loved one, we tend to be very disappointed when we have done something to reasonably expect a compliment - complete a project succesfully, or cleaned the house unasked for. Nevertheless, when we do not get this well needed compliment, we often blame the other for not being appreciative, instead of self reflect why it is that we are longing for this appreciation in the first place. While not self reflecting, we get stuck in this energy draining vicious cycle of seeking this increasing need for appreciation from others, while not giving attention and energy to the cause of this need. As a result, you waste energy every moment when not reflecting upon yourself.

It is very tempting to focus on others, since it is not only the path of least resistance, it also gives an ideal channel to vent emotions. Which then will also drain energy, since the other will eventually not solve the issue you are actually dealing with (unconsciously).

The good news: you can divert your energy every moment. Now already, while reading this. You can continue to spend energy on others, or you could take a minute (only a minute can make a difference) to reflect upon why you are bothered or occupoied with it and/or have judging thoughts. The answer and solution lie within yourself.

We wish for you to stop wasting your energy and saving it for the activities with which you can truly make a difference for yourself and others.

Enjoy the exploration! 😊

How much did you suffer today?

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Each of us suffers every day. Some just a little, some a lot.

Before you go in denial, allow me the chance to explain.

Maybe the first thing coming to mind when we think of suffering, is suffering in the extreme form: the significant physical and emotional trauma caused by dramatic events like as starvation in Africa, war tragedies in Syria. Iraq, and Yemen, or acts of terror anywhere around the world.

The suffering I talk about is smaller but no less significant to our daily lives: the consequences of constantly suppressing ourselves with our own limiting thoughts and convictions. I would like to call them micro trauma’s.

To explain what this suffering is, let’s use an example of the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is what we feel when we stump our toe to the table, that intense immediate flare we physically feel the moment our toe hits the leg of the table. Suffering occurs after we feel that physical pain, it is the feeling of blame of judgement we put upon ourselves for “being so stupid” for not being careful, for not wearing any shoes, or missing to see the leg in the first place. Alternatively, we get angry at the table for being there. Suffering is the emotional and mental discomfort we put upon ourselves because we have convictions that tell us we must not act or be in a certain way.

On a daily basis, we get into situations where we suffer through our self judgement. We suffer because we blame ourselves for:

  • eating that piece of chocolate because it makes us look fat or unattractive. I must look attractive and skinny; I may not eat things that are unhealthy for me.

  • getting an 8 as a grade, because our average so far was a 9. I must get a (close to) perfect score, I need to maximize my output. I may not be average.

  • not being able to quit your job while you dislike it so much. I must have a job and income. I may not apply for social security/benefits; My next job must be my dream job (it must be what I truly want). I may not waste my time doing unfulfilling jobs anymore.

  • doing nothing the whole weekend because you lacked the energy but “you should spend your time doing things”. I must be productive. I may not let time go wasted or idle.

  • not exercising enough while we apparently made this and that agreement with ourselves to lose X amount of weight or fit in that pair of jeans again. I must be fit and skinny. I may not neglect my health or gain weight.

  • being a jealous or unsatisfied partner because we cannot really deal with our own insecurity. I must be loved unconditionally. I may not feel unappreciated.

  • saying “yes” to the assignment or request because saying “no” is too difficult. I must be liked by people. I may not disappoint anybody.

  • not being able to open up in our (any) relationship because we are scared to be rejected and left by the other. I must only show my ‘best side’. I may not show my ‘weaknesses’ and/or emotions.

The list is potentially endless.

The suffering stems from the conviction that we “must” do something, which is linked to a limiting thought (“I may not…”). It suggests that there is no other way to behave then to stick to the rules. Moreover, the moment we break a conviction (as per the examples above), we are likely to judge ourselves because we break the rule.

Interestingly, most of us are not even aware that:

1) we have these limiting convictions,

2) they are guiding our actions ánd thoughts about our actions, and

3) we suffer as a consequence.

Generally, we have found numerous coping mechanisms to deal with the (unconscious) suffering. We workout (excessively), we have a full agenda of social contacts, we cling to any type of screen when running idle, eating/drinking unhealthy things, or even judging ourselves for having judging thoughts; “why am I always so hard on myself? I shouldn’t have said that. I can be such an ass.”

We can explore our suffering and the convictions beneath it. When we grow aware of the moments where we judge others when certain (unspoken) expectations are not met, it is likely a form of judgement arises. “Why doesn’t (s)he just do this or that? I would have dealt with it this and that way.”

We generally judge ourselves as we judge others. It suggests while we are actively putting our convictions on the people around us, we are likely to apply them to ourselves as well. Your judgements are your entry point to your dealing with your own suffering.

Questions for consideration:

  • What are the (typical) situations where you judge others? Where you have expectations of others?

  • Would those judgements and/or expectations also apply to yourself? In other words, would you treat yourself by the same standard?

  • What could a conviction that underlying the judgement/expectation ? Generally, such conviction starts with “I must…” or other obligatory statement

How love can trigger control

Photo by  frank mckenna

Photo by frank mckenna

When you meet someone you truly like, there is the love you feel for the other person and the desire to be with them in some form. When the liking is mutual a relationship can start.

Within a relationship, if you like the other person, you can start to try to control the other person to be with them or to be happy in the relationship. The need to control the other person can happen in subtle ways. It can be with the intention to help the other person, it can be to protect the relationship, it can be so you keep liking the other or any other reason.

Although the reasons for controlling the other person can be positive, it is always a burden to the other person. The other feels the pressure of your control and might resist the attempt to control him or her or go along with it and move with the attempt to control. No matter how the other responds, no matter what your intention may be, the other is always happier in the long-term when he or she is not controlled. Always, without exception, whether they say they like it or not.

Controlling your partner is a burden to them. If you really love your partner, do not try to control or change them but let them be free in any way they want to.

Maybe the relationship is not meant to be, maybe your partner changes over time. The outcome is irrelevant, the process crucial. Let your partner be free to choose and live his or her life, with or without you.

When you have responsibilities together then talk about how you each would like to fulfill the responsibility. When you are not aligned, then the person that expects more need to take the responsibility that they expect more or change their expectations. You do not need to take on the other’s responsibilities. Not only let your partner free in the relationship, but also how they handle their responsibilities or work together with you.

In a normal non-abusive relationship, your choices are always: accept the other person in their freedom, talk about their free actions, or leave the relationship. You do not need to accept the control over your life and freedom the other may currently have. It is not wrong to discuss your preferences or how you want to live in freedom.

Not only let yourself live in freedom but also let your partner be free and live together in freedom. Sometimes that may not be possible and you give in to their expectations. Very normal if that happens once in a while but not if that is the standard. A relationship should be two people that are free, living together in freedom, instead of two people living in bondage together, that are not happy because of their bondage.

Ask yourself the following questions:

-Is my partner accepting the real me?

-Is our relationship enhancing my freedom?

-Is my relationship bringing more freedom or more bondage?

-Is my relationship helping or hurting me or my partner?