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.