Have you ever taken a moment and stopped to deeply ponder why it is that you do the things you do? Feel the way you feel? Think the way you think? And, because of that, talk and act the way you do? Do you honestly know why your mind works the way it works?
Do you recall your most recent vacation? What motivated you to go there? Unless someone forced you to accompany them, it’s likely because you desired a change of scenery and a chance to relax and unwind. You sought an escape from work and the numerous responsibilities that demand your attention on a daily basis. Essentially, you sought time dedicated to yourself.
In simpler terms, you chose to go on vacation because you thought it would make you happy. After all, isn’t that what we all strive for? The pursuit of happiness is inherent to our existence. Otherwise, what would be the purpose of life?
In our pursuit of happiness, we embark on vacations, spend quality time with loved ones, and acquire things that we believe bring us joy. Some may indulge in the latest gadgets or keep up with fashion trends, while others focus on nurturing their relationships or prioritizing their families.
No matter the path we choose, our actions are driven by a singular purpose: happiness. However, this notion may not capture the complete essence. I’m even willing to stretch it further and assert that, regardless of the choices we make, happiness is always at the core of our decision-making. Every decision we make is made in the name of happiness. Even if that means we choose something that makes us unhappy.
Dig and dissect
That sounds rather illogical and nonsensical, doesn’t it? I don’t expect you to believe me. As a matter of fact, I do not want you to believe me. It would be completely useless if you did. That would not amount to any changes in the way you think. The way you think fully determines how happy you are in your life at any given moment. And the way you think is fully dependent on the views you have on life.
I’m going to challenge your views and, for that, I invite you to scrutinize whatever I say. Hold my words under a magnifying glass and dissect them to the fullest by using your intellect and your ability to think logically. I also invite you to analyze my words for inconsistencies and contradictions. However, while you do so, I ask of you to scan your own thoughts for any logical inconsistencies as well.
If you happen to see the logic in what I say, it would serve in your best interest to still take some time to reflect on it and verify for yourself whether it’s really true or not. Apply it to your own life situations whenever you can.
If you do these things you’re going to make the most out of this reading and will start developing a deeper understanding of a happiness that is not dependent on external factors. Without that understanding, it would be impossible to cultivate unconditional happiness.
Vacations and compromises
Let’s get back to your last vacation. Was it a tropical destination you visited? Or did you go on a hiking trip perhaps? Was it a solo trip or a group trip? A skiing trip or a summer trip? Try and recall the feelings you had when you decided on that particular destination.
Why was it that you went to that specific destination and not any other?
This may seem like a simple question and the answers you come up with may vary greatly. Perhaps you like faraway beaches. Possibly you and your (travel) partner or friend could agree on only this destination and you both had to compromise. It may be that you could not venture off too far because of your family or other responsibilities. Whatever your answers, one thing we can be absolutely certain of:
You chose that destination because it was the best option at that time. Whether it was your first or second choice, or even if it wasn’t on your top 10 list at all, it was still the best choice at the moment.
When you go on a holiday with someone else, there’s no doubt that you have different likes and dislikes. That means that you may be able to find common ground regarding a travel destination, but you can’t possibly like all destinations in the same way. If both of your number one’s line up, then both of you feel very joyful because you’re able to choose what you think makes you happiest.
Why have a number one after all? You only separated destinations because you believed that you were going to find more pleasure or enjoyment in your number one as opposed to your number two or three. In other words, you believe your number one makes you happier than any other number on the list.
Now let’s say your number ones don’t line up. Now you have to compromise. Why do you need to compromise? Well, imagine if you would persist at the expense of your (travel) partner. How would they react you think? Would they still be willing to go on a holiday with you? Do you care about their feelings? How much do you value your relationship?
See, the answers to these questions all determine how much you’re willing to find something both of you can agree upon. And it’s for the exact same reason why you’re going on a holiday in the first place: you want to enjoy yourself. You want to be happy.
If you value your relationship a lot, you’re simply not willing to push your favorite holiday destination into their throat. That would not make you happy. It may be because you fear how they’re going respond or because it hurts you if you see them unhappy. Whatever the case, you’d be happier if you try and find something both of you like.
Allow me to share an anecdote from one of my past holidays. Any personal experiences I give are not meant for the purpose of entertainment. I have no interest in that. Please reflect on it with wisdom and see whether the statements I made earlier hold true. If this, or any other, example reminds you of some of your own life’s events, then please apply the concept/hypothesis to these instead.
Many years ago, I believe it was 2006, I went on vacation with three friends. I really wanted to go on vacation and considered it the highlight of the year. One of my friends persisted in going to the same place we visited the year before. However, as someone who always yearned to explore new places, it wasn’t my top pick. Far from it.
What happened next was that the other two friends agreed with my other friend and so I decided to compromise. Why? Because I desired to go on a trip more than anything else.
That was the best thing I could do for happiness at that time. The thought of not going didn’t feel good at all and neither did it seem compelling to argue with my friends.
Doing a job you hate to be happy?
At one point during my life, I applied to two different jobs around the same time. Both places invited me to come over for an interview. The interviews were only days apart as I recall.
The first place, an insurance company, hired me and I started working for them. I was quite satisfied with the job and got along with my new colleagues right from the get-go. After a week or so, I got a phone call from the other employer.
They were thrilled to announce that I got the job. I was really excited about it since that job aligned more with my personal interests. It was a challenging job that required me to guide and mentor refugee adolescents.
Now, I wasn’t dissatisfied with the job I currently held. Actually, I felt guilty that I quit since I just started. So, in a way, I felt unhappy to leave. However, the reason I left was that I felt that the other job would make me happier. There’s no other reason. Hypothetically speaking, if the burden of guilt had weighed heavily on me, it would have prevented me from leaving because the mere thought of leaving would have made me feel even worse.
While this choice may not have made me happy, because I would feel some remorse for not accepting the job I truly wanted, it would have led to the least amount of unhappiness. Having said that, we never know for sure unless we’re put into the situation experiencing both sides directly for ourselves. However, when we make the decision, it’s based on how we feel at that point in time. We always choose the best or least worst feeling. My wife’s example highlights this more clearly.
Upon completing her studies, she secured a job in the government sector through her sister’s connections; her father-in-law was an official at one of the highest levels. It is important to note that this incident took place in China, where certain social stigmas surround such situations.
For years, my wife dedicated herself to working in a specific government building. At some point, though, the weariness of her job became overwhelming, and she contemplated quitting. Despite her desire for a fresh start elsewhere, there were several reasons holding her back.
The foremost concern was the pressure she felt due to the shame her departure would bring upon her sister. This pressure outweighed any prospects of finding a new, fulfilling job. The thought of quitting brought immense discomfort and more unhappiness. Consequently, she made the difficult decision to remain in her current position, even though it caused her considerable misery.
When it comes to work, it is not uncommon for people to find themselves stuck in jobs they dislike, yet they choose to remain in those positions. It is important to remember that all our actions are driven by the pursuit of happiness, or perhaps in some cases, it would be better to say the pursuit of the “least amount of unhappiness.”
The example I shared about my wife is just one instance among many. While the reasons may vary, the underlying principle of seeking what makes us feel better or “less worse” always applies, regardless of the culture. Consider, for a moment, the scenario of not having any job at all.
How would that make you feel?
The reason for enduring a job you dislike is that, despite the dissatisfaction, having that job provides a sense of security and the means to sustain yourself. The thought of being unemployed can be scary and intimidating.
Therefore, if you find yourself in a job you dislike at this point in time, you may choose to stay because the alternative would result in even greater unhappiness. In essence, you are making the choice that brings the most happiness under the circumstances.
In order to get other work you first need to find other work.
That means you’d have to either go to a local employment agency or do your own research on potential employers/companies you’d like to work for.
You didn’t do that because either it hasn’t occurred to you yet for some reason (in which case you can still decide to take a corresponding course of action), or because you don’t want to do that.
Assuming the latter, the actions you would need to take form too much of an obstacle. Obstacles require effort to overcome. In your case, the idea of having to go through that is more problematic than holding on to your current job.
The worse you feel at your work, the more inclined you’ll be to do something about it. There’s a threshold where you can’t take it anymore and take action. That is your “happiness threshold.” Even though you don’t feel happy at work, it still beats all the alternatives. Hence, at this point in time, you choose what makes you the “least unhappy,” which is the same as saying you choose what makes you the “happiest” despite it not living up to your ideal image of happiness.
When you find yourself in an unwanted situation, there’s also a higher chance for you to verbally complain about it to others. The mind somehow needs to deal with a situation that it doesn’t want to be in. In response to this, it will generate various thoughts that align with this discontented mindset.
These thoughts will frequently come to the surface, and it’s quite probable that you express them verbally, especially during interactions with friends or colleagues. You do that because internal pressure gradually builds up. To find relief and feel better, you find yourself in need to talk or vent about it. This approach is somewhat problematic because it doesn’t deal with the root of the problem. But because it’s a bit more complex, we will discuss this in a separate article.
For the purpose of this article, we can however state that you’d feel worse if you weren’t able to speak out and you’d feel better (relieved) if you did. Once more, you do it to feel the best you can in the situation you find yourself in.
Regarding the topic of work, another thing that is worth considering:
Many people love the idea of having their own business. Just thinking about having a successful business brings them joy. However, they are not willing to put in the work because that is far from a “happy event.” Their current situation, which may not be ideal, is still better than facing all the issues and challenges that come with starting a business.
When an inferior option becomes the superior choice
Let’s say you have to make a decision between two things. One of the things is something you enjoy while the other one is not. Despite being very clear on what you want to do, you find yourself in a conundrum.
Suppose you’re going on a date with someone. You are genuinely excited and filled with anticipation for this upcoming rendezvous. A few hours before your date, your mom gets into a little accident. She calls you up and explains what happened.
It turns out she got dizzy and made a little fall. She mentions she’s all right but has to stay in the hospital for a couple of hours because the doctors want to run a few tests to find out what caused it. She assures you that she’s fine and urges you to proceed with your date and not to worry about her. Then you speak to the doctor and he tells you not to worry. They are just taking some standard precautions.
On the one hand, the prospect of going on a date fills you with immense pleasure, while on the other hand, visiting the hospital does not. However, if you feel responsible for your mom, and want her to have some company, you’ll actually feel worse if you were to go on your date. That’s because you’d worry about your mom and wonder whether you did the right thing and you’d feel guilty.
Hence, despite your desire to go on that date, the best thing you can do is to visit your mom in the hospital. That would bring you more peace of mind and, thus, would make you happier than going on your date.
Have you ever received a call from work asking you to come and fill in for a colleague who got sick? You’ve had your day all planned out, order some takeout for delivery and watch a few movies. Or perhaps you planned on going out with your spouse or friends somewhere.
I’ve had many of these calls when I was doing a part-time job as a student. On certain occasions, I reluctantly went to work despite lacking the desire to do so. This was due to a sense of obligation after someone had covered for me previously and I felt the need to reciprocate. In other cases, I believed it was my responsibility because they were struggling due to being understaffed.
Even though I wasn’t enthusiastic, the weight of that obligation influenced my decision. There were instances when I accepted these requests because I had no other compelling plans. These choices were simpler because they allowed me to transform potential boredom into earnings. In any scenario, I opted for the action that caused me the least amount of unhappiness.
Imagine the following: you’re at your go-to restaurant, scanning the menu as usual. Suddenly, a new item grabs your attention. Just below it sits your all-time favorite dish—the one you order almost every single time. A dilemma emerges: stick with the beloved classic or succumb to curiosity and try something new?
On one side, you know your regular will bring satisfaction. It’s a trusted choice, like a reunion with an old friend. But on the other side, you can’t help but wonder if the new item holds untapped deliciousness. What if it exceeds all expectations? Of course, there’s also the risk of disappointment, potentially ruining your evening.
Here’s the bottom line: if curiosity weighs heavily on you, you have no choice but to satisfy it. In that moment, going for the new dish “feels” better. There might be regret if it falls short, but at that instant, it’s the best decision you can make for your happiness.
I hope you could relate to some of the examples I mentioned. I could list many more examples, but it’s crucial that you try and reflect on your own life’s events. Look at your own life and see whether it’s really true that every single choice you make is in the name of happiness.
I’ll give you a little exercise in order to help you do that at the end of this article.
SO WHAT if every choice is driven by happiness?
Why is it crucial to recognize that everything we do is ultimately driven by our pursuit of happiness?
I will pose several questions and I urge you to think about them very critically. Don’t try and speed-read through them. You’d be doing yourself an enormous disservice.
First, we need to understand that happiness is all the mind ever wants. But we also need to see the irony: if happiness is all the mind ever wants, then why do we never truly get hold of it?
If happiness is the thing you’ve been after since the day you were born, and everything was done in the name of happiness, then why have you never truly achieved it?
Is that so? Are you still not looking for happiness right now?
Why else do you do all the things you do every single day? When you’re trying to be happy, or when you look for things to feel a sense of satisfaction, that means by definition that happiness is one step ahead of you.
You always carry a certain amount of unsatisfactoriness in your heart. You can’t have something that you’re looking for.
You always need to put in effort to hold on to your job, make your work go smoothly, keep your family happy, and so on. These things don’t magically take care of themselves. One day at work is not enough is it? Don’t you have to go to work again tomorrow? Is that family vacation really able to bring you happiness? If it is, then why you have to go again next year?
Absolutely not. That is the last thing I’m implying.
Taking care of your family, going on vacation, and earning an income to support your family and yourself are not the problem. In fact, these are obligations you have to fulfill. You SHOULD do all these things.
The problem, however, is the following:
You try to extract happiness from these things.
If they were somehow able to provide you with happiness, then you wouldn’t need to be doing the same things over and over again.
Again, let’s be very clear on this: doing these things is not the problem.
Doing them with the expectation of becoming happy is the problem.
You always expect a certain outcome when doing these things. If the outcome is not according to your expectations, you’re dissatisfied and unhappy. Having a specific outcome in mind actually indicates that your default state of mind is one of discontentment, at least to some degree, because you’re always seeking greater satisfaction.
We go into more depth in a future article.
The richest bachelor alive
Let’s look at it from another angle and remove career and family from the equation for a moment. Let’s entertain the idea that you’re the wealthiest bachelor on the planet. How would your day look like you think?
Seriously, take a moment to consider how you would live your life.
Although the wealthiest people on the planet are generally incredibly busy people (because they are still trying to be happy every day), let’s assume that you don’t want to do any work and you have no family responsibilities to take care of. Would you be content to sit at your swimming pool the whole day?
Every single day?
Of course not, you’d get incredibly bored, even if you were to sit at a different luxurious swimming pool every day. Imagine for a moment you’d have no phone or other appliances at your disposal. You’d get bored even more quickly.
This is how life might unfold for you: You would constantly seek activities to fill your time because doing “nothing” wouldn’t bring true contentment. You might indulge in various pursuits such as watching movies in your private cinema, going on drives in fancy cars, enjoying scenic views (from your helicopter), hosting parties, meeting friends, splurging on expensive clothes, or playing with the latest gadgets.
In more extreme cases of dissatisfaction, you might even consider acquiring extravagant possessions like your private island, and perhaps multiple houses since one wouldn’t be enough to satisfy you.
Moving from one place to another would be common, as staying in one location might not quell your restlessness. You wish to have some company to share your experiences with and prevent loneliness from arising. Loneliness, just like boredom, is simply a product of trying to find happiness on the outside. It’s not there.
Having said that, unless you’re acquiring any of these things by wrong means,* there’s nothing necessarily wrong by engaging in any of these activities.
*You’d find yourself on the road of ignorance, as explained in the two prerequisites of unconditional happiness.
What I’m suggesting here can be illustrated through an analogy. Imagine you have a friend who wears colored glasses but has no idea that they are colored. They have never seen anything else, seeing the world through a specific tint. If you discuss a lush green forest, your friend might argue that it’s blue due to the glasses they wear.
Engaging in a fruitless argument over the color of the trees would only lead to frustration. Instead, inviting them to inspect the glasses themselves could help them realize that their perspective is indeed influenced by the glasses they wear.
Similarly, I aim to provide evidence that the pursuit of happiness through external means is a false belief deeply ingrained in our minds. Like a rusty anchor fused with surrounding corals at the bottom of the sea, these beliefs have become firmly anchored in our understanding of reality.
The realization that genuine happiness cannot be obtained from external sources can lead us to true freedom.
Considering we’ve grown up with this false perception of seeking happiness externally, it’s essential to explore these articles further and scrutinize the ideas presented. I cannot possibly explain all angles in a single article, so please be patient and continue to investigate. That’s how you can gain a deeper understanding.
Now, let’s recap what we’ve discussed so far before moving on to the exercise.
If every decision you have ever made was made in the name of happiness, but you’re still trying to be happy every day, then that means that your methods of acquiring happiness have not yielded the desired results.
This stems from the views, or perceptions, you have had of happiness all this time. You’ve always hoped or expected a certain outcome from the things you do. When these views, or perceptions, are corrected, you may still find yourself doing the same things in life, but you’ll be happy regardless of their outcome.
For the vast majority of people, coming to this realization is a step-by-step process.
I encourage you to maintain a critical mindset as you analyze my words, but also be patient and open-minded throughout this exploration.
Together, we will delve into various perspectives that will further deepen the realization that happiness cannot be found externally; rather, it is an intrinsic part of our being, always present within us.
For this exercise, during the following week, I invite you to look out for choices you have to make over the course of each day. It will be helpful if you make some notes of your observations. You can do this with the help of a phone or tablet, or write it down by hand if you prefer.
Although you’ll be presented with plenty of opportunities on a daily basis, you can simply focus on one of them. When we are presented with a choice, any choice, we always choose the thing that results in the most happiness, or the least unhappiness. Through this exercise, you’re going to confirm this for yourself.
You may encounter scenarios where you have a clear preference for a particular outcome, while in others, your preference may be less distinct. While any situation can be used for this exercise, it might be easier to start with choices where you have a more distinct preference.
It may also occur that, at first notice, you may choose an outcome that you don’t seem to prefer. I’ll provide you with an example of this particular kind of situation since it’s the trickiest kind. By doing so you automatically know how to apply the exercise.
Situation: My wife wants to see movie A. I prefer to see movie B.
Choice: Although I prefer not to see movie A, I choose to go with my wife to see movie A.
Reason: I opt for movie A, because I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. It’s just a movie. So, I’ll tag along with my wife and let her have her way. Besides, avoiding an argument over a movie seems more appealing than insisting on my choice.
Conclusion: I prefer to compromise in order to risk an argument. The thought of arguing over a movie is a lot less appealing than perhaps being able to see the movie that I like.
The exercise can simply stop here. It is the moment you make a decision that is the target of the exercise.
Whether you are happy with your decision, later on, is a completely different story.
Just to offer a quick clarification of the difference. Let’s say I disliked movie A greatly. Now it’s possible that thoughts arise that maybe it would have been worth pressing for movie B. That’s the nature of the mind. It will reflect on a situation with regret if it perceives more happiness, or less unhappiness, could have been acquired. This is not the goal of this exercise, though. Let’s take it one step at a time.
Please feel free to share one of your choices in the comment section. Your input could prove beneficial to others as well. Engaging in this reflective process helps accelerate the correction of our mind’s perception of reality.
The more opportunities we seize to contemplate, the closer we come to understanding the true nature of happiness and its connection to our choices. So, don’t hesitate to contribute, as your insights may enlighten and inspire others on this journey of self-discovery.