Episode 17: There's a reason so many struggle to find deep and lasting happiness in their lives—and it's one that hardly anyone is talking about. In this episode, we'll explore the reason lasting happiness can seem so elusive and discover the secret to inviting it effortlessly into our lives.
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There's a reason so many people struggle to find lasting happiness, and it's this: we are being reasonable.
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
So, here's the question for today. Why is it that so many of us struggle to find lasting happiness?
I mean, it's certainly not for a lack of effort. If we're honest, chasing happiness is what we do in one way or another, all day, every day, whether it's through ordering that latte, working towards a promotion or even working out in the gym.
And it's not for lack of money, although many will tell you that it is. But when we stop long enough to think, or better yet, look to Hollywood or Wall Street, and we'll find legions of people rolling in dough miserable.
And it's not for lack of opportunity in this day and age with technology what it is and our ability to travel and connect and learn. There is arguably more opportunity for happiness than ever before in history.
So, here's what I submit to be the answer.
So many struggle to find lasting happiness because we've been taught to be reasonable.
I mean, it's reasonable to think that comfort would do it. Life in a 3,400 square foot, four-bedroom, two and a half bath, single-family home surrounded by manicured lawns and troubles and trees and flowers. One that invites visitors through a grand portico and once inside hardwood underfoot and vaulted ceilings above; with recessed led lighting shining down on Pottery Barn furniture and Williams-Sonoma dishes. Certainly, that would make one happy. It's only reasonable.
But maybe comfort's not your thing. How about radiant health?
It's reasonable that living in a town with clean air and cleaner neighbors, where just down the street, the supermarket is chockfull of organic apples and oranges and cabbage and cucumbers; and more free-range thises and thats than you can shake a cage-free stick at; a life with unlimited access to the best doctors and hospitals to treat anything that ails you from Ambien help you sleep and Zoloft to help you smile, Boniva for your bones and Nexium for your tummy. With all of this, it's only reasonable to expect to be happy.
Yeah, but here's what nobody is telling us. Reasonable doesn't work, at least when it comes to lasting happiness, but don't believe me.
Just look around: from Hollywood to Hilton Head, and from Manhattan to Miami. You'll find millions of people living in these abundant circumstances and beyond absolutely miserable.
The fact is that happiness isn't reasonable, and it's the belief that it is that causes millions to strike-out when it comes to inviting it into their lives.
So, how do we turn our strike-out into a home run? Well, it's in understanding how we strike-out. That is our first step.
It's reasonable to think that when you get what you want, you'll be happy. Strike one.
What nobody's telling you is that what you want is not what you want. Or said more precisely, what you think you want is not what you really want.
Here's the thing. Nobody wants $1 million. Nobody wants a tropical vacation. And nobody wants a perfect spouse and a perfect house on the perfect cul de sac filled with the perfect kids and surrounded by the perfect yard. And this is true even of those who are desperately chasing those things.
And just for you anti-materialists out there, we could also say that nobody wants world peace, nobody wants to end hunger, and nobody wants to save the whales. And again, this is true even of those who are right now today clamoring for any and all of those things.
Here's what so many miss.
You don't want the money, the vacation, the partner, or the family, and you don't want the world peace, the fed children, or the pod of saved whales. You want how you believe those things will make you feel.
You want to feel fulfilled, satisfied, happy.
The truth is that the vast majority of humans on this planet are making a single mistake when it comes to finding happiness. They're confusing the means with the end. The means being the money, the vacation, the family or the social or environmental do-goodery; and the ends being how they feel.
And make no mistake about it: It all comes down to how you feel.
Imagine that you had somehow come to fancy, a new Tesla, an S model. Your friend had gotten one and gave you a ride and you were taken by the sleek styling, the amazing tech and the mind-numbing acceleration--and the fact that it's a zero-emission vehicle, well, that didn't hurt either.
So, while one day you're totally satisfied with your Camry, the next day you're jonesing for a Tesla. And the whole thing unfolds pretty much like you would expect it would.
You get home that night, and you pop onto the Tesla website just to poke around. You open the online customizer and, just for fun, pick an exterior color, midnight silver metallic with carbon slipstream wheels. You choose an interior, cream with oak wood decor. You pick the performance package with the ludicrous mode, because who can live without going zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds. And before you know it, you're picturing yourself flying down the highway in this sexy miracle of modern technology. In silence.
You close down the computer and head to bed.
The next morning on the drive to work. Everywhere you look, Teslas. You admire their sleek lines. You take note of the differences in trim. You notice how the sun plays off the different body colors. And decided to stop by the mall and just pop your head into the Tesla store on your way home from work.
Once in the store, you find yourself circling the shiny Model S like a shark sizing up its prey.
You open the door, sit down in the commodious cabin, and marvel at the 17 inch touchscreen over the center console. The salesman, Chad sticks his head in the door "What do you think?" he grins a salesman's grin. "Pretty nice, huh?"
You nod silently, still mesmerized, by the touchscreen and the new car smell.
"This car is so me." You think to yourself.
So you join Chad at his desk, and he goes through all the finances, and the warranty, and the thises and thats, and in just under 25 minutes, you've ordered your car.
Chad stands up, shakes your hand and beams, "Well, we'll give you a call when your car is here, probably about eight weeks."
Wait, what? "Eight weeks!" You think to yourself, but what choice do you have? Leaving the mall you're almost floating on a magic carpet of excitement.
Eight weeks, it turns out, is a long time, at least when you're saddled with this kind of anticipation. And of course, it continues. Day in and day out, you see Teslas everywhere. So many, it almost feels like the universe is taunting you.
Then eight weeks turns into seven, seven to six, then to five, four, three, two and finally the week is here. The night before you're to pick up the car, you can barely sleep. You lie awake, thinking about the long emissionless country drive you're going on tomorrow, and once you finally do get to sleep, it's not for long.
It's 5:18am when your eyes pop open. You look at the clock and think less than five hours until you pick up your new car at the service center. You try to get back to sleep but you can't.
So, you get up, grab a cup of coffee and wait. At around 10:04 you arrive at the service center and find the Tesla rep that's been assigned to you. She takes you to the car, gives you a quick orientation, and with a smile and a handshake, she hands you your fob.
You look down at your gleaming new steed, open the door climb in, and pull the door closed behind you with a satisfying clunk.
Ahhhhhhhhhhh. You're happy.
But, can you imagine going through all of that: waiting all of that time and investing all of that money and then getting into the car and not feeling satisfied? If you got into the car, sat back into your new leather-lined, cockpit, closed the door, clunk...and felt the same?
Well, you'd feel ripped off like the entire ordeal was a waste of your precious time and energy. And you'd be right because you didn't want 5,000 pounds of metal, rubber leather, and plastic. You wanted to feel better.
It's reasonable to think that happiness is something you can create. Strike two.
Let's start this one with a question, but one that will at first seem to have an obvious answer.
In the moment you've closed the door on your new Tesla, and by the way, if a new Tesla doesn't blow your skirt up, feel free to insert any new acquisition or accomplishment in his place--from a Hawaiian vacation to the kids aceing their finals, to your favorite candidate winning the race--and ask: in the moment that you got what you wanted, whatever it is, what happened?
Of course, conventionally we'd say that a warm flood of happiness or satisfaction floated through us, but for today, convention is not really what we're interested in. Because let's face it, convention is what got us into this mess to begin with.
Nope. Today we want to move beyond convention and get to the unvarnished truth.
So, what was it that made that moment so satisfying?
It wasn't the comfort of the seat. I mean, they weren't all that different from those in your Camry. It wasn't the fact that you were sitting in new Tesla, because you've sat at a bunch of Teslas the past couple of months and never has it felt like this before. And it wasn't even the fact that this was your new Tesla, because the fact that it was your new Tesla answers why you felt the way you did, but not really what happened.
The fact is that something very tangible happened in that moment; one that completely changed your experience. And here's what it was.
The moment you pulled that door closed, you felt better because something inside of you changed. Namely, that nagging feeling of desire (or wanting or craving), the one that had been torturing you ever since you first started looking at Teslas, evaporated. And poof: you were left relieved, free from that irritating discomfort of wanting...something that we call happy.
The truth is that moment didn't add happiness to you as much as that moment subtracted a nagging uncomfortable feeling from you. You didn't create happiness you uncovered it.
Here's what you need to know.
Happiness doesn't exist. Now, that's not to say that it can't be had, because obviously it can be. It's more to say that happiness is not a thing. The truth is happiness is more of an absence than it is a presence. And let's take a moment to look at that objectively free from what we've come to believe about it.
Imagine you're sad. How do you know you're sad? And the answer comes, you feel it. You feel sad, and so long as you feel sad, you would say that you are not happy.
And then something happens, or maybe nothing happens. But in any event, the sadness goes away.
And when that uncomfortable feeling of sadness goes away, you then say you are happy.
And the same goes with when you're worried, when you're stressed, when you're craving something like a Tesla, or a lover, or to make an impact in the world.
All of these feelings and emotions that drive us to want to be happy are experienced as uncomfortable feelings, as internal discomfort. And we just want them to go away.
And when these uncomfortable feelings do go away, we have a word for it. Happy.
So, in many ways, happiness is a lot like health, where health is just a word that denotes a state free from disease. Happiness is a word that denotes a state free from dis-ease, typically mental and emotional dis-ease.
So, with this parallel drawn, we can take a page from the health playbook: want to be healthy? The key is to prevent disease. Want to be happy? The key is to prevent dis-ease.
Said another way: The game is not so much about creating happiness as much as it is about getting rid of disturbances. And do that...and happiness is what you're left with.
It's reasonable to believe that 6 billion people can't be wrong, that by following the same formula for happiness as everyone on the planet, we'll sooner or later find ourselves hip-deep in happiness. Strike three.
When we remember that happiness is, by and large, the absence of disease, that is to say, the absence of disturbing feelings like anxiety or worry or anger or frustration or desperation or sadness, it's obvious that the question isn't about how we can create happiness as much as it is how we can prevent the disturbing feelings that obscure it.
And this is where we (and our 6 billion friends) have been set up for failure.
We've all been taught that finding happiness is a game of addition.
When we add the right things to our lives, we'll be happy. Add the right education, add the right job, add the right accomplishments, add the right amount of money, of health, of love.
Then, when we've added just the right amount of these things, we'll be happy.
This is the foundation of the lie of happily ever after.
Again, remember, happiness is an absence of disturbance, and we have to ask ourselves, how much disturbance do we create in our desperate thrashing about to add the right things to our lives. We add stress about getting what we want. We had worry about the possibility of not getting it. We had anxiety about being able to afford it, to say nothing of the endless calculations and strategizing and struggle and striving to make it all ultimately end well.
I mean, imagine standing in a swimming pool, and your job is to get rid of the waves on the surface of this pool. So, every time you see a wave, you slap it down. Again and again. Slap, slap, slap, slap.
Now for sure, you're busy, and it may feel like you're making progress. But the truth is every time you slap down a wave, you're making six more waves. Despite your best and enthusiastic effort, you're making things worse. And so it goes with happiness.
When we believe the lie of happily ever after, we're thrown into a desperate battle to get everyone and everything to line up in our favor. So that after that struggle and the striving, the havoc and the carnage, we can finally be happy. And here's why that's so dangerous; two reasons actually:
First, it's not only famously inefficient and unreliable, as anyone who's been paying the least bit of attention can tell you, but it ends up leaving us with a heartbreaking mindset: one in which we are happy to be miserable all along the way for the chance that we'll be happy in the end.
You know, I watched my dear departed father do this his entire life, toiling away for 30 years in a corporate job he absolutely hated, just so that he'd someday be able to live how he wanted, in retirement.
And not only did he end up wasting 30 years that could have otherwise been lived happily, but in retirement, he was never really able to capture that happiness and fulfillment he deserved because he was still caught in his lifelong habit of struggle.
And by the way, for more on how to escape this trap, go back and listen to episode one. What about now?
Now, the second reason this is so dangerous is this: happiness doesn't happen after; happiness exists before. Happiness, that lack of disturbance, is your natural state before the dis-ease, the disturbance, is created. And again, much of this disturbance is actually created by us in our desperate and ham-handed thrashing about for happiness itself.
The fact is struggling and striving in order to create the internal state of calm and ease that we call happiness is like trying to smoke your way to a cure for lung cancer. If you're serious about happiness, lasting happiness, don't spend your time trying to make it, rather invest in unmaking its opposite--disturbance.
So, it is from here that we make the invitation to all who yearn for the great relief that is true and lasting happiness: Stop being reasonable.
Don't drink the Koolaid of conventional wisdom that will have you marching lockstep with the masses into perpetual struggle. Instead, get ever more clear about what you really want. Be vigilant for the trap of getting so focused on the possibility of happiness in the future, that you destroy your happiness here in the present.
And finally, make your journey, whether striving for happily ever after or resting back into the, always already, happily ever before, make that journey with a buoyancy in your step and a smile on your heart and in that, you will never go wrong.
Well, that's all the time we have for today, friends. I Hope our exploration has left you with more clarity and hope for connecting with more happiness in your daily life.
As always, I'd love to hear from you. So, drop me a note from my website at ericwal.com. Also, please help me spread the word about the life-changing power of these amazing teachings by sharing the podcast with friends and family. And don't forget to hit subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes.
Thanks again. I'm wishing you a week brimming with unreasonable happiness. And of course, if there's anything I can do to be of service, please don't hesitate to get in touch. I'll see you next time.