Happiness is not some later event
"Happiness is the joy we feel striving after our potential".
That's one of my favorite quotes from the book Happiness Advantage.
The book's thesis can be summed up as this: We have the formula for happiness in reverse. We grow up told that life follows this path--If you work hard, you'll be successful, and at that point, you'll be happy.
The problem with that approach starts with the first two steps. Working hard is...well, hard. It's not easy to keep showing up every day, putting in hard work, even if it's something you love doing. There are always times you want to quit, or times that you feel unclear on how to go forward.
The second problem is this "you will be successful" point. What is success to you? How do you define it today? You might have a numerical point of success, like: When I make X number of dollars per month, I'll be successful. Or when I lose 10 pounds, I'll be successful. The problem with these metrics is that more often than not, we move the goal post as we near or complete it. Today I have a goal of having thousands of readers of this blog-- but I'm willing to bet (knowing myself), that when I reach that point, I'm going to want tens of thousands. And then a hundred thousand or more readers. And so on...
The pathway of "work hard, become successful, then be happy" is a false one. If you start a race and the finish line keeps moving further down the line, eventually you're going to exhaust yourself and collapse-- no matter how much you want to finish. Forget about happiness at all.
The author of the book argues that the pathway should be flipped. Find happiness today, you'll be able to work hard more easily, and you'll always be successful.
What does that really mean? How do you find happiness today? What if you're totally unhappy with your job or situation in life, or body, or whatever it may be?
I'll be honest, it's not easy. It's not easy to find happiness all of the sudden-- it's not a switch to flip and everything becomes okay. But it is doable.
The first and only step is that you have to accept everything as it is today. We are often unhappy because we fight against reality. We don't want to accept what is right there in front of us, because it never feels good enough. We then often question ourselves "if we're happy today, then what are we going to fight for? Haven't we already won? Don't we just quit and exist?"
Happiness today does not at all mean that you give up, or that you've plateaued and there's nothing more to do. Being happy today means that you're accepting what you have--and you're going to use everything to your disposal to push for what matters to you. In other words, happiness and ambition are compatible.
An example: I want to grow this blog and build my audience of readers and subscribers. I would love for more people to share these articles, and for my words to reach more and more people. The reality is that today it's still a small group of (awesome!) people that read it. Does that mean I should be unhappy and miserable about it? Definitely not.
If anything, I'm incredibly happy when even one other human reads my words. I'm getting to do something I love, which is write. I absolutely LOVE writing. It's always been something I've enjoyed ever since I was a kid.
Writing is a real joy for me, and I do it even when there is no audience like when I write in my journal. I'm truly happy with what I have today, which is the opportunity to write at all.
With that happiness, I'm able to put in the hard work that writing takes. I write as many days of the week as possible, and I sometimes take a leap and share the things I want to share, even when I'm a little afraid to. I show up and put in that work, because I love what I'm doing. I love that I'm improving as a writer just by doing it more often. It's that "striving after my potential" that keeps me going. I don't know what my potential is, but I do know that if I keep showing up every day, I am growing and learning.
That success is already there-- the success of getting to pursue a dream of mine, and the success of doing something that lights my soul on fire. I'm not doing this for anyone else other than myself-- and that's what it makes it so much fun.
It's this attitude that ironically generates my best writing. When I write thinking that someone is going to read it, I often end up writing a muted piece. It comes across as generic or boring... akin to a painting you might see in a doctor's office, like of some trees by a lake. It'd be hard to offend anyone with some trees by a lake, but it'd also be hard to deeply move someone by it-- which is why it's decorating a doctor's office.
When I write because I love what I write, and when I write because it makes me happy and fills me with joy, those posts are shared more by my readers. I think it's because that passion shines through my work-- and people love to share passion. It's contagious. It's why I love certain music or movies or why I have some of the friends I do--they have a passion and a drive inside of them that is always shining. Being around them sparks something in me, and gets me moving and thinking and running around.
This month is our "Happiness Month", and my challenge to all of you is to think about your own path right now. Are you waiting for some mythical moment when everything in your life comes together, or are you doing the work, and living your life today with a true joy and happiness and appreciation? If you're unhappy with where you are today, what things ARE you happy about? It can be as small or as big as you want-- anything from having your health, to being grateful for a friend or family member. Maybe it's a pet you have, or a hobby, or a spouse. Find at least one or two things that you're grateful for, and start to focus on that.
Ultimately, we give strength to the things we focus on-- so when we begin to find the positivity in our lives, we start to unlock more doors and opportunity for ourselves. We start to see how we can improve our lives, and make the changes necessary so that we can wake up happy and excited to start our days. We start to pursue that passion that makes others want to rally behind us. We become leaders without even trying to be -- all because we're not letting that negativity get in our way. We drop the excuses, and we focus on fighting for what we want.
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