Looking for Happiness Is an Obstacle to Happiness


If I can just get here, then I’ll be happy.

Replace the Word, “Here,” with Anything

If I can just get ahead financially, then I’ll be happy.
If I can just have a more balanced schedule, then I’ll be happy.
If I can just get enlightened, then I’ll be happy.

The variations of this basic thought are infinite. “If I can just have X, then I’ll be happy.” But ironically, this is the whole story of unhappiness.

When I Desperately Want Anything, I Suffer

Even if I want happiness.

Wanting to be happy literally creates the opposite of happiness. Yet, how much energy, money, time, and effort do I spend looking for happiness? Yearning for it? Celebrating it when it comes? And crying when it goes?

That is not peace. That is not true happiness. True happiness is happy with what is. No matter what the finances are. No matter what the schedule looks like. No matter how unenlightened I feel. No matter how unhappy I may be. Can I be happy with that?

True Happiness Has a Different Definition

True happiness is not necessarily the experience of getting what I want. True happiness is not dependent on anything going my way.

True happiness is more like contentment, or peace. Happy with whatever comes, even if it is failure, or sickness, or overwhelm, or poverty.

Can I be happy even living an imbalanced, imperfect life? That is the question worth contemplating. If I can, I can be happy, or content, or peaceful, even when I’m “unhappy.”

What If It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This?

What if sitting here typing this little email to you is life, the whole of it? Here I am with all of my life-long habits of straining, and perfectionism, and feeling a little pressure for time, and that tension in my neck right now.

What if this were good enough? What if I were happy with this, instead of pining away for an enlightenment that never comes?

As I write, I feel happier just thinking this way. Maybe accepting is the better word. And that brings peace. And that somehow opens up my heart. It’s enough.

Have a great week,

“This takes a radically open mind, and nothing less than an open mind is creative enough to free you from the pain of arguing with what is. An open mind is the only way to peace. As long as you think that you know what should and shouldn’t happen, you’re trying to manipulate God. This is a recipe for unhappiness.” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy

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  • Jennifer L. says:

    That, for me, is a really clear explanation of believing our thoughts and then suffering…or not.

    At some point in my life I heard stories of Buddhist monks and possibly enlightened people who were in prisons for years…beaten, starved, in squalor. Yet they were still happy and kind to their jailers. Somehow they were able to maintain a sort of happiness and peace in a situation that would make me become depressed and wish for death! If the door opened and they were allowed to be free again it’s not that they preferred to be in the prison; they got up and left! So on some level, at least at certain times while in prison, they probably did think about getting out. But the preference didn’t seem to result in suffering.

    That way of being is what has lead me in life towards examining my thoughts. The monks represent an extreme example of being happy when things don’t go the way we want, but it’s useful for me. As humans, we can have peace and moments of happiness if we don’t believe that things ought to be different. I still forget that much of the time, but doing The Work is providing a way out.

  • todd says:

    Thanks for sharing this example, Jennifer. So clear. 🙂

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