Happiness can be found by eating the fruit or by moving away from the tree.
It’s easy to forget that there are two ways to find happiness. Most of the time we focus on just one approach: try to fulfill your desires. This is so normal for all of us that we don’t even stop to think about it. If you want to be happy, find out what you want and go get it. There’s nothing more to it than that. And there are tons of proof of how this simple idea works.
But why then are so many of us unhappy? Because this simple approach is not always so simple. In fact, there are a lot of exceptions to this rule. But exceptions always point to something bigger, a bigger rule. Let’s look for that more all-encompassing point of view together.
The idea of finding out what it is you want and then going and getting it is great. But there are a few things that can trip you up on this course.
First of all, I don’t always know what I want, so I may never even get started on the path of action. Then, just because I know what I want doesn’t mean I can get it. It might take hard work, luck, help from others, or a very long time to fulfill a desire. There may be internal obstacles too, beliefs like “I can’t do it,” and the rest. And finally, when I do get what I want, it might turn out not to be what I actually wanted after all.
In other words, if my happiness is dependent on achieving something, then my happiness is tenuous. If I don’t achieve what I want, then my quest for happiness can become a source of unhappiness.
In my experience, yes. Because getting what I want is not the only way to be happy. It is equally possible to be happy without getting what I want as long as I’m not attached to my desire.
Think about it, who would you be if you weren’t attached to getting what you wanted? For me, it feels free, it feels peaceful, and it feels restful. I would even go as far as to say it feels happy. That is because happiness is our natural state. It doesn’t come from getting what we want. It just gets enlivened when we get what we want. But happiness is there anyway, if you can notice it.
It’s just more subtle. It’s not fireworks with “Oohs” and “Aahs.” It feels more like contentment, easiness, and normalness. What if we considered normalness to be happiness? It’s a different idea than we’re used to. Then there would be no need to beef it up with fireworks. We could if we wanted to but we wouldn’t need to. The baseline itself would be fine.
Happiness can be had by two different means. First, I can find a way to get what I want. If I succeed, I’ll be happy. Or, second, I can enjoy what I have. Both ways lead equally well to happiness.
Getting what I want = Wanting what I have
If I see these two as equal, then I can be happy in any situation. If I’m able to get what I want, I’ll obviously be happy. But if I cannot get what I want, or if it is going to take a long time to get what I want, then I can still be happy as long as I can be content with what I have.
This little equation sounds simple, but is it practical? How in the world does one become content with whatever one has? It’s a tall order actually, but there’s an elegant solution to the problem. It’s called The Work of Byron Katie.
Take any stressful situation. It is stressful because some desire is not being fulfilled. The attachment to fulfilling the desire causes the stress. Question the desire and the attachment naturally tends to fade or even disappear. As the attachment becomes less or goes away, happiness comes back, even without fulfilling the desire.
The Work is all about culturing the ability to “love what is” and to “want what I have.” With this tool in your pocket you can chase your wildest dreams without getting stressed. Because if you fail, you know you didn’t need it anyway. You already have everything you need. In this way, the wins and losses of life become much less emotionally significant.
Ironically, with less attachment, action is often more effective anyway.
So, if you ever get hung up on some attachment, do The Work of Byron Katie. Or do The Work every day and culture a habit of holding all desires loosely. It can mean the difference between happiness and suffering.