If you are unhappy, what do you do? If your unhappiness has gone on for a while, what do you do? It can be a perplexing question. Perhaps you feel as though you should be happy because nothing is really wrong - you have everything you need. Sure you could have more money, a bigger house, a fancier car, a more youthful look, the perfect relationship, but all in all your life is as good as the next person. But, you're not happy.
You could decide you’re ill and see a medical person and like many people go on pharmaceutical drugs to help. The idea being that soon you will recover and feel happy. You’ll fit straight back in and be like one of the crowd. This might work.
You could turn to mainstream religion but the idea of an almighty God judging you from on high wanting you to repent doesn’t sound attractive in this modern era.
So what to do?
Have you ever thought that your unhappiness could be linked to where you think you should be as opposed to where you are? You should have achieved more by now? Life should be happier by now? With this type of outlook happiness is derived from external measures. The amount of money you have in the bank. The number of friends you have. The size of your house. Your job. Your profession. The prestige you carry. How good you look. How much you weigh. How many wrinkles you have compared to the next person.
As an aside, Facebook helps accommodate many people who are not comfortable with who they are. You can tell this type of person by the content of the posts they send out. Here’s my new hairdo. Here’s me at a café chilling with my friends. Here’s my new profile pic. Here’s my new piece of clothing. When the content is all about them you can be fairly sure it’s actually a person who isn’t that comfortable in their own skin. They rely very much on external stimulus to feel good. Even then it doesn’t last.
They just had a holiday and 3 months later they’re bored and wanting another holiday to replace the high they got from their previous one. But then when they were on holiday things were expensive, this wasn’t as good as they thought it would be. That didn’t turn out as well as planned etc. But, they still claim they had a great holiday. As long as the focus is on them it doesn’t really matter what they say. They have an audience and that then deflects from those shadow thoughts we all have where life is a little unfulfilling living it this way. That part that we all have, that nagging doubt, that insecurity, those uncomfortable thoughts at night at 2am, that hidden thought where we really don’t like the way we look, things could be better, we could be thinner, richer, better looking. Time for another holiday or that next fix! But it doesn’t work – you know it doesn’t work especially long term.
How do you measure happiness? Is life fair or not? Do you ask “Why me?” Truthfully, these questions are a recipe for unhappiness. I doubt if you’ll ever have enough money. There will always be someone who looks better than you, has a better house, a better car, a better, higher paying job, more prestige.
Maybe you think life is not fair. You just experienced a death in the family and you lost your job and you’re not well. It’s just not fair. It’s like life should be fair. Or you’ve had your fair share of disaster and tragedy it must be someone else’s turn? It’s just not fair.
Whether it’s measuring life through material possessions, what you have versus wanting more, or whether it’s deciding life is not fair because you feel you’ve experienced enough bad stuff compared to others – as long as your measure of happiness is outside of you you’ll never be content. It’s an ego measure. It’s an ‘it’s all about me’ measure and it just doesn’t work. The only thing it works for is the ego because the ego will never be satisfied in the long run. So as long as you get a fix of happiness on a regular basis by the things you do (the holidays you go on, the things you buy, the way you look) the ego is happy because it’s always going to knock you down so that you have to get up again and try something new ‘out there’ to get that fix again. It’s a continual cycle.
This was actually what ‘sin’ was referred to originally. To sin meant to indulge the ego on an endless pursuit of happiness. Dying and being resurrected meant having the realisation through all these ego experiences that there is actually more to life. That true happiness comes from within, we already have it, but we strive for it out there and miss the point. So to die referred to letting go of the ego, not physically dying! Interesting isn’t it? This idea that happiness, God, is out there and we have to wait till we die is a recent phenomenon, in fact it can be traced back to 313AD when the Romans took over Christianity and made it a power game. Prior to that, for over 2000 years, Christianity and the concept of God was similar to many other religions where to achieve happiness meant letting go of the ego and desiring things out there and instead turning within and then valuing the simple things in life – helping others, valuing nature, appreciating how everything is connected and one. But the Romans made it bells and whistles and incense and something unattainable unless you did the right thing and obeyed those powers out there. Hence the rise of the church from being humble to one of power and tall churches and robes and communion. It was yet another way to keep the masses (us) oppressed. I guess it was clever of the Romans to take over religion while they were on their power seeking journey of taking over the world 800 years ago. Can you think of other ‘systems’ today (organisations, governments, companies) that try to do the same thing? Obviously yes!
It can sound corny but true happiness comes from within. Well really that is step number one. It’s understanding happiness does come from within, not in things or measures ‘out there’. It’s also about understanding that life is not about just cruising through it. Life is about embracing the experiences that happen to us and growing from them. And we do that through the ego, through sin, through striving for things out there to make us happy. Why do we do it through the ego? Well it’s difficult to understand true happiness until you have experienced some knock backs in life. This can seem so obvious but for many people life is about constantly striving to make it better by achieving more and overcoming fears and insecurities by trying to have more control over life. Good luck with that one, that’s exhausting. For others you get to a stage in life, and it’s generally at about age 50, where you finally realise that this ego stuff is not what it’s about. Mind you, many, many people never have this realisation. They die ‘stick in the muds’ grumpy, holding on ever tighter to their control measures, beliefs and ‘things’. It really is so liberating to get to a stage in life where you can say “I don’t know - I don't have the answers ”!
Life becomes much more manageable when you realise life is perfect as it is. Those experiences you are having is how it is meant to be. The more you struggle against it, the more we tend to suffer. The more we go with it and experience it, the more life seems to flow. So much of how we experience life is determined by our thoughts and feelings. Many people are ruled by their thoughts, they are their thoughts. They are their fears, concerns, worries and other life draining emotions. When we learn to chill more, step back and learn to observe our life more, we also then learn to not take it so seriously. This is not meant as a flippant remark. Life can be scary and fearful. When you have no money or lose a job or get sick, fearful emotions are very real. This is not about pretending they are not there or minimising them. It’s more about not getting consumed by them. Learning to observe all our thoughts and feelings more, the emphasis being on ‘observing’ them, helps us create some distance from who we really are as opposed to thinking we are those thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness is a way to help identify and build that side of ourselves that can observe rather than ‘do’ or ‘be’ our thoughts and feelings. The role of mindfulness is definitely a step in the right direction to manage and enjoy life more in the present moment. It’s one step closer to connecting with nature and having a sense of spirituality. This is an important point to make. Because if you don’t find another avenue to what you have already been trying, what else is there? Constantly trying to improve, to move upwards, get better, get more, keep trying, is probably what you’ve always done. It works for a while and then you find yourself back to where you were emotionally and back with those fearful, unwanted thoughts. So perhaps it’s not about moving up, perhaps it’s about falling into trust and acceptance. This can be a very scary process. It will also though, be very, very rewarding. Richard Rohr calls it “Falling Upwards”, Tom Petty called it “Free Falling”.
The more you fall, trust that it’s all meant to be the way it is, become increasingly humble, know that beauty is in what’s there now, no matter how ugly it may seem, have a greater realisation that this is it - the more you do these things the more you will realise that life is at it should be right now. It’s like a relief, a weight off your shoulders, a revelation.
So how do you start? Why not try sitting in silence for 1 minute and become aware of your thoughts? You know why this can be so hard? Because all the ugly stuff comes up when you do it. You feel exposed and you start facing all those thoughts and feelings you’ve been trying to cover up through the ego stuff you’ve indulged in. Silly in a way isn’t it? It can be easier buying a $100,000 Range Rover than to sit for 1 minute in silence and just see what comes up!
But know, and this requires trust as you start to uncover the true you, the real you, that you are not your thoughts and feelings. Learning to detach from them, to create some space, some distance, is the beginning of the realisation that you are not those thoughts and feelings – you are not who you thought you were! This is the beginning of your resurrection. The new you. It’s never going to be easy. It was never meant to be. But then living in debt and stress and doubt is not easy either. So you can start today. One minute of silence, reflection. Just let it happen. Let it start to unfold and let your Wise Self start to come out from all the ego stuff you’ve covered it up with. It’s always been there, waiting. You just need to get out of the way to let it out. One minute of observing can start this journey. Good luck.
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