Happiness Postscript

My book on happiness back in 2013 was insightful. 

I went back and reread part of it, and while there are certainly holes in the logic that I now see, I do understand the path I took, and think someone could follow along and gain from a recalibration of how they think about things, which will increase their happiness.

I ended the book, though, back where I began. Searching again for Happiness.

Of course, I now know that much of this mental work is like a upward spiral, where each level of awareness raises me higher as I wrap back around to the same question I started with.  Yes, the question is the same, but the understanding and assumptions that underlie the question are next level, and allows for a jumping off point to the future at a much higher level of thought.

However, at it’s essence, I found myself back at a steady state of disillusion with life.  And it is this disillusion that pushed me forward the past few years to think more about the question.  

This is really just an update to what I found. 

In its essence, the discovery was that as long as I am living in my mind, happiness was somewhat sketchy. I could improve the happiness of life but I was still in the confines of the mind. The mind reflects backwards or plans for the future.  That is its natural state.  And sometimes the mind is less scared or more relaxed than other times.

What I learned is that the only way out, was through. To stop all the thinking, rumination, and protective planning, and exit the container of the mind, and rather focus on awareness of the present moment. No thinking, just feeling.

Practically, what this means was to move to a more constant state of awareness.  A state of being aware of my surroundings, and where I am right in each moment.  Besides being exceptionally grounding, it also allowed me to see the canvas on which I was writing my thoughts better.  And in doing so, I was able to recognize the negative bend I naturally chose to give them.   

This is likely both nature and nurture, but most importantly I now realize it is a choice.  The question then becomes, how can I flip this default thinking to something more positive.  And this is my current work and discovery.

Who said?

A big storm ravaged my neighborhood a few days back, and the streets around me are riddled with downed trees. Driving to the doctor this AM, I felt like I was in a fabricated maze, with me the rat trying to find it’s way to the cheese. And not having any luck finding a way out.

As the frustration welled within me, I was able to step back and ask myself, “Who said that because I’m not getting my way, I need to be frustrated and annoyed?” I don’t think I ever have asked that question to myself before questioning this fundamental assumption.

Rather, I have always just assumed that when I don’t get what I want, frustration is the appropriate outcome. However, as I have worked on more consistent happiness, I realized that, in fact, I was making a choice, and this choice was dragging me down to an emotional state that I don’t want to dwell in.

Driving along, I was able to break the mental grip that this assumption had on me. Of course, it didn’t immediately change my perspective, but with a little time, the frustration dissipated a little, and I am hopeful that next time I am not getting my way, I’ll be quicker to remember that I can just approach this with a more neutral or detached response, or perhaps just laugh at how finicky life is, and appreciate what I do have.

I do think that I learned something new about how I think, though. That my default belief is that if I am doing something, then I am equally attached to everything that I take on, and they are all equally important. And as we know, that is certainly not true. Some things do seem more important that others, and I need to differentiate those few important things, and certainly not get emotionally attached to the things that are not important.

Further, if I am honest, few things in my life are now really that important (and likely never were). Even those things that I think are key to my happiness, have equally interesting outcomes should I choose a different path – or if the path I am on is cut off due to my lack of control.

The basic takeaway I want to bring along is that I hope that next time things don’t go my way, I have the clarity of mind, to recognize that it is happening and to ask myself if I want to get frustrated or allow it to be. Put another way, I should ask myself which is less painful, the frustration that I will feel if I remain attached to the outcome or the actual lack of the outcome itself? And then I will remind myself that frustration also doesn’t need to be the response, rather, it can just be a focus on all those amazing things that I do have in my life right then and there as this minor inconvenience sits there: look at things in the macro and not the micro.

Most importantly, though, I will question the assumption that I need to feel frustrated at my lack of control, in the first place. Someone taught me that once upon a time, and I feel like it no longer serves me.

An Email on Happiness from Don Joseph Goewey

Don Joseph Goewey emailed me this yesterday, and I thought it was too important not to share with the world. I edited his thoughts a little, but hopefully not too much. If you appreciate his thoughts, you will also enjoy the book Awareness by Anthony Demello or his Happiness Podcast.

“Happiness is your natural state; no one gives it to you and no one takes it from you.  It’s a set of false belief that ruins happiness. When you drop those false beliefs, happiness arises all by itself. 

Your society and your culture taught you to believe that you would not be happy without certain persons and certain things. Just take a look around you. Everywhere you look, people have built their lives on the unquestioned belief that without money, power, success, approval, a good reputation, romance, friendship, spirituality, or God, they cannot be happy.

Once you swallowed this belief, you naturally developed an attachment to some person or thing you were convinced that, without, you could not be happy. Then followed your efforts to acquire your precious thing or person, to cling to it once it was acquired, and to fight off every possibility of losing it. This finally led you to abject emotional dependence so that the object of your attachment had the power to thrill you when you attained it, to make you anxious lest you be deprived of it, and make you miserable when you lost it. Once your attachment had you in its grip, you began to strive with every waking minute of your life to rearrange the world around you so that you could attain and maintain the objects of your attachment.

This is an exhausting task. It leaves you little energy for the business of living and enjoying life fully. It is also an impossible task in an ever-changing world that you simply are not able to control. So, instead of living a life of serenity and fulfillment, you are doomed to a life of frustration, anxiety, worry, insecurity, suspense, and tension. For a few fleeting moments, the world does indeed yield to your efforts and rearranges itself to suit your desires. Then you experience a flash of pleasure and become happy, briefly. But it isn’t happiness at all because it is accompanied by the underlying fear that at any moment this world of things and people that you have painstakingly put in place will slip out of your control and let you down. And sooner or later, it will.

Stop for a moment and contemplate in horror the endless list of attachments that you have become a prisoner to. Think of concrete things and persons, not abstractions. It is helpful for each of us to identify our particular combination.

An attachment is not a fact. It is a belief, a fantasy, in your head, acquired through programming. If that fantasy did not exist inside your head, you would not be attached. You would love things and people, and you would enjoy them thoroughly, but on a nonattachment basis. As a matter of fact, is there any other way to really enjoy something?

When you have made a list of all of your attachments, to each person or thing that comes to mind, say: ‘I am not really attached to you at all. I am merely deluding myself into the belief that without you I will not be happy.’ Do this honestly and see the change that comes about within you. Say: ‘I am not really attached to you at all. I have merely cheated myself into the belief that without you I will not be happy.’

When you’re ready to exchange your illusions for reality, when you’re ready to exchange your dreams for facts, that’s when life finally becomes meaningful. That’s where life becomes beautiful. Can you imagine how liberating it is to never be disillusioned again, to never be disappointed again? You’ll never feel let down again. Never feel rejected. Want to wake up? You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas.”

Feeling my Feelings

I have been spending some time lately working on fully experiencing my feelings, since I think that until recently, I spent more time in my head than really feeling things. Meaning that as soon as I felt a feeling, it acted as a trigger to figure out how to react, and took me into a planning place if it was a bad feeling I wanted to get rid of or to start thinking about how not to lose the feeling if it was good . It also meant that I outsourced feelings more to the people I surrounded myself with and lived vicariously through feeling their own strong feelings.

To better integrate and internalize my feelings, I took a few moments to learn where in my body different feelings resided.

Here is what I found:

Anxiety – Above heart.

Fear – Center of chest inline with heart.

Scared – Top of neck where it meets the jaw. (Not sure yet how this is different than fear. Also, need to pinpoint how it is different than Happiness.)

Anger – A little higher on the torso than fear.

Sadness – Below eyes towards nose.

Gratefulness – Lightness where torso meets neck.

Happiness – Lightness below eyes towards temple, Lower Jaw Area (Throat to Mouth).

Boredom – Flows left from left temple.

Confusion – Center of forehead.

What has been interesting, is that feeling my feelings certainly makes me feel more grounded in my own body, and more connected to myself, which in some ways is to be expected.

More interestingly, I have learned that using this method allows me to tap into feeling multiple things at one time. I always assumed that when I felt sad, that only sadness was there, but I have learned that usually, I can also sense some happiness. It’s just that the sadness seems to take over everything and become the focus. With this knowledge and skill, I can instead tune into the feelings of happiness that are faint, and really focus on moving my emotional space there.

Awareness and Feedback Loops

I was hiking earlier this week, when I slipped on a rock, and mentioned to my friend who was with me “I’m getting old.” To which she responded, maybe you are or maybe you aren’t, but either way it doesn’t matter unless you connect the action to some meaning.

And with this idea, and the idea of feedback loops, I think we can explain most of what makes each of us tick.

A Feedback Loop is a self-reinforced idea. So for example, if I already think I’m old, then every time I experience something that reinforces this idea, this thought of being old gets stronger. Not only that, I start to ignore all of those times when there is evidence in the other direction, that I am not old. Eventually, this becomes a foundational personal belief.

We have these beliefs from childhood rattling around our brains, and the first step to change is awareness to the meaning we are attaching. From there, we can question this meaning, and begin stopping the negative feedback loop we have created, replacing it with something more positive.

In fact, the goal is then to create a positive feedback loop, where you no longer even think to consider that the original belief is true.

So, for example, in my case, the fact that I slipped was not due to “getting older” rather just slipping. I’m sure I slipped when I was younger too. Correlation is not causation, so now instead of blaming things on my age, I know to instead not attach any particular meaning to it – and at the same time remind myself, I’m not so old. And with that small mental shift, I now feel more invigorated, and younger.

It all starts with the awareness of the meaning we are attributing to things in our life. So start paying attention to the little voice below the surface, and questioning what it is telling you.