Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Key to Happiness...

We all strive to be happy, yet the feeling is fleeting. Many of us erect a facade of happiness that hides our our true feelings. We build a shell of deceit to fool those around us or even ourselves. We convince ourselves we're happy by surrounding ourselves with a nice house, cars, and other material toys. We busy ourselves with daily routines. We go through the motions of entertaining ourselves with mundane activities like television or vacations to Disney World.

Deep down, we suspect there may be something missing. We have a vague feeling of emptiness. We have a yearning for something that creates ambiguous sensations that border on regret. Our attempts at making our life comfortable only elicit an inner chasm of unhappiness. 

What exactly causes this inner darkness we fight to suppress? What are we missing?

Excitement.

We secretly yearn for something mysterious, even dangerous. We want unpredictability; we want something that challenges our spirit. We want to be pushed to an extreme of our comfort zone. We yearn to feel the raw emotion of experiences that make our heart beat uncontrollably. 

We want to feel alive.

Unfortunately most people actively crush these feelings under the mistaken belief that these feeling cause chaos, and chaos is bad. This results in people striving to be normal, to plant roots, to eliminate unpredictability in their lives. 

They settle.

The results are predictable. The cessation of chaos always brings feelings of warmth and comfort, of relaxation. If these feelings persisted, there would be no problems with settling.

With time, however, these feelings of contentment give way to a far more insidious emotion... boredom

The lack of excitement that results is the true source of that deeply-held vacuum we so desperately try to ignore. When the feelings of inadequacy begin to set in, we're initially confused. We should be happy, right? Other people around us have everything we have and do everything we do, and they seem happy. 

This realization causes us to ignore that inner-yearing. We begin building a facade to hide our discontent because we don't want others to see our unhappiness. 

Over time, our facade grows as our inner darkness deepens. We make feeble attempts at placating the darkness by small acts that provide feeling excitement. Maybe we buy a new outfit or take up a new hobby. We have to be cautious, though. We don't want to appear to over-zealous so as to upset our facade. Sadly, that hesitation to fully embrace adventure keeps us forever imprisoned in a world marked by silent desperation. We're drowning in boredom and unwilling to reach for the one life preserver that can save us- embracing excitement.

Several years ago, Shelly and I were in that position. We had secure jobs that provided good pay and benefits. We were progressing toward home ownership. We owned two cars. We watched TV. We planned brief vacations to exotic locales. We were living the American dream. And it was killing us.

Eventually we had enough courage to talk about that inner emptiness we were both experiencing. The resulting conversations led to a critical decision- we were going to lead lives based on excitement. We ruthlessly culled everything in our lives that contributed to our unhappiness, which included our "normal" house, our jobs, many of our material possessions, some friends and other acquaintances, social commitments, and anything else that wasn't exciting.

The results were profound. We ended up on an eighteen month journey that has taken us across the U.S. It allowed us to spend time with out children to really get to know them. It allowed us to meet a ton of like-minded people that are at various stages of the same excitement-based lifestyle we adopted. Most importantly, it allowed us to learn to effectively communicate our needs to each other. That has allowed us to break free of the facade that we hid behind like so many others do on a regular basis. Our inner desires we no longer cast away deep inside us. The resulting liberation has been nothing short of live-changing.

SO how can YOU make similar changes? How can you stop the habit of burying your inner desires under a wall of uninspiring routine? How can you escape boredom and bring true excitement to your life?

The ingredients are pretty simple:

1. Acknowledge those inner feelings. This is a critical first step. We're trained to believe those inner feelings are wrong. We continually  receive social reinforcement that being content is synonymous with happiness, and we'll go to great lengths to deceive others... and ourselves. 

2. Accept those inner feelings. Just because we acknowledge our inner feeling doesn't necessarily mean we'll accept them. Guilt and shame are the mortar that binds the bricks of the facade of contentment. From an early age, we're taught that thoughts, feelings, or behaviors are right or wrong. This moral judgment is the single most powerful reason we bury that which truly excites us. Accepting the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is the wrecking ball that destroys the facade of deceit.

3. Ruthlessly eliminate the obstacles that inhibit your quest for excitement. Pareto's principle states 80% of effects derive from 20% of causes. In other words, 80% of the boredom disguised as unhappiness you experience is caused by 20% of the situations or people in your life. Boring people breed unhappiness. Identify that 20% and eliminate it from your life. If that's not possible, dramatically limit your exposure to those people or situations.

4. Don't make excuses. Many of us get caught in a trap of trying to alleviate our unhappiness by trying to change other people. This gives us a convenient excuse to stay in our present situation no matter how unhappy we feel. Of course, it's almost impossible to change others. It's far more prudent to accept people for who they are. If we can tolerate them, so be it. If not, we need to eliminate them from our lives. To be an agent of change, we need to realize we need to start and end with ourselves.

5. Don't apologize. We often feel tremendous guilt for taking control of our lives. We feel our quest for excitement is somehow selfish. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Excitements breeds happiness. Happiness is infectious. It is a beam of sunlight that illuminates the lives of those around us. Our friends, coworkers, and family all benefit from this radiated happiness. All too often, I see people going through the motions of happiness. They don't fool anyone. Their facial expressions and tone of voice betray their words. Their inner-emptiness is painfully obvious to the astute observer. These people desperately need to unapologetically add excitement to their lives, which usually involves making themselves a priority. There is no reason to apologize; there is no reason to see this as a selfish act. The resulting happiness will be infinitely more powerful than the manufactured smiles we hide behind.

6. Surround yourself with intriguing people. Some people are multi-layered and have a air of mystery. They possess a duality of spirit that is impossible to predict... slightly dangerous even. This makes them inherently exciting, which is exactly what we crave. Resist people that are one-dimensional, that have little depth of spirit. These are the people that are content to go through the motions of life without digging deeper into the greater meaning behind anything. At first, this can be difficult. Many people may do exciting behaviors, but lack the duality that adds spice to their actions. These people tend to be emotional succubus's that ultimately kill your inner desire to seek excitement. Over time, they will prove to be no different than the outwardly boring.

7. Act. Sadly, this post will resonate with a lot of people that will fail to act. They ill recognize their inner void. They will feel a tinge of excitement at the very thought of living out their deepest desires. Unfortunately that facade they've built will effectively be enough to create a litany of excuses to remain on the sidelines of life. The antidote is simple- do something... anything. Find one experience that excites you, then make it happen. Start small. Revel in the feelings. Build from there.

Of course, some people will not relate to this post. Those people fall into two categories:

1. The habitually boring. Some people really are happy with sameness. They have no inner fire that has to be extinguished on a regular basis. There's nothing wrong with this. We all have different personalities; yours is perfectly valid. Simply ignore everything written here. Just realize not everyone shares your desire for routine and monotony.

2. The people that have effectively convinced themselves they're habitually boring. This is the group that read through this post and mentally objected to each and every section. These are the people that have fully internalized the process of rationalizing their unhappiness. It has become an unconscious process. As much as I would like to try to convince you otherwise, I know it's a lost cause. I know the depths of your self-deception far surpass the power of my words. Once you stop feeling that deep inner-fire, it takes a profound life experience to reignite. Like the group above, simply ignore this post. That is, until you experience the event that reignites that fire. Then come back and re-read this post. ;-)

For most of us, happiness is excitement. Society tells us otherwise, and that lesson is reinforced by those around us. Most of us are silently suffering through lives of quiet desperation, secretly yearning to feel alive. If we acknowledge and accept these feelings, we empower ourselves to act. Once we act, even if it's a small gesture, we begin busting through the facade we've build to hide our inner fire.


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