Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Core Challenge II

Wait a minute, isn't happiness also a side-effect of something deeper?

Yes... and no. Sure, we often experience happiness as a result of having achieved a goal, or seeing friends, or being presented a good meal. In these cases, you could see happiness as a side effect.


But most of the time it's the pursuit of happiness or the avoidance unhappiness that motivated achieving the goal, or visiting the friends, or seeking out the restaurant. One could go so far as to say that all actions are motivated either by the pursuit and maintenance of happiness or the avoidance and relegation of unhappiness.

Oh come on. You trying to tell me that everyone does what they do in order to be happy?

Sure. When I say "happy", I'm not talking about a giddy, jubilant state of bliss; I'm talking about a state of well-being that can characterized by emotions ranging from quiet contentment to intense joy to raucous hilarity. It's wanting to be happy that motivates everything we do.

Then why is it that people seem to be so unhappy?

They're no good at it?

You mean like they're no good at thinking?

Well, kind of. I think there are several challenges. First of all, people often don't recognize that that they're doing what they're doing in order to be happy.

For example...

For example, people go to work because they have to earn a living. Couples often abandon former pursuits in order to be together. Parents don't take time for themselves because they have to take care of their children. We often believe that we're doing things for others or because we must.

So, how are these examples of people really doing what they're doing in order to be happy?

Consider the guy who's "killing himself" working a hundred hours a week to put food on the table, to save for college tuition, and to pay off the mortgage and the car loans. If you dig down to the root cause, he's actually "killing himself" in order to be happy.

His happiness might be tied to his self-image and being a responsible father. It might be tied to the prestige he draws from having a big house, nice cars and kids at good schools. It might be that his wife is happy having all the above, and that makes him happy. It's different for each person, but in the end it comes down to wanting to be happy.

So the mom who worries all the time about her kids is doing it to be happy?

Sure, she might be trying to satisfy an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility or guilt, she might believe that she can't be happy unless or kids are happy and successful; in the end, she's doing it to be happy.

But aren't you just playing a game of semantics here?

It could degrade to that if we didn't pursue the next step.

What next step?

Stopping with the understanding that everything we do is motivated by happiness leads to intellectual masturbation. The question is, now that you see it, what do you do?

What do you do?

Knowing that everything you do is about becoming or staying happy, you can start creating shortcuts to happiness. Oftentimes we start an activity clearly understanding how it will lead to happiness, but then we get distracted along the way. For example, let's say you decided to learn the guitar because you wanted to play music with others, in bands, in sing-alongs, with a choir, etc.

You get your guitar, you take some lessons, you practice and you finally get to play. You perform with your church's choir and everyone loves it. You're happy.

Afterwards, a friend hands you a recording she made of the performance and you can't wait to hear it. You're even happier.

You rush home to listen to the recording, slide the memory card into your computer and crank up the speakers. As you listen, you start to notice little mistakes--places where you came in just a bit early, or momentarily hit the wrong chord, or lost the rhythm--and you start to feel less happy about playing.

You determine that you're going to practice more, to work harder so that you won't make the same mistakes next time. Before you know it, your practice times start to feel more like work than play. You start getting frustrated with mistakes.

Why are you frustrated? Because, you've decided to withhold happiness from yourself until you play perfectly. But why were you playing in the first place? Because playing made you happy. So, if playing makes you happy, why withhold happiness until you play perfectly?

Because if I didn't, I might not practice as hard?

Uh huh. But would that really be the case? Could you be happy with playing and still work hard to become better?

Well, yeah, sure.

But you don't because you don't recognize that you're doing it all in order to be happy. You start to believe you're practicing in order to get better or to ensure that you don't make mistakes or to fulfill your responsibilities to the choir. You lose sight of happiness.

Once you remember, you can step back and decide: Shit, I only started this because I wanted to be happy. Now I'm withholding happiness from myself in order to play better so that I can be happy. Why not just be happy in the first place?

And that works?

Try it.

Happy Sunday,

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