Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to hold onto happiness? Just about the time you think you’ve finally got your arms around happiness, something happens to make you unhappy. Is happiness a myth like some people believe?
The world says you have to earn a lot of money, own a lot of new “stuff”, and become famous if you want to truly achieve happiness. We know that’s not true, but it’s hard to embrace reality when every commercial on television is doing its best to remind us that “the” path to happiness is about buying “things” that will make us happy.
My Experience With Happiness: What Makes Happy People
What life has taught me is the reality that happiness is not something you find or work hard to achieve… it’s a state of mind. It’s about how we think. It’s about getting rid of beliefs from childhood that distort reality. Stated differently, true happiness is about having the courage to take the inner journey. The spiritual teachers and mystics warn that looking for happiness out there in the world is a fool’s errand similar to searching for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
The path to true happiness begins when we awaken to reality. The important question is how quickly we can begin that awakening process. How much suffering and unhappiness will it take to wake us up? It’s human nature to believe we have to discover wisdom for ourselves. So most of us begin the search for happiness by grabbing breakfast and heading out the door confident that we’ll find happiness out there. After all, everybody on television couldn’t possibly be wrong. Right?
Our Beliefs Create Unhappiness
As a therapist I recognized that the majority of my client’s were experiencing unhappiness in their lives for very similar reasons. It wasn’t a life trauma that was creating their pain. In almost ever case it was the inability to let go of a reality distorting childhood belief that was negatively impacting their relationships with others. Even after a divorce or failed friendship, it was common for them to struggle with the same issues in their next relationships or second marriage.
Many of them said they felt like they were trapped in a scene from the movie Ground Hog Day… their unhappy relationships just kept repeating over and over. They realized blaming others for their unhappiness was not working. The repetition of pain and suffering they were experiencing was telling them there was something they needed to embrace within themselves. In every case they were tired of feeling like a victim. They wanted to figure out what the problem was. What did they need to learn?
They were beginning to awaken.They were discovering the courage to begin the inner journey; to begin looking inward for the answers. Their pain and unhappiness over-powered the fear of what they might discover. We could now begin to examine how their relationship breakdowns tended to follow a pattern of thinking and behavior that included five destructive, reality distorting beliefs from early childhood.
Five Beliefs From Childhood That Harm Our Ability To Create Happiness
Belief #1: The need to be right. One of the most important things we learn as children is how to protect our self-identity, or sense of “self”. Our primitive childhood ego does that by insisting that it is always “right”. The key word of course is the word “always”. Our ego’s need to always be “right” is the source of most of the conflict and struggle we create in our relationships with others. Unfortunately, we tend to unconsciously carry this belief into our adult lives; and into our adult relationships.
Reality… no one is smart enough to be “right”…. or “wrong”… all of the time. Stated simply, the need to always be “right” in our relationships with others is a primary creator of unhappiness.
Belief #2: Blaming others for our feelings. “You made me feel _________! is a belief from early childhood. When we were little, we depended on others to care for us…..food, diaper changes, burping, hugs…..you get the point. Unfortunately blaming others for our feelings as adults is like telling the other person to take an aspirin because “we” have a headache. No one can make you feel anything that isn’t already inside of us. For example if I unexpectedly put a snake in your face, you would probably be frightened. Why? Because you have a fear of snakes. If I unexpectedly put a baby bunny rabbit in your face, you would probably want to hold it. Why” Because you don’t have any fears about baby bunny rabbits.
Reality… no one can make you feel anything that isn’t already inside of you. Therefore if someone triggers a strong negative feeling in you, the best course of action is to look within and see if you can discover the memory or experience they are reminding you of from childhood, or an earlier time in your life. How you react is always your choice. Your call. Blaming others for your feelings will only create unhappiness.
Belief #3: Black and white thinking. As children we try to make sense of the confusing adult world around us by keeping things simple. In other words, things are either right or wrong, good or bad, safe or unsafe. Not only does this simple belief create the need to be “right”, it also creates judgmental feelings toward anyone who does something we think is wrong. Again this simple childhood survival skill is unconsciously carried into adulthood.
Reality… life is rarely black and white; it is almost always a shade of gray that defies black and white labels; and there is “always” truth on both sides of every issue. Remember to look for the truth in the other persons position. Life is full of paradox and uncertainty. Happiness is learning to embrace them.
Belief #4: Resisting change and pushing the river. Our childhood primitive ego does not like change. And that is especially true when it comes to changing our beliefs, opinions, assumptions, or expectations. Anything we learned in childhood will be unconsciously carried into adulthood as “absolute truth”… regardless of when or how we learned those “beliefs”. When we hold our beliefs too tightly, we find ourselves resisting reality or what I like to call “pushing the river”.
Reality… is reality whether we like it or agree with it…..or not. And everything in the universe is always evolving and changing. Change is necessary for creation to happen. But we need to remind ourselves that our ego does not like change! When we resist the reality of change, we are “pushing the river”. The universe is what it is. When we resist the universe because we disagree with the reality it is presenting us, or when we refuse to embrace change, we will create unhappiness, pain and suffering for ourselves and others.
Belief #5: Illusion of separateness. As children we grow up believing we are a separate, unique “self”. We tend to see everything in the universe as an “it”, “them” or “other”. In other words, everything else is not “self”. When we unconsciously buy into the illusion of separateness, we judge others, we have relationships with “them”, we use our planet without regard for future generations, we create unsustainable global economic systems, and we pollute our planetary life support system. When everything is an “it”, it is all but impossible to embrace a sense of sacred “thou” in a relationships with “other”. Talk about the creation of unhappiness!
Reality… we are inter-connected with, and inter-dependent on everything in the Universe. We are star dust. Without the sun we would not exist. Without rain we would not exist. Our lives exist because someone or something outside of us provided it for us. When we attempt to function like the classic Marlboro Man riding off into the wilderness… alone… we are unconsciously embracing the dangerous illusion of separateness. We are distorting reality, we are pushing the river, and we are creating unhappiness for ourselves, others, and all of the other living systems that share the life support system of our planet. A good spiritual practice is to acknowledge this simple reality and embrace humility and gratitude… it will create the happiness we would all like to experience.
When we have awakened to these illusions and unconscious beliefs that distort reality we will find happiness. We will be come happy people. We will have awakened to the reality that happiness just is … it’s not something we have to create or search for… we already have it. Like all things spiritual, we just need to awaken to its presence and stop pushing the river.