When we are young, we simply exist. We’re content. Things upset us, we cry but we get over it. Things make us happy, we laugh and we move on from that. No state is permanent.
But sometimes things deeply upset us. When that happens we lose perspective for days, weeks, months, years or the rest of our lives. That internal gnawing that something is wrong lives within us and causes us pain that fades into the background. Then we use that pain to define ourselves because it’s been there so long. And then it may even manifest itself as a physical or mental illness.
Nevertheless, we’re still able to detect and know that we are not comfortable. Yes, we might’ve clenched our hand into a fist until it felt normal, but we know deep down that it isn’t natural. We want to relax now, but it is at this point when we begin to chase things in order to make us happy. The fist remains clenched.
The relationship, the job, the prestige, the power, the wealth, the connections, the body, the health, the spiritual or religious awakening, the technology, the mastery, the education or the some other thing that we value greatly — one or some or most or all and more of these things can be used to improve how we feel about ourselves.
Unfortunately, none of them work. Not for long.
We know too many people who have suffered greatly in a relationship (familial, platonic, romantic), thinking that they could use people to make themselves feel good. Your emotional investment in another person will not guarantee that they will stay nor will it guarantee that they will do what you want. We all know this, but we do not live it.
Power, prestige, wealth, connections and occupation can be gone overnight. Yet, we live like we’re going to be in the ascendency forever. Didn’t you oust someone to get that position or power? Aren’t you going to die and abdicate said position and power and all the accoutrements that come with it?
Religion is a tricky one because you can always feel like your happiness comes from your god. But why would this be the one external thing that will bring you happiness when all the others don’t? Religion is truly brilliant because it’s the one external thing that is actually just a thought. More specifically, it’s faith. No one can prove that their religion is correct, so the security they feel is due to the thought that it is real. Anyone that tells you that they can prove their religion is correct is a charlatan.
I’m not saying abandon your religion. I’m just saying you can’t prove a faith.
Spirituality is also tricky because you trap yourself into a self-righteousness that can be so difficult to see through. “You’re one with the Universe.” Okay, but so what? What was the reason you sought spirituality? If it was to escape pain and suffering, then you just broke one of the cardinal rules of spirituality: “What you resist, persists.” So if you were trying to escape suffering, well then, how’s that going for ya?
As I said, all of these things (and more) are things we use to make ourselves happy. They are also unreliable. Why?
1. Because they are subject to change, and
2. You cannot control them.
Again, WE ALL KNOW THIS. But we try to circumvent it or ignore it. Then we get upset when things change. We’re desperate. We cannot continue to live in this pain, so we have to circumvent and ignore this. We have to rely on prayer and the law of attraction and hope for something to change so that we feel better about ourselves.
Also, 3. Everything ends, but we all act surprised when it does. It ends because you had a goal that it never end, a goal that was never achievable. A goal that would ensure that you be happy forever and that internal gnawing would finally stop.
“‘All conditioned things are impermanent’ — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.” — The Buddha
Now, there’s a solution to this, but you’re not going to like it. It’s the last thing you’d ever think to do or want to do. It’s obvious, it’s intuitive but it’s also difficult because no one ever taught us how to do it.
The solution is to find happiness in the one place that will never change but even if it did, we would be perfectly okay with that. Our happiness must be found within ourselves.
Keeping relationships in mind, you only really like the people who say, do and think the things you like. That implies that you actually just like your values being reflected back to you by this other person. You are friendly with someone or attracted to someone not necessarily because of them, but because they have things you like. It’s about you.
With money, power, prestige and occupation, you were the one placing value on these things in the first place. These things have absolutely no inherent value. You give it value.
Some people have no interest in being millionaires. Check for yourself. The happiest people are not the wealthiest. Don’t get me wrong, having money “causes” you to be happy, but really it’s more like you can get the shit you enjoy. Again, it’s about you. You value electricity and going on vacation. Money is a tool to get you what you value. You are the source of the valuation of money, power, prestige and occupation.
For the religious, didn’t Jesus say the Kingdom of God is within you? I need not say anything more. For the spiritual, you intuitively know this is the only logical avenue.
While this is fair and makes sense, how can we practically find happiness within?
You do this in the same way that you attached happiness to external things. Firstly, cultivate a healthy self-image. You have got to start loving yourself. This is where your values come from. You then project your values into the world and fall in love with the world when you see things that reflect your values. You love yourself already. You just don’t live like it.
You think you’re a fool for some opinion you have, but the moment someone else says it, you’re elated! You’re so happy that the external world validated your internal world. You could’ve valued your internal world from the beginning but because you learnt to devalue yourself, you refuse to do it.
You do some strange thing that you think people would laugh at you for, until you realise that there’s a community of people like you doing the same thing. Suddenly, you don’t feel so strange. You now celebrate yourself and respect yourself because of the external world, when it cost you nothing to just value yourself from the start. You’d be better off and happier anyway.
Secondly, you have to spend time with yourself in solitude. No thinking. It’s just like when you sit with a loved one and you don’t need to say anything but just enjoy each other’s company. Consider enjoying your own company. Sounds ridiculous until you actually do it. You can sit and enjoy your company, walk and enjoy your company, or whatever. As long as you are placing your attention on you, that is good.
This is how to cultivate self-love. This is how you feel your essence. This is what people feel when they are around you. It’s your signature more than your own signature, and through it you express your individuality. When you know yourself you go where you belong, to whom you are a good fit and do the things that are reflective of the true you.
The funny thing about this is that people think it’s hard to be yourself, but that’s just not true. It’s easier than you think, but you also think you’re wrong for being who you are and being happy with what you’re doing (or not doing). It’s hard to not be yourself because you have to force yourself to do things you never wanted to do but because you value the externals more than yourself, you’re a slave to them.
Sometimes being a slave is easier than being free. You’re used to one but not the other.
Similarly, when we pursue external factors to make us happy and we suffer we can’t really be surprised. But guess what is the one and only thing that has never upset you, but when you ignore it you cause yourself grief?
No one is saying to abandon your relationships, your job, your religion or material things. Just make sure you aren’t using these things to make you happy. It won’t end well.
But you already knew that.