The Happiness Myth2019-12-27T12:42:44-05:00
Fierce winds are blowing, flags are flapping, palm branches are bending, and the boat is rocking back and forth beyond a gentle pace, yet not too uncomfortably.
A thick layer of gray-blue clouds covers the big sky, and in the distance rows of condos are lined up on the beach like soup cans in the pantry. Boats of all kinds surround me, including mega yachts owned by celebrities, though we’ve had no celebrity sightings. We’re here in North Palm Beach, living through the holiday break in a marina, aboard a boat.
Grateful for the Break
I’m feeling very grateful to be here in warm weather, even on a blustery and windy day, able to sit in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, having time in close quarters with our kids, being able to reconnect with other family, and getting extra time with each of them. As I said last week, I’m doing a lot of listening and a lot of thinking about life and happiness.
No doubt we all want to be happy, but too often we look to others or to things or events to make us happy. Let me give you some examples…
- If I get that promotion and more money, I’ll be happier.
- If I just get a new car, I’ll be happier.
- If I just get a bigger house…
- If I get better vacations…
- If I get all this stress off my back…
- If I meet someone new….
- If I just get another degree…
In my striving for lifelong happiness by chasing things, changing circumstances, working to get better, I’ve realized nothing I do is going to make me happy.
Less Is More
Most people I know who make more money continue to live on the edge, have lots of debt, and are not any further ahead. Instead of putting more away when they get a new job or a raise, they just buy more stuff … better cars, bigger houses. Then they are in the same unhappy boat they were in before.
And most who achieve the things they want realize that those things don’t make them happy at all. (Oh, maybe there is a momentary thrill.)
I think back to a time I wanted a new car. I wanted that fancy blue convertible so badly I could taste it. So I bought it, and it was a thrill for the first couple of weeks, but after that, it was just transportation. It did not make me any happier, and I would argue it made me less happy because I had a bigger lease payment.
Today, I drive a 2002 Honda Element. I bought it because it was my ideal paint car … I didn’t have to worry about getting cadmium yellow paint on the leather seats of my Volvo (which happened). And every time I get the desire for something new and shiny, I think about how little I drive, how much I love my car, and how I have three kids going into college and I don’t need anything else to create financial pressure.
I have an acquaintance who is a billionaire and drives a 12-year-old Buick because he is practical and doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.
So if things, changes, events don’t make me happy, then how do I get happy?
Changes Alone Won’t Work
I’ve realized that if I’m not happy now, then changes won’t make me happy. What I’m focused on is living with joy, knowing that no matter how good or how bad things are, my joy is always present. Even when things are tough, when life throws difficult challenges, that joy remains in my heart.
Joy itself should be the goal — not hoping some new thing will make you happy.
OK, then, how do I get joy?
Joy comes from gratitude. Being thankful for what you have, no matter how good or bad your circumstances are. Being thankful that you still have breath, that you still have life.
Have you ever seen sad stories on Facebook or met people who are in terrible circumstances who make the best of them and are living with joy?
That’s what I strive to be.
Challenge Your Brain
Don’t get me wrong, we should want to be the best version of ourselves. We need to take ourselves to higher levels to challenge our brains, and we owe it to ourselves to strive for excellence, to play the game at the highest level. But if you’re doing it to find happiness, I don’t think you’ll find it there.
Joy also comes from being your own person, being who you truly are. I tell my kids that the minute you cross the line to doing something sleazy or dishonest or inappropriate, you live on the other side of that line. It may be a small thing, but the next time, you’ll rationalize a little wrongdoing again, and it will grow and grow until you’ve lost the trust of others, and you may end up in jail. They always say that once-innocent people end up in prison because they tell themselves, “It won’t matter, it’s just a dollar, no one will notice.”
Being your own person means living on your own terms, no matter what they are. If you’re not meeting your own terms, you’re crossing over the line against yourself.
Resolutions Are for Amateurs
In a couple of days we’ll celebrate the start of the year 2020. Instead of making a bunch of resolutions that will be broken, how about just living with gratitude and joy on your own terms? When you live like that, everything else will fall into place and you’ll be more successful in your life than you ever imagined.
Find joy in each moment of each day. Be grateful for where you are and what you have. Forgive those around you no matter what, because not forgiving means living in chains binding you to your anger. Let go, and live on your terms.
What about you?
Are you chasing happiness?
Do you find joy in today, in the now?
Are you grateful for where you are now?
Are you forgiving to others?
There is no better way to start 2020 than with joy in your heart.
Happy 2020 … see you next year.
PS: Close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself this question: What is something I’ve always wanted to do, but have not done?
What comes to mind?
Now, listen to the judging in your head: “Oh, I could never do that.” There is usually some reason.
It seems to me if you have always wanted to do something, if it’s the first thing that comes to mind, you should find a way to do it in 2020. Roadblocks are only meant to keep the amateurs off the road. People who want things never listen to the voices in their head telling them what’s not possible. They never let the reasons things cannot be done get in the way. I believe in you. It’s your turn. Nothing is impossible.
Almost every time I’m outside painting, someone approaches me and says, “I wish I could do that, but I don’t have any talent. I can’t even draw a stick figure.” To me, that’s a cry for help, and I believe I can teach anyone to draw or paint. Anyone, even you. I put together a simple system for those people. It will teach you things most art teachers don’t teach, and I believe you will have success (unless you don’t try it). People who read my social media posts (follow me at ericrhoads on Facebook — though I have no room for more friends, according to them — and @ericrhoads on Instagram) say they wish they could travel the world painting like I do. The first step is learning to paint. The rest will come. I have a free lesson at www.paintbynote.com, a system I came up with to learn using the principle of musical notes. Try it. Don’t give up when you get frustrated — frustration is the signal that you’re about to have a breakthrough.