What’s Stopping Most People From Being Happy
Unlike what many of us assume, happiness (or satisfaction or the fancy greek word eudaimonia) is not achieved by ‘fixing’ your life.
Whatever you call that state of bliss you’re looking for is not found in the external: the amount of money in the bank, number of businesses launched, projects completed, subscribers gained.
It’s a skill.
The closest thing to this skill is the skill of being present. Of feeling this very moment, nurturing it, being still.
Changing something in the external merely leaves you longing for more.
For example, money — what most people think can make them happy — itself doesn’t bring satisfaction.
As one woman I admire said,
“If all you’re seeking is money all you’re going to get is money.”
If you’ve watched the brilliant time-travel movie, About Time, you probably remember the advice Bill Nighy’s character gave his son.
“I’ve never bumped into a genuinely happy rich person. [money is]… a real recipe for disaster. Look what happened to Uncle Fred. He absolutely wasted his life. You have to use your time for things that you really think will make your life the way you want it to be…”
This might seem a little counterintuitive — especially to someone in their twenties, full of energy, ambition, zeal.
But to truly become happy, the only thing you can do is learn to cherish this moment.
I am saying this because I desperately want to build this skill for myself.
Whenever I start reading an article, I want to skip it and have the information uploaded in my brain. So — instead of reading and understanding it and really enjoying it, I skim, rush ahead, and end up even more impatient then when I started.
The same happens when I start a project or a new book or doing anything. I want to get it over with. I want the results.
Honestly, I suck at being in the moment.
After mindlessly chasing material possessions and the extravagant lifestyle during my early twenties, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy life unless I build this happiness muscle.
You’re probably reading this, thinking to yourself, “Well, this isn’t news.”
Being in the moment is something you can find in any decent self-development blog. It’s the oldest piece of advice in the book.
But some things are cliche because they are true.
Being in the moment is the closest synonym to ‘happiness skill’ because that’s the way life works.
Shakespeare was right: life is a theatre play and we’re all actors.
If what mattered at the beginning of the play is the result, its completion, then the best plays would have been the shortest ones. The best books and articles would have been the thinnest ones. And the best songs would have been the ones that had just one note.
We read long books because we want to enjoy them longer or get a better grasp of what’s said. We go on two-hour-long plays because we want to forget about the existence of time and enjoy ourselves. And we listen to music and don’t count the notes — we don’t care about the song’s beginning, middle, or the end — we are in the moment, experiencing the pleasant flow of notes.
Speaking of music.
Most people assume that when we talk about the present, we’re talking about an infinitesimal point between the present and the future.
The past and future don’t exist, they say. All you need is to be right here, at this point, now. No wonder so few people can grasp it — that point is so small, it’s impossible to catch!
Those people are, of course, mistaken.
The present is not a point — like a note in a song. Instead, it’s the flow of notes.
It’s a long present: like the sound of a gong compared to a hand clap.
Life is not about achievements, milestones reached, goals completed.
Happy people don’t notice the notes, they are in pure awareness of going from one note to the other and then the next one, so on. When they watch a play, they don’t think about the play’s beginning or end (given that the play is a good one!), they’re fixed in the now — and it’s a long now.
Happiness is mindfulness.
If there could be just one thing most people lack, it’s the ability to catch this present moment.
There are practices that help. For example, yoga, meditation, swimming, long walks in nature, or a combination of all of the above are of great service.
But these things train the body and mind. The happiness skill (or muscle) is mental.
And it can be trained like any skill or muscle: with daily practice.
You walk with a person you love in the park.
You feel joy. But your mind becomes anxious about something you haven’t done, or think about something terrible that might happen. (After all, if everything is too good to be true, it probably is, right?)
But you need to tap into vulnerability and be joyful. You need to bring your mind back into the present moment and enjoy this very moment, this walk, this experience.
You read a book you like.
The natural instinct is to rush ahead and skim.
But you stop yourself and try to enjoy every word. You remind yourself that happiness is right now, at this moment — not when you read 50 books or know 50 brilliant ideas.
What does it matter whether you read 500 books or 50 books during your lifetime if you didn’t enjoy them?
You write something in a notepad or a blog.
The natural instinct is to rush ahead and publish faster to feel ‘productive,’ to ‘get more done,’ to be a good boy or girl.
But you stop yourself and remember that true satisfaction is in this very moment — as you slow down and type, notice your fingers bang on each key, feel the words come alive, see the text unfold.
It’s all about the experience, not the outcome. The results won’t matter if you didn’t enjoy the process.
All of this might be hard to grasp early in life.
People in their twenties want to make money. They think they don’t have time. They think everybody is ahead of them.
I know, because I am in my early twenties.
But if you can spend those early years building the happiness skill, learning to be in the moment, your life can become extraordinary without you having to change a thing.
On the other hand, if you don’t have this skill, no matter how many changes you do to your life, no matter what you decide to pursue, you’ll never be satisfied.
You’ll always want more and be restless.
Life is a play. It’s about experiencing it here and now.
If you live with your eyes closed, waiting for certain parts of the play to happen, why did you even bother coming at all?