“If you are doing things in order to be happy… you’re doing them in the wrong order.” - Michael Neill
Although happiness is something that's hard to define, it is something we all seem to want more of in our lives.
There are dozens of books and articles written on the subject.
I was reflecting on this and it seems to me there is one single question, innocently asked, that is at the root of all this wanting…
What will make me happy?
This question is actually at the root of the problem because the answer is… nothing.
Nothing can make you happy, and yet our entire society is geared around the belief that ‘things’ can do just that.
For instance, the advertising business is built on the idea that the lack of something is the cause of unhappiness. Then the product rides in on a white horse and saves the day.
They even try to convince you that floor cleaner will make you happy!
Many people believe that more money will lead to happiness. Perhaps this is the biggest illusion of all.
So, they proceed to chase it with abandon. Yet aren’t there many well documented cases of people with extraordinary amounts of money who lead miserable lives?
Other people believe they need the right person or a relationship in order to be happy.
Some have such stringent criteria about the required qualities of their perfect mate that this person may not even exist.
The illusion that happiness is a result of external circumstances leads to the most common trap of all.
‘I’ll be happy when…’
This is what executive coach and author, Marshall Goldsmith calls ‘The great Western disease’.
We create an imaginary list of what we think will make us happy and this is what we put our time into.
We think all we need to do is get all the ducks lined up and, hey presto, we’re happy.
I used to be a regular meditator and my teacher made a point that I will always remember.
He said: "You will never experience a better meditation by really going for it. It just does not work that way."
Happiness is just the same. The harder you pursue it, the further away it gets.
But why does this happen?
Because the imaginary content of the ‘I’ll be happy when…’ list is the problem, not the solution.
So, if happiness is not the result of acquiring or experiencing things outside of us, then what is?
The natural backdrop to the human mind, beyond all the personal thinking we do, is a space of inner peace, contentment, grace, resilience, perspective, love – there are many words that point to what is at the core of each of us.
Michael Neill wrote in his book ‘The space within’:
‘When you rest in the feeling of this space, the warmth of it heals your mind and body. When you operate from the infinite creative potential of this space, you produce high levels of performance and creative flow."
He goes on to suggest this leads to greater connections and intimacy, as well as potentially something more spiritual, even if you don't believe in that kind of thing.
When we fall into this space it wouldn't even occur to us to ask ourselves if we are happy or not.
So, there really is nothing to do.
The human mind only works one way, no exception. From the inside out.
The clearer we realise this truth, the more happiness, contentment and peace of mind we experience, and the less inclined we become to chase illusions.