“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
– John Lennon
This quote reminds me that each and every day, we have commitments. Things to do, people to meet, tasks to complete, places to go. We prioritize, plan, do everything possible to ensure the successful achievement of our goals. At the same time, I am reminded that there is more to life than getting more and being more...
Something I have come to realize in the past few years is that when I am so preoccupied with all that I have to do, I lose touch with some of the most essential parts of life: being present in the here and now, that life is not only about ourselves, and that happiness and fulfillment comes from within us, and cannot be found anywhere else.
Being present in the here and now. Something most of us think we do very well, yet, perhaps there is something to be learned here. How many times has your mind been focused on something you need to do while someone is speaking to you? Think about the last time your friend, colleague, daughter or partner was speaking to you about something important to them – be honest with yourself – where you there for them? Did you hear not only the words, but were you actually there to understand what they were saying to you? Why it was important for them to share this with you? And, perhaps sadly, did you miss an opportunity to truly respond to them or do something more for them that would have made such a difference to them? I find that when I am focused on the here and now, I see things that I never saw when I did not create the space for myself. I heard and understood people, beyond the words on the surface. And, I found myself able to give more to people. Strangely enough, all of this never takes more time. It is just that I use that little bit of time of any interaction in a different way, and by giving more, I find much more fulfillment in each part of my day. Likewise, when I am traveling from point A to point B, I seem to notice things around me that I never seemed to notice before. The beauty of things around me, it is amazing and, it is also soothing. It’s funny how that can happen and what I can appreciate now that I actually remind myself that I am here, right now (and not somewhere else).
Life is not only about ourselves. Two thought comes to mind when I think of this. First is the loss of perspective, and second is the question of what we have done in our lives of which we are truly proud.
There is a reading from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening that I once used about losing perspective. He speaks of Misery: “If peace comes from seeing the whole, then misery stems from a loss of perspective.” We start out being aware and grateful of the things around us, whether it is how the sun just hangs in the sky, or as the other miracles of life unfold before us, or about how we are fortunate in our life, family or work situation. Then, we stub our toe. In that moment of pain, Nepo speaks about how suddenly, the whole world is reduced to our poor little toe, and that for the next couple of days, it is difficult to walk. And with each every step, we are reminded of our poor little toe. When we narrow our focus, the problem we experience is overwhelming and it seems to affect everything around us. It becomes everything. We forget all of the other things in the broader perspective that are going well, that we could actually do to change the way things are, that we are fortunate to have choices and resources that so many others do not have in this world. So misery is a moment of suffering that we allow to become everything. So when we feel miserable, we must look wider than it hurts, suggests Nepo. By opening up and broadening our focus, that moment of misery becomes just that – a brief moment of suffering, and beyond it, there is an entire life that we can continue to experience and in which we can make a difference. Every action we take can affect not only our own lives, but we have an opportunity to bring a positive effect to those around us as well.
I once participated in a webinar by Marshall Goldsmith, one of the top Executive Coaches. He posed two interesting questions at the end of the session, something that he asks his clients. If you had a discussion with the 95-year-old you and asked him or her, “What are you truly proud of that you have done in your lifetime? and what is it that you wish you could have done that you didn’t do?” This conversation between the person who stands here today and the 95-year-old one can be a haunting one, yet, if we chose to do something about it now, it can serve as an inspiration for us to do more in our lifetime than actions that only focus on ourselves.
Happiness and fulfillment comes from within us, and cannot be found anywhere else. Two thoughts come to my mind on this subject. One is the Buddhist concept of “Grasping” and the other is the TED Talk by Shawn Achor, The Happy Secret to Better Work.
In the work, Eight Steps to Happiness: The Buddhist Way of Loving,” Geshe Kelsang Gyatso presents an inspiring explanation of one of Buddhism’s best-loved teachings, practical instructions on how you can transform life’s difficulties into valuable spiritual insights; essential advice on how to awaken your potential for limitless love, compassion and wisdom. The Buddhist concept of Grasping describes the nature of the mind, to grasp after one thing after another, finding nothing ultimately satisfying. It is believed to be the root of much of our suffering. What the teachings offer is that if we focus on self-love (meaning accepting who we are), compassion for others, loving kindness and humility, we no longer feel this emptiness from seeking fulfillment from external sources, but rather, from deep within. If you relate this to your everyday life, can you remember the last time that you helped someone, even in a random act of kindness? Do you remember the joy you brought to that person? and do you recall the feeling that you had inside after seeing your impact on that person? It is truly a rewarding feeling, from deep inside. I know I feel this each time I have helped someone, and I can honestly say, there are not a lot of other tings in the world that can create this lasting feeling inside me.
Shawn Achor is a psychologist and CEO of Good Think Inc., where he researches and teaches about positive psychology. If you have 12 minutes, I would encourage you to watch this talk (available with subtitles in many languages) to contemplate how we believe that we should work to be happy. Shawn proposes that this could actually be backwards. He shows through research that by focusing on positive thinking and finding fulfillment in our lives, we actually are more productive and successful in our work. By changing the lens through which we see the world, we actually achieve more. His research shows that the following myth does not hold true: “If I work harder, I will be more successful. If I am more successful, then I will be happier.” Actually, his research has shown that when we measure our happiness by our achievements and our external world, our brain resets the goal post of happiness to the next goal or achievement. And if happiness is on the other side of success, your brain never gets there. He gives simple suggestions on how we can change this ourselves today by taking some very simple steps. Take a look!
So, is this the key of life? It’s a big question, and one that I will leave you to discover for yourself. I hope that this article gave you a moment to pause and reflect about your own life for just a few moments. For me, John Lennon’s words remind me that it is easy to get lost in this busy life. None of the sources I spoke about in this article suggest that we do not try to achieve goals in our life. On the contrary, they suggest that there is much more that we can do and experience as we go about our day to day lives. And as we grow our awareness, we can find the happiness and fulfillment from within while making a difference to those who are around us.