“The greatest gift that I possess”
Whilst writing about health and fitness comes relatively easy to me (through years of doing it), and being frugal has always been in my nature, sitting down to write about happiness is a tough one. Not because I’m not happy, but probably just because it’s not something we talk about that often, and it can be difficult to see just why one person is happier than another.
Happiness is a mental or emotional state So straight off the bat, we can see that it’s got to be difficult to measure! Not that that has stopped people trying – as we shall see, there have been many, many studies about happiness, going back hundreds of years.
I’ll try not to get too twee, too patronising, or too much like an old bearded man mumbling incoherently about zen.. although I can pretty much guarantee I will fail on all of those counts at some point in the next few paragraphs.
Once again, I’m going to go for a ridiculously simple 2-step plan… Why break the habit of a lifetime?!
- Don’t want “stuff”
- Live in the now
Anybody familiar with the basics of Buddhism may well recognise something here! 😉
Ok, let’s get stuck in to that..
1. Don’t want “stuff” (or “stop suffering”)
The Buddha said that the human condition was suffering.
Nietzsche said that to live is to suffer.
We suffer, so we are unhappy.
So far, so good, so simple? Eliminate suffering, and you eliminate unhappiness. By extraction then, if you eliminate unhappiness then you will have happiness.. (hmm.. interesting topic for a further post I think!)
That’s all fine, but how can we reduce – or ideally eliminate – suffering?
Suffering is caused by desire (which in today’s world often translates to material things).
To cut a long story short, ultimately many people think like this:
“If I get this.. then I’ll be happy”
“If I had that.. then I would be happy”
Well, guess what? STUFF doesn’t bring happiness.
Not real, long-term happiness, anyway. It will almost definitely bring short-term happiness. But it won’t last – it never does.
Here’s an example. You’re doing the weekly shop and you see the latest 92” 3d TV in sexy Black/White/Chrome/WhateverFinishMrJonesNextDoorHasJustGotHimself.. and you think:
“Wow! If I had THAT TV in my living room, I’d be soooo happy!”
And you might be happy – for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. The weekend football match will be a whole new experience! But in 3 weeks’ time, it already WON’T be a whole new experience.. because the “new TV” is now the “current TV”, and watching the sports on the current TV is just the regular routine experience again. So now you need to find the next thing that will make you happy (for another couple of weeks), and then the next thing.. and so on.
The happiness effect of “getting stuff” wears off (but sadly we never retrieve the expended cost in getting that short-term boost)
Although in the above example I talked about a new TV, this actually applies to most things that we seek to attain or achieve in our lives – a new TV, a new car, a house, a promotion, a trophy wife..
LONG TERM HAPPINESS CANNOT BE BOUGHT WITH “STUFF”
(Which is actually great news for us, right? Because, as we know, the acquisition of stuff costs us money.. money that could be saved and invested, enabling us to have our desired lifestyle a lot sooner..)
So, to summarise part 1:
To reduce or eliminate suffering, STOP WANTING STUFF!
2. Live In The Now (or “appreciating that nothing is permanent”)
Us humans are some seriously smart dudes. We have the amazing ability to think. Unfortunately, this means that it’s all too easy to get hung up thinking about things. If we let our minds just roam free, all sorts of undesired things can happen. We lose the ability to concentrate, we feel tense and stressed, we concoct scenarios in our heads and start to worry unnecessarily..
I talked about control in the <link>Intro to wealth<link> and here it is again. Worrying about things is just another way of trying to control things. Given that there are ultimately very few things that we can control, what’s the point in worrying?
Shit is gonna happen, there’s nothing you can do to avoid it, so there’s no point in worrying about it!
So to help us to cope, here’s what we can try to do:
- Live in the now
- Connect with the moment
Some would call this Meditation, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit on a hard floor in a position that could compromise our future ability to sire children. There are all sorts of ways to “meditate” (including <link below> going for a walk).
I find this really helps. It certainly helps when you start to worry about something – maybe a trip to the dentist. You start going through a “What if they do this?” “What if they do that?” thought cycle, and before you know it you’re worried about a root canal that may very not be about to happen.
Just try focusing on now.
Where are you?
What can you see?
What can you smell?
Wiggle your right big toe…
Staying in this moment, right here and now can help to get things into perspective and help to stop this unnecessary suffering. Try it some time!
To summarise part 2 then:
Be here, now!
Wait, how can I…?
Now, astute readers will notice that there’s a bit of an anomaly here, a clash with one of the other topics discussed on this blog; that of reaching Financial Independence.
The problem? There’s two, actually.
Firstly, a “goal” by definition is something that we desire.. and we know that desire causes suffering.
And secondly, to make a goal, and indeed to make a plan to achieve that goal, by definition we are planning for the future, thus we have to think beyond the current moment.
Panic not though, because here are my comebacks:
1) Financial Independence is not a material desire – it’s not the massive stack of £50 notes we’re after, it’s the lifestyle that having that stack can afford us, the extra time with the family etc.
2) Obviously planning for one’s future is “permitted” in Buddhism – otherwise there probably wouldn’t be any Buddhists around because they’d all have jumped off cliffs without parachutes, or walked in front of buses, because “in that moment” when they set off, everything was fine…
So long term, we need to stop thinking about stuff, and sometimes just to stop thinking altogether. But is there anything we can do to improve our happiness in just a few minutes, or even seconds? Yes!
– Take a walk
Something that never, ever fails to cheer me up, is just to get out and take a walk. And it seems I’m not alone in noticing this
It wakes you up a bit, gives you some fresh air, pushes oxygen through the body, and always peps you up a bit. Simple, free, healthy and happy.
Bang on! We just did something beneficial for all 3 aspects of this blog (health, wealth and happiness) and as if that wasn’t enough – it was simple. You can’t help but feel happy with that!
But, wait.. that’s not all! On top of ALL that, it also makes us more clever! And possibly even help to stave off dementia.
And I can personally vouch for this– I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been scratching my head over some problem for a couple of hours (be it work-related, or how to plug a hole in our plans for financial independence) got up to go for a walk, and within minutes an obvious solution – or a method of finding a solution – has just appeared clear as day in my mind. That oxygen hit is seriously underated!
– Always look on the bright side of life
If all else fails, just start smiling, or laughing!
“Laughter is the best medicine” they say (although if you’re diabetic, I’d probably recommend insulin).
But it seems it’s true. Studies have shown that not only can our mood control our actions (i.e. if we are happy, we smile), but our actions can control our moods (i.e. if we smile, we are happier)!
This is interesting stuff – basically if you smile and laugh, you may well feel a bit happier straight away.
Or just look at Paul Mghee trying it, it makes me smile!
Until next time – keep smiling!
PS – In researching this article (and ensuring that I hadn’t imagined the studies etc!) I found some really good stuff. Here are just a few relevant and interesting links that didn’t get included above: