The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
This is a story about how fickle happiness can be, and how to get it back.
It’s going to be the most open I’ve ever been online, because I recently realized how beneficial it is to share what’s inside of us, our challenges and insight alike.
I hope this piece inspires you to do the same.
4 months ago, I was on top of the world. Probably the happiest I’d ever been.
I was living in the city of my dreams, Perth in Australia. I had just achieved my life-long goal of obtaining a Master’s degree, and the blog I had recently started was blowing up. I was finally starting to make my mark in the world and it felt amazing.
To make things even sweeter, I was living in a beautiful neighborhood, I was in the best physical shape of my life and my mind felt sharper than ever. Everything was going well for me.
Then… time came to leave Australia and the College Life behind. I was heading back to North America, and into the tumultuous waters of “the real world”.
I had clear goals for the future and felt like nothing could stop me.
Fast-forward to 2 weeks ago. While talking to my mom on Skype, I broke down and started crying. Not just a few measly tears, a good ol’ sobbing session.
I’m a grown man, and this hadn’t happened to me for years. But I couldn’t keep it in anymore.
Ever since leaving Australia, something had felt off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but deep down I knew I wasn’t truly happy.
Every day, I tried to put on a happy face, both online and offline, and pretend like everything was OK. But inside, I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
This was exceptionally challenging because I run a website called The Feel Good Lifestyle. Over the last few months I had developed a public image of a guy who’s always happy, upbeat, and loving life. But all of a sudden, I wasn’t that guy.
I felt trapped.
A few days after pouring my heart out to my mom, I was getting ready to go run in the hills of San Diego. I still hadn’t found answers but I was hoping the hard intervals would help me clear my head and “blow off some steam”.
To add to the run’s spiritual component, I decided to listen to the audio version of “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment” by Eckhart Tolle. For the last few days, different signs had pointed me towards that book, and it was time find out what it was all about.
I put the tape on, stepped out the door, and started running… and running.
Over the next hour, I had a series of epiphanies like never before.
As I ran to exhaustion, I listened Tolle’s wisdom, and began understanding why I wasn’t happy. By the time I got to the top of the last hill, drenched in sweat, my heart pounding, it was all so obvious why I was unhappy.
For the last 4 months, I hadn’t been living in the “here and now”. I had been so busy thinking about the past, the future, and worrying about the present, that I wasn’t even appreciating what was in front of me.
Every day, I was letting my mind run all sorts of deflating patterns:
I would allow it to reminisce about how good things were in Australia… Making me feel like the best year of my life was behind me.
I’d let it ponder on why the present was so challenging… Making me wish things were easier while wondering why I wasn’t reaching my goals faster.
I’d let it worry about the uncertainty of living in a new city (San Diego), second-guess my decision of coming here, and allow myself to stress about it…
I was letting my mind control me.
I was sabotaging my own happiness.
Since that run 2 weeks ago, I’ve emerged as a new man. I better understand the power our mind can have over us, both positive and negative. I’ve learned to control my mind better, to use it to my advantage better, and I want to help you do the same.
If you’re reading this, I know you’re a special person. Just by being on this site, it shows that you’re seeking a higher level of consciousness and that you want more out of life.
I believe you have a greater potential for happiness than most but that you also have a potential for even darker moments, because you know how great life can truly be.
I’m sharing this, because I want to help you avoid the pitfalls I discovered, especially if you’re in early adulthood, when there are so many transitions to go through.
Whether you’re in a funk or simply looking to increase your current level of happiness, here are the 5 life lessons that will really help you:
1) Take Responsibility
Nothing can bring you happiness but yourself.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Happiness is a choice. If you’re unhappy right now, it’s because of the things you choose to think about. And you have the power to change that instantly.
I’ve learned that happiness doesn’t always come easy, and that it takes work. When everything is going well, being happy is simple. But when we’re facing challenges and uncertainty, it takes conscious effort not to fall in ”victim mode”. We constantly need to remind ourselves that we’re the architects of our own happiness.
As Jordan writes, “Be Happy or Get Happy…”
2) Be Here Now
If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.
Whenever we’re leaving behind a great chapter of our life, whether it’s our College days, a great relationship, or an amazing trip, we have a tendency to hang on to it. We keep thinking about it, wishing we could go back. This only creates sufferance. The past is gone. Right now is all we’ve got.
On the other end of the spectrum, when we worry about the future, that’s a choice we’re making. The reality is that the only thing within our control is what we’re doing right now. Anything else is just wasted emotional energy. Do your best in the present moment, it’s all that really matters.
3) Surrender to What Is
Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is?
Whenever we’re in a sub-optimal situation, whether it’s being stuck in traffic, or going through a challenging period at work/school, getting upset about it serves no purpose. It’s like trying to argue with reality, with what already is.
Yet we all do it at times. Consider these thoughts:
“Why does it have to be like that?”
“Why does this happen to me?”
“Why isn’t my life easier?”
This mental whining is pointless, and causes much of our suffering.
As Eckhart Tolle says: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” Similarly, Buddhist wisdom teaches us that all situations are neutral. It’s the label we put on them that makes them positive or negative.
Simply being aware of this is powerful. As soon as you catch yourself in one of these thought patterns, when you’re “mentally complaining” about what’s in front of you, stop instantly. Replace it with a more empowering thought.
When we argue with reality, we never win.
4) Stop The Hamster Wheel
No-mind is clarity, purity, innocence. No-mind is the real way to live, the real way to know, the real way to be.
Have you ever stopped to think about the sheer number of thoughts that go through your head every day?
Thousands and thousands of thoughts. All day, every day.
Perhaps it’s because of the fast-paced world we live in, but it seems like we all struggle to slow our mind down.
A lot of this thinking is unnecessary… and exhausting!
That’s why it’s highly beneficial to create what Osho and Tolle call “no-mind”. Moments when we’re not thinking about anything, when we’re simply being.
This helps us preserve mental energy and opens us up for greater insights, as we create space for “the divine” to flow through us.
Meditation is a great tool to develop this skill, and I highly encourage you to try it. But the real challenge lies in being in no-mind throughout the day, not simply when we’re sitting with our eyes closed.
Tomorrow, during the day, try to see how long you can go without thinking about anything. It’s harder than it seems… but it’s the gateway to much clearer mind.
5) Get Out of Your Head and Into The World
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” ~Gandhi
When I got to San Diego, I was working from home, on my laptop. I was connecting with many people online, but few in “real-life”. There were days when talking with the cashier at the grocery store was the social highlight of my day!
In a world where so much happens online, we have to be careful to not neglect the importance of real face-to-face connection.
If you’re going through a tough time, you might feel especially inclined to isolate yourself, but it’s only going to make things worse. Seek the presence of people you love, people who inspire you. And go a step further: Do your best to make them happy! Smile, ask how they’re doing, and help them with their challenges.
The more you focus on their happiness, the more yours will come.
My friend, our mind is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. It can create beautiful things, spread joy, and change the world. But it can also create much suffering in our own life. It’s up to us to decide how we use it.
Why not choose happiness?
Original image from Threyda