Why A Search for Happiness Leads to Unhappiness

Happiness Is an Inside Job

Our society is obsessed with finding and keeping happiness. We believe that perfect teeth will bring us happiness. Food is happiness. Money is happiness. Security is happiness. Status is happiness. Laziness is happiness. Drugs are happiness. Property is happiness. Another person is happiness. And on and on it goes.

It does not matter what we choose to attach our happiness too, we are always wrong to do so. We are always misguided and caught up in a misunderstanding of what happiness truly is, where it really comes from.

We also clearly demonstrate that we don’t know where our experience comes from.


The Power of Thought

The very second I believe that I must get or gain something in order to be happy, I have agreed with the thought that ‘I am not happy.’ Like the other 80000 times a day, I had a thought, but this one I chose to believe.

And the second I believe thought to be true, it becomes my reality. Whatever happiness there is, it’s gone the second I believe it not to be there.

Thought creates our reality. It creates our felt experience.

Everything we perceive as happening to us comes from within ourselves. Thought has a power that is invisible to most.


The Idea of Happiness

Most people don’t know what they are looking for. Everyone proclaims that all they want is to be happy but what does that even mean?

People’s descriptions of happiness vary so widely. And many people mistake excitement and the euphoria of peak-experiences for happiness. They expect permanent states of ecstasy and hedonistic bliss and feel disappointed with normal levels of human happiness that naturally ebb and flow.

Believing in an unrealistic version of happiness will invalidate the happiness that naturally exists within us.


A Felt Sense of Happiness

What happiness feels like is different for most of us but is commonly described as a sense of peaceful contentment. A relaxed, warm, fuzzy feeling that fills us up. Fulfillment.

A moment of not wanting or needing anything else. No craving, no yearning, no seeking. The absence of lack, limitation, and scarcity.

Total acceptance of the present moment. Enjoying what is. Being present and relishing the connection that always exists.


Attaching to the Temporary

When we feel good, we want to hold on to it. We don’t want to accept that human feeling come and go. That our states are naturally temporary. Trying to attach to any feeling state will bring suffering to it. We are not meant to hold on to anything. We are meant to go with the flow of life, whatever that entails.

Attaching to what’s temporary in an attempt to make it permanent will bring unhappiness. It is not natural and it is not meant to be the way we’d like to imagine or wish it was.


The Misattribution of Causation

Most of us don’t understand that nothing on the outside can make us feel anything on the inside.

We believe that our happiness comes from something other than ourselves.

We look at the last situation in which we felt happy and conclude that it is this situation that made us happy. So now we try to hold on to this situation or recreate its situation at any cost. It is, after all, in our minds, the best way for us to regain our happiness.

The last person, whose presence we felt happy in, now also becomes the personified source of our happiness. We must attach to them and control them so we can feel happy.

The time we ate a certain food or took particular kinds of drugs is also the latest source of our happiness. And so the misunderstanding spreads. And so it continues.


Misunderstanding as the Cause of Confusion

Confusion is the result of misunderstanding where our experience comes from. Confusion is the word we use when we cannot make sense of something.

Most of the time our experience doesn’t make sense. We would like it to, because, we think, life would be so much easier for us to handle.

But life just is. And our brains – our meaning-making machines – don’t like it.

Life does not play by the rules of our minds. We do not see how we are making up all these rules and wishes and feel disappointed that nothing works the way we believe it should.

We don’t see how we are just making it up, because to us it looks real and true.

But our thoughts are just that: thoughts. Formless energy. Ever-changing and oh so fleeting.

Our thoughts create our reality but they do not dictate life.

Not being able to distinguish between the two of them creates a lot of suffering and distress born out of confusion.


Confusion as to the Source of Blame

It is this confusion that makes us blame.

We blame society for our unhappiness because something that society does or doesn’t do causes what we feel inside.

We blame our partner for not doing or saying the right thing because we believe that this would change how we feel inside and how we feel inside is not how we want to feel. We believe it to be different to how it should be.

We blame work for not living the lives we want to live, for our moods, our inability to connect to others, our lack of time, … all commonly accepted reasons for unhappiness.

We blame and we shame and we have no idea what is actually going on.


Confusion Fuels Our Hunt for Happiness

Sadly, this confusion fuels our search for happiness. It is what keeps the misunderstanding going. It continues to keep us removed from the happiness that is always available to us. The happiness that lives in the stillness between our thoughts.

Because our thoughts tell us that it isn’t there. And we believe our thoughts.

When we engage in the thinking that questions whether we are happy or explores what we require in order to be happy, we are no longer present. We are no longer connected to the peaceful feeling that resides within us whenever we are not engaged in our thinking.

Hunting for happiness is what removes us from the happiness within. It disconnects us from the happiness that naturally exists within each of us because instead of being present in life, we are caught up in our heads.

We try to solve thought-created problems with more thinking. We mistake the cause for the solution and so create a never-ending cycle.

Tragically, we don’t realize that we have got it the wrong way round: We do more of what destroys our happiness in the search for more happiness.

And we wonder why we no longer feel well, why we feel drained, irritable, hopeless and lacking vitality and fulfillment.


The Solution of the Present Moment

So how can we be happy? What do we have to do? Surely it can’t be as easy as believing that we are happy and then feeling happy? Isn’t that lying to ourselves? Deluding ourselves? Talking ourselves out of what we are truly feeling?

We feel our thinking at the moment. That is it. We may believe that there is more to it, but there isn’t. I struggled with this for a very long time. I didn’t really want it to be true, having devoted my life to the analysis of the content of thought.

But it is. It is true. We only ever feel our thinking at that very moment.

And so we get to make a choice. We can follow whatever thought we choose to. We do not get to choose what thoughts come into our minds, but we get to choose which ones to pay attention to, which ones to engage with, which ones to believe.

It is about noticing how we engage and what type of thinking we engage with. But the main solution lies in getting out of your head and into your life, as Steve Hayes put it so appropriately.

Because life is happening independent of the lenses through which we perceive it. Paradoxically, it is usually much, much kinder and more wonderful than our perception of it.


The Source of Our Unhappiness

Whatever thoughts we believe, whatever lies of the mind we engage with … these are the true sources of our unhappiness.

I will feel unhappy, whenever I believe that a certain situation, person or experience ‘has made me’ unhappy. I feel unhappy because I believe to be unhappy.

Next time you become aware of feeling unhappy, ask yourself this:

“If I didn’t believe that something outside of myself was making me unhappy, how would I feel?”

It is a widely known slogan that happiness is an inside job. A true understanding of it results in the end of a search for it. It would also result at the end of blame and taking ownership of our happiness and our unhappiness.

Very early on in my journey of realizing where my experience and my feelings were coming from, my very dear friend Jeff said this to me,

“Once you truly understand that you are the source of your happiness, you also realize that you are the source of your unhappiness.”

And then all blame falls away and we finally empower ourselves by taking full personal responsibility.

From that point onwards we own our lives and then only everything changes.

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Marlena Tillhon

Marlena is a progressive psychotherapist and relationship coach and passionate about helping people connect with their innate wellbeing.

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