We are forever preparing to live for a future, and in doing so, we never end up living. Everything we do is in pursuit of something else. We do X today to get Y tomorrow, so we can get Z in the distant future, which we believe will make us “happy.”
Consider one scenario. We learn to compete with others early on in school to get better grades (never mind the learning). We may do some extracurricular activities like volunteering for some community service (to have a “well-rounded/complete” application) to attend a top-ranking college, which we hope will land us a six-figure job and a corner office, provide for a fancy house and a car, and a trophy spouse (natch) to feel good about. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing any of this in isolation except that we are always preparing to live the whole time, and we mistakenly think of these achievements as “success” or “happiness.”
Let’s go a bit further in the scenario. Maybe in a few years working in the organization, we would have made partner, moved to an even fancier house, and gotten a bigger car. We would have started a family as well. Perhaps then, we’d consider ourselves to be “settled (happy)”, or at least that’s the story we might tell ourselves. However, having achieved all of this, we are no more closer to “being happy” than when we set out on this pursuit. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of people on this planet who are financially (and socially) successful, but unhappy. That’s not the kind of success you want.
Getting back to our scenario, at this point, some of us end up having a “mid-life crisis”, because we followed “the path” and checked off all the “right boxes” based on what we were told, and yet, we are none the wiser. On the contrary, we look to resolve such crises by seeking more experiences. We end up buying more stuff (like a second car or a vacation home) and/or leaving existing relationships to enter new ones (because we listened to our mind), but we never stop to think the novelty of the experience wears off quickly.
Come to think of it, it’s surprising why more of us don’t have such mid-life crises, because here we are on this planet, having lived half of our lives, we are “successful” by all the usual external metrics we have learned from worldly conditioning, and yet we feel a gaping void inside (not despite it, but because of it).
Get off the treadmill
So what’s wrong with this approach? Well, we mistakenly believe that our “happiness” lies outside, and it’s only by achieving our future goals and dreams, we’ll be “happy.” Without thinking twice, we set out to achieve the next big thing, and we put off living today in the hope for a “better tomorrow” only to find that it’s a mirage at best, and yet we continue ad infinitum. This way, we are always preparing for an arbitrary future hoping to be somewhere, and ergo, we never end up living now.
What’s wrong with postponing our lives for a “better tomorrow?” First of all, we assume that we’ll be alive to realize our goals in x months, years, or even decades, when we don’t even know if we’ll wake up the following morning. Second, even if we do end up achieving those goals, it would have been for naught, because we would have wasted all of this time preparing to live, and there will only be regret from not living fully. In other words, how we live our lives matters more than what we “achieve.” Lastly, this path would have gotten us nowhere closer than where we were when we began this pursuit.
Here’s the thing. We are led to believe life is about external pursuits to feel happy/valued/complete. We are forever in “pursuit of happiness” because we are constantly made to feel that we are incomplete, and that we need someone or something on the outside to feel complete inside, which isn’t true. Even though the feeling is fleeting every time, we never learn.
Truth be told, most of us don’t even know what we are running towards. We see everyone else is striving in life toward something, and we blindly do it too, lest we “fall behind.” Thanks to relentless advertising, we are forever conditioned by the world to buy stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t care about. We constantly try to one-up the Joneses, but to what end?!We forever seek status outside to feel complete inside. We seek status through people, places, things, events, etc. For instance, we pursue relationships (out of neediness) to feel happy, so we don’t have to live alone. We may take exotic vacations to distant locales to “feel the rush” (and brag about it to our neighbors), before we get “back to the grind”, or so we say. We buy things to improve our position in the social hierarchy. We look to acquire wealth to seek status, and we strive to become the object of admiration or envy. We spend our lives seeking fame and/or fortune.
All this to say, we tie ourselves to a leash that’s in the hands of the world, and we suffer throughout our lives. We look for pleasure endlessly, and we avoid pain. In other words, we judge our experiences, and in doing so, we never seem to get off the hedonic treadmill.
The greatest paradox
It would be a mistake to think that our happiness and fulfillment comes from outside. The reason we pursue experiences on the outside is because we are not okay inside, lest we forget what we seek outside is who we are inside. That might arguably be the greatest paradox of life.
Here’s the thing. No amount of getting something or someone outside will ever satiate/fulfill us. In other words, no amount of outer success will ever make up for an inner failure. Some of us learn this lesson the hard way (at the cost of too much time having passed away), while the unlucky ones never learn, but nonetheless feel the gaping void within, and wonder why.
We forget life is not a race to be won. There is no “prize” at the end. Your present situation is not a means to some future outcome. Life is meant to be lived in the here and now, and not to be “done.” We forget how we do anything is how we do everything. Sadly, in all of the “doing”, we have lost sight of the being, which was the point all along.
The question isn’t how to seek happiness, love, or peace, but to ask yourself why are you unhappy to begin with. That will inform what you need to work on.
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Today, many young adults are hung up on finding “meaning/purpose/passion” in their work, because they have been led to believe that knowing their purpose will make them happier. While having a purpose for work can help, it’s not required by any means, because how we do matters more than what (or why) we do it. In the end, it’s not about finding a job you “love”, but loving what you do. The “love” isn’t inherent in the work itself, but in what you bring to it.
Let’s stop preparing to live our lives, and start living our lives today. There may not be another tomorrow, and that’s okay as long as we’re living today. Then, there will be no regret, because we lived our lives fully rather than hope to live someday for a “better tomorrow.” Besides, life is not about the events that occur in our lives (the highs and lows), but how we respond to what comes our way is what determines our growth.
The truth is we are already complete. There is nothing we truly want or need that we don’t already have (by the virtue of who we are). There is nothing to achieve in life, and there is nowhere to arrive. Every day is an opportunity for us to be (and do) our best.
We can still do the things we discussed in the aforementioned scenario. The key difference is we are now acting without motive, because we know how we live matters more than what we “achieve.” It’s only when we act from the being, we end up doing everything better.