How do I find happiness?

This is going to be a long one so please bear with me.

This post is mainly in response to a question I received, from a comment I made challenging an article that said we can find happiness by following a to-do list.  But, it’s also a response to a number of conversations I’ve had were people say happiness comes from outside sources and/or is difficult to find.

I recognize that there are many tools and techniques that we can use to help us live easier and better lives. In fact, many of these tools and techniques are used every day by some people to achieve great things and by others to simply help them survive each day, which is an amazing thing.

In my challenge, I mention that the article is pointing people to pursue the characteristics of happiness as opposed to the cause. I said this because people are innocently pointing in the wrong direction when they are looking to find happiness as a result of some external source, in other words, in doing something or achieving something.

It’s going to sound counter to what we have all been taught, but we already have “happiness” inside of ourselves, we don’t need to do anything to have it. It is what we are already made of.

Most people in the mental health field are in it because they want to help people and they are going about doing this using tools and techniques that they have been taught. Unfortunately, many of these models don’t have the level of success that we would all want. Some people keep searching for more because they intuitively know something is missing from what they are being taught. But, others entrench themselves so heavily in the particular model or technique they have learned, that they are unwilling to even consider the possibility that other approaches exist.

If we look at the mental health industry, very few people, if any, have ever actually studied mental health. What they have studied are the ideas that others have had to describe what they believe to be mental illnesses. And as part of the training, people are taught a number of different procedures, techniques, and tools that seem to have an effect on some of the people that are “suffering” from these “conditions”.

Many of these procedures, tools and techniques are pointing to a misunderstanding that our lives are affected by our circumstance or by the world around us. Even the more recent modalities that recognize the importance of thought and our psychology, treat thoughts like something has a kind of form. All these approaches are designed to help you cope with your experience of life better, but do very little in helping you understand what is creating your experience of life in the first place. It’s like helping the main character in a movie to learn how to live a better life inside of their movie, as opposed to helping him or her understand that they are living inside of a movie in the first place.

We live in a world that views our psychology in the same way that people viewed the world as being flat hundreds of years ago. Think about it, if we didn’t know the world was round, and we didn’t have the ability to travel the way we do now, it would be very easy to believe it was flat. If we were to look outside, the ground appears to be flat and when we look out to an ocean, even the horizon seems flat.

Our psychology, or how we work, is no different. People look around themselves and see that their emotions are a reaction to their parents yelling at them, or their boss accusing them of wrong doing, or because they aren’t rich, or <fill in the blank>. So, they believe that their environment is creating their moods and more importantly, believe that it is affecting their well-being.

But this is simply not true. The system is designed to make it seem like it’s coming from the outside world but every emotion that you feel can only be created by thought, which we then turn into a feeling that we associate with something externally to ourselves, which is why we believe it caused by the outside. People that believe their emotions are caused by something outside of themselves are living in the analogy that the world is flat and I’m going to do my best to explain why it is that the world is in fact and inside-out world, and that it is round.

Let me begin by asking you some questions and giving you some metaphors to play with. Please answer honestly but don’t dwell on the questions, they are meant to be simple and superficial.

Let me ask you, do you believe that, to some extent, your thinking creates your feelings? Great…just so you know, most people at this point either nod their heads or say yes. Now comes the second question, do you believe, to some extent, that a situation or circumstance creates your feelings? Most people that I speak with say yes to both, but both cannot be true. A paradigm, defined as a model of how something works, can not have two different set of rules. There is only one way in which something can work.

So, let me do my best to explain to you what I mean by the fact that we live in an inside-out world and what impact the outside-in misunderstanding can innocently have us.

Many time people seem to recognize that what I’m about to share with you is true because they can feel the truth behind the words even if they don’t understand why or what it is they are feeling. So, here goes. We all have innate well-being inside of us and the only things that keeps us from it is our personal thinking; the innocent misunderstanding of the relationship between thought and our experience.

We have all be taught by our parents, teachers, the media and society that our well-being is something we need to work hard to maintain. We are told that staying positive in the face of all of lives problems is a lot of work and that there are things we can do in order to try and stay ahead of these challenges and remain positive, in spite of everything that is going on around us. This is simply not true.

The truth is that at the core of our being is our innate well-being and mental health. Again, the only thing that keeps us from feeling it more often is our innocent use of thought. Even though it seems like our feelings are coming from the outside, the reality is that our feelings are a reflection of our thoughts in that moment. In other words, when we have bad feelings, we are having bad thoughts; when we are having good feelings, we are having good thoughts.

Now, let me caution you, it may sound like what I’m referring to is another tool or a technique—if you change your thinking you will change your mood—but that isn’t what I’m saying. You see, we can’t control our thinking. If we could control our thinking, then we would be able to stop thinking about whatever it is that is bothering us so much. Thinking comes and goes in a constant stream of thoughts. We never know what thoughts we are going to have in any given moment. What I’m referring to is understanding Thought and it is in that understanding that your relationship to the thought-feeling relationship changes.

People often ask me what they can do to stop thinking about whatever it is that is bothering them. Even if they are able to distract themselves for periods of time, these thoughts always seem to return. I bet you that if they could “control” their thinking, they would never think about that troubling thought ever again. So, what I’m saying isn’t about changing your thinking, monitor, your thinking, or doing anything about your thinking. We are thinking creatures and we are going to think. Some of the thoughts will be conscious and others won’t. What I’m pointing to is that as your understanding deepens with regard to how the thought-feeling relationship actually works, you will be less affected by your thoughts, you will recover faster and with greater ease.

Let me change the subject for a moment and then I’ll come back to this later on.

I think everyone would agree that it’s perfectly normal for us to defend ourselves if we believe something is threatening us. For example, if a forest fire was approaching our home, it would be perfectly normal for us to defend our home from that threat. We would either: try to put out the fire, try to divert the fire in a safe direction, put up a barrier to block the fire, try to fire-proof our home (if that was possible) and whatever else we can come up with to protect our home from harm. In fact, we would be foolish not to try and do something.

When we believe that our emotions are caused by something outside of ourselves, which is again the way we are taught to believe is how things are (the world is flat), we would be foolish not to try to defend ourselves against that threat, just like the fire. In the process of that protection we create a lot of thinking around that threat in order to try to understand it, to block it, to divert it, and whatever else we can come up with to protect ourselves from it.

Moving on to the next thing, which is to say that it’s important to understand the structure of thought. Every thought that comes to us has the exact same structure as every other thought. All are the same and all work in the same way. A thought is a thought is a thought. A thought comes from the unknown (nothingness) and at the end of its life, it goes back to the unknown (nothingness).

We have all had “irrelevant” thoughts come to us and because we interpret them as irrelevant, we don’t pay them any attention and they go back to the nothingness from where it came from. This all happens without any implications to our well-being or affecting us in any way, shape or form. In fact, this is a perfect time for me to share that the life of a thought is only as long as we give it importance or we feed it with attention. Because we didn’t give this “irrelevant” thought any importance, we didn’t feed it, it didn’t become bigger, it didn’t become more real, and it didn’t affect us in any way. We simply ignored it and it went back to where it came from.

Well, like I said before, all thoughts have the same structure, the only difference is that we give some thoughts more importance than others. The ones we give importance to are the ones that seem more solid and as they become more “real”, the thought’s corresponding emotions are created and we end up “feel” it.

Changing direction once again, but this time only slightly, let me give you another metaphor. You are standing on the platform, waiting for a train and you notice a guy walking in your direction. As he is approaching, you notice that he is walking with complete disregard to the fact that he is pushing through people as opposed to walking around them. As he gets closer, you wonder if he’ll adjust given that you are looking in his direction, but he is completely oblivious to you and brushes your back as we walks past. As you imagine this situation, what kinds of feelings are coming up for you or would you imagine yourself having if you were actually there?

Great. Now, imagine this. You are standing on the platform, waiting for a train and you notice a guy walking in your direction. You recognize him from a news story you saw from the night before, about how his whole family had been killed in an accident and he was the only survivor. As he is approaching, you notice that he is walking with complete disregard to the fact that he is pushing through people as opposed to walking around them. As he gets closer, you wonder if he’ll adjust given that you are looking in his direction, but he is completely oblivious to you and brushes your back as we walks past. As you imagine this situation, what kinds of feelings are coming up for you or would you imagine yourself having if you were actually there?

Most people recognize that their emotional response is different for both scenarios, which is the point because the physical event has not changed. The outside world is exactly the same in both situations. The only thing that has changed is your internal interpretation of the event. Your emotions are caused by your interpretation of an event, which is thought, and are not caused by the event itself. This is true 100% of the time. But, don’t take my word for it. Play with it. Notice it for yourself.

Now, here is another element I want to add to the mix. Your state of mind, in any given moment, will determine the quality of the thought(s) that you will have in that moment. In other words, if we are in a bad state of mind, in a bad mood, and a situation occurs, our interpretation of that event is often a representation of our mood. However, when that same situation occurs and we happen to be in a good mood, then our interpretation of it is completely different. Let me give you a simple example, but I invite you, if you haven’t already, to remember times when this same phenomenon has happened to you. If we are in a bad mood and someone steps on your foot, you would likely react with some form of anger or aggression. But, if we were in a good mood and someone stepped on your foot, you would tend to respond in a more understanding or compassion fashion. Would you agree?

So, in short, we respond to our interpretation of situations and the quality of our interpretation varies considerably, depending on the state of mind we are in at that given moment.

Let’s get back to the earlier example of the metaphorical fire. If we are defending ourselves from the perceived threat (when we believe something outside of us causes our moods), we develop a lot of thinking about that threat, like I mentioned before as we try to come up with ways to defend ourselves. But, chances are that we are not in a good state of mind as we think about the threat and as a result, the quality of our thinking will be low. We may even replay the situation over again in our minds and create new interpretations of it, which again, are influenced by our low mood. And, with this new interpretation we have more thinking, etc., etc., etc.

The more we think about something, the more real it seems and the more we try to defend against it. It’s easy to see how we can innocently create a downward spiral with this use of thought.

On the other hand, when we recognize that:

  1. Our feelings are driven by our thoughts in that moment
  2. Our reaction is based on our interpretation (thought)
  3. Our interpretation is directly influenced by our state of mind
  4. Our thinking and the quality of our thinking will reflect our state of mind

Then our relationship to our moods automatically changes. We begin to see  that a number of the different variables that go into determining our given reaction and mood can often be arbitrary or even illusions. We also begin to notice, from our own experience, how the life of a thought and it’s affect on us is directly proportional to how much importance we give it. Because thoughts are always changing, our mood will change when a new thought comes in, as long as we aren’t holding on to it. Sometimes, this change happens instantly and other times it takes a bit of time. But our thoughts will always change, and when they do, we will feel differently.

When we have recurring thoughts that bring us down, if we feed that thought, it will continue to bring us down when the thought returns. However, just like our bodies have a self-healing system, our psychology has a self-healing system as well. When we don’t feed our thinking and make it seem real, our self-healing system will do what it does. When a thought is not given importance and it is recognized for what it is—just thought, like any other thought—it goes away, and when it comes back, it comes back with less of a charge. Eventually, the charge will go away completely and the thought will stop coming back.

So, what does all this have to do with well-being, peace of mind, and/or “happiness”?

The most important thing to take away from all of this is that you already have perfect mental health and innate well-being inside of you. It is our default state.

When we don’t get caught up in all the noise of our personal thinking, it allows our mind to be more quiet. As our personal mind is quieter, we naturally go back towards our default state of well-being and peace of mind. When we are closer to our innate well-being, we tend to have better quality thoughts and it’s also easier for us to connect with and listen to our inner wisdom. So, as a result, we end up living an easier life, with more appreciation, joy, forgiveness, and a bunch of other characteristics that people associate with happiness.

I know this post has been very long and thank you for sticking it out to the end. I hope the information I’m providing here is of use to you or someone you know. I’d be happy to discuss this further if you want or if you have any questions that came up as you read. Feel free to contact me.

Until next time, may the four winds continue to help guide your way.

Lots of love,

PS – My latest quick description of the Three Principles:

There are three truths or principles that create our experience of life:

  1. Mind: there is a life-force and intelligence in the world / universe we live in
  2. Consciousness: we have an ability to recognize our own existence
  3. Thought: we have an ability to think, which is what we use to experience the world we live in.

The first principle (Mind) points to the fact that there is something other than ourselves that determines the inner workings of life. For example, something other than ourselves has determined that when you plant a seed you don’t get a bunny rabbit. In fact, when you plant a specific seed, you always get the same plant. You can’t choose what plant you want to come out of an acorn; you will always get an oak tree. I’m always amazed by the intelligence around us when I see any nature program on TV. It is truly amazing. I have not met anyone, regardless of their personal believes that does not recognize that we are part of something greater, whatever it is that they want to call it.

The second principle (Consciousness) is pointing to the fact that we all have an ability of awareness and it is through this awareness that we feel and experience life. Again, I have not met anyone that could tell me they didn’t have awareness.

The third principle (Thought) points to the fact that 100% of our life is experienced via thought. By thought, I mean some activity in our brain that results in an interpretation of data that we gather through our senses, as well as what we would normally define as thinking. As you read these words, your eyes are gathering data that is sent to different parts of the brain, which is processed and transformed into an interpretation. This interpretation is an example of thought.