The source of happiness

“All of this, for what purpose?”

What is it that you really want? That is the question. Well, maybe. That’s one question. Once you know that, and on some level you probably do, another question can be more powerful. For what purpose? Or, put another way, what is that going to do for you? What benefit will having that thing, creating that lifestyle, achieving that goal give you?

We all have wants and needs and this is perfectly natural. Food, sex, love, are some of the basic animal needs that drive us, but many people strive for more than the basics. We want a high flying job, a big house, nice possessions to fill it, and, most commonly, we want money, loads and loads of money!

What for? Well, aside from covering the costs of living, there are obvious benefits to being cashed up. You can go on more holidays, fill your enormous mansion with more stuff, and drink fine champagne with your dinner. But what does all this do for us? Well, for many people, certainly in our society, there is an underlying belief here. It may not be explicit, but it is there, hiding under the surface. Money equals success, and success equals happiness. In the Western world, where we glorify those who have achieved “success”, with their fast cars, bling watches and penthouse apartments, there is an endemic belief that more money equates to more happiness.

Just reflect on this for a moment, and ask yourself the question- if I had more money, would I be happier? If the answer is yes, then you hold this belief. You might say, “well of course, what a stupid question!” Or, if you can see the fallacy here, this can be a somewhat confronting realisation.

But if I was to just win the lottery / get this next pay-rise / land this deal / (insert money making success story here), then everything would be better. 

Now, if you are one of the people who is affronted by the stupidity of my question, let’s explore this a little more. If money brings happiness then that would mean there is a direct correlation between the amount of money that a person had to their name and their level of happiness. That would mean the poorest people in the world would be the most unhappy, and the most well off would be the happiest.

You don’t have to look very far to see this is plainly not the case. The popular media is jam packed full of so called ‘celebrities’, who have more money than many people could possibly imagine, going off the rails into depressions, addictions, and sometimes even suicide. Are they the behaviours of happy people? And if you have ever travelled far, you will no doubt have met people who are, by your standards, living in abject poverty. And, you may well have found that some of them are the happiest folks you will ever meet. How does this make sense?

We can easily fall into the trap of believing that our emotions are determined by the outside world. Given it’s rammed down our throats from a young age, through our education system and through relentless product advertising, it’s easy to see how this belief forms. Happiness comes from getting good grades and using the right cosmetics, your emotional well being is dependent on driving a flash car and being able to go to fine dining restaurants. Consumer culture wants you to think that, because that’s how we sell more stuff! It’s how our system works.

But this belief is not grounded in reality, it’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding about where our experience comes from. You see, our emotions are not caused by the outside world. We are never responding to what is “out there”. A pile of gold, no matter how big it is, has no intrinsic “happiness” in it. It’s just a pile of metal! Our emotional response doesn’t come from the gold, because it can’t come from the gold, it doesn’t work like that. Our emotional response is determined by our thinking about the pile of gold.

When you first hear this, it is easy to rubbish it as hippie ramblings after a night smoking too much you-know-what. But when you sit with this and reflect on your own emotional well being, I know you will see what I am pointing to. Because this is not a theory or a nice idea to think about, this is a fact about where our experience comes from. Our feelings don’t come from the outside world, they are a reflection of our thinking.

But that can’t be right! When I get a pay rise I always feel great.

Maybe, but correlation does not equal causation. I’m more interested to know what you were thinking about when you felt great, because that’s the source of the feeling. If this is a bit too woo woo for you then try this little thought experiment: take a moment to think about something you would really hate to do. Like if I said, “you must do this thing now” it would be the worst possible thing you can imagine. Ok, maybe not that bad, pick something pretty bad for you. Now, think about having to do that thing, play it out in your mind’s eye, really imagine it happening. And notice how you feel. Now pick something you would love to do right now, and again; play it out in your mind’s eye, really imagine it happening. Notice how you feel. Your feelings just changed, didn’t they. Right then. How did that work?! Well, your thoughts changed and your feelings changed. That’s it. Your feeling had nothing to do with the thing you were imagining, that hasn’t happened yet and it may never happen! What you were imagining did not exist in the material world, it was just a thought that you had. If nothing else in your experience changed in that moment, then 100% of the feelings came from the thoughts that were going through your mind.

Thoughts are just thoughts, they come and go and they can change in an instant. The only thing that makes a thought feel important is if we believe it is important. I’m sure you’ve had an experience when you’ve wanted something for ages, a new house or job title or gadget maybe, and then you finally got it and within a week it’s just another thing you have. Did the thing change, or was it your thinking about that thing?

Now, let me be clear here, I am not saying you shouldn’t want things. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for that pay rise. I’m not saying money is bad. I like living the good life as much as anyone and there are lots of things I want to do. What I am prompting is for you to consider what you want those things for? Because if you want them because you want them then we’re good. But if you want them because you think they will make you happy, then you’re looking in the wrong direction, and there is nothing to find down that road. You can search for happiness until the end of time in the form of “success”, and you will never find it. Because it’s not out there to be found, it comes from inside. And that means you already have it.

So, I’ll ask you again:

“All of this, for what purpose?”

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Developing a deep understanding of how our emotions work is a game changer. Our priorities change, things which seemed so important before just aren’t now, and things that seemed so hard become effortless. In short, life just gets easier. If you are working towards achieving some goal, then this can be the single biggest leverage point to you achieving it. I work with people at this level, and amazing things happen as a result. If something here resonates with you, then reach out to me at nathaniel@nathanieldunn.com.au. Because it starts with a conversation.

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