George is a key player in a large tech firm. He's not only a driven team leader always aiming to improve performance, he's also intelligent, wealthy, and--you guessed it--unhappy.
He's the type of guy who, no matter what problem you throw at him, will find a solution and excel--he's just that determined. Unfortunately, his masterful ability maintain a laser-like focus on evolving goals--the thing that makes him successful--also is the mechanism that prevents his happiness.
Happiness is widely misunderstood.
In the context of our Western culture, Americans are taught that happiness is an external object--a commodity that can be purchased. We think that we'll be happy once we "earn enough money," or get the respect and recognition we deserve, but none of these things have anything to do with real happiness.
Genuine happiness emerges when you stop creating your own unhappiness.
Unhappiness is thinking. The mind is the most brilliant tool we have as humans. When applied strategically, it can improve people's lives and lead to positive social change. But when you live in a world created by the mind--constantly comparing yourselves to others, thinking about the future, ruminating over the past--then there's no escaping it.
You are bound to your thoughts.
Caged like an animal, you have no idea that you shackled yourself. You built the trap and then walked into it. By the time you started avoiding uncomfortable emotions by trying to think your way out of them, the plan was already set in motion.
The truth is that happiness is the unconditioned presence in which we all exist.
To discover happiness, then, means that you need to get out of your own way. You need to find the volume dial of your mind, and turn it down. You need to recognize that your thinking--your search for a solution to your pain, your seeking of external happiness, and your contemplation of all things outside of the present moment--creates unhappiness.
If real happiness is the sun, you are the clouds.
These clouds fill with rain the more that you think through your emotional discomfort, the more that you remove yourself from the here-and-now, the more that you dilute your experience of now with thoughts of then. The darker and denser these clouds become, the less light you see, the less warmth you feel, and the faster you forget that the sun is always shining.
Stop preventing the rain.
Allow your thoughts to flow like leaves on a river. There's no need to get hyper-focused on each one. There's no need to give them more power than they deserve. Even if thinking is what makes you successful, like George, you still need to practice turning down the volume so that your emotions can be fully embraced, experienced, honored--and then, understood.
When you turn down the volume of your thoughts, you become more intelligent. You become more attuned to the feeling-of-being, the presence in which we all exist. And when you feel that sacred rhythm, like waves in the ocean, you realize that happiness is always present--the sun is always shining.
Real happiness is being--not doing.
A famous guru named Krishnamurti once said, "The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence." And he's correct--the most intelligent people are the ones who recognize the limitations and shortcomings of their mind.
In my work with George, five simple steps aided our ability to deepen his experience of happiness:
1. Identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts.
Through our conversations, George realized that no amount of money would make him happy. When you always want more than what you have right now, even if it helps you become successful in society, it restricts your ability to deeply enjoy the present moment.
2. Schedule down time--even if it's brief.
For George, this meant a few minutes before bed each night. Usually, he would stimulate his mind by watching television and looking up things on his phone, but our work discovered that these behaviors actually moved him further away from the stillness he desired. By setting better boundaries with technology and prioritizing down time, George slowly got more in touch with his underlying thoughts, and more importantly, his feelings.
3. Practice meditating for 5 to 10 minutes each day.
Implementing meditation while at work was a major turning point in our work. As someone who tried meditation before, but didn't continue deepening his practice, George discovered that prioritizing a few minutes to get in touch with the present moment created a sense of calm amidst the storm and chaos of his demanding work.
4. Process, experience, and feel uncomfortable emotions in sessions.
As a licensed therapist, one of the things I'm best at doing is helping people deepen their experience of their underlying feelings--even those that are currently outside of clients' awareness. Scheduling an hour dedicated to this very practice each week helped George increase his insight into the development of his struggles and practice allowing feelings to move through him rather than thinking and hanging on to them each week.
5. Surrender to the not-knowing of the destination and trusting the journey.
Ultimately, the four steps listed above led to an emergence of the mindset that I call not-knowing. As our trust with one another deepened, he was able to share his most vulnerable thoughts and feelings, which allowed him to feel the truth that emotional issues can't be solved by thinking.
To work through unhappiness, George first had to reduce his habits of unhappiness. Then he had to trust that we could arrive at our destination without first identifying it.
As you can imagine, this was slow, difficult work. This work is the opposite of what brought him monetary success and professional recognition--which is why it's such a frightening and daunting process at times. But that process was necessary for George to identify the happiness that was already present in his life.
And you can do that too.
Admitting what you don't know, embracing the present moment, and simply witnessing life's journey as it unfolds is not only the highest form of intelligence--it's how you discover real happiness.