Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.
The Lojong text
As long as you’re focusing on fulfilling your desires, you’re going to end up being miserable. Obsessing over getting what you want and complaining when things don’t go your way is a little absurd after all. So, why do we do this to ourselves?
Your happiness is not limited to what chance happens to send your way. You can reframe your perception at any time and focus on what you can control. Try to create internal strengths like establishing positive thoughts, sound reason and look for wisdom rather than knowledge. It’s one thing to know that you have a problem. It’s an entirely different reality to understand how that problem came to be and what you can do to resolve it.
At any given moment, your actions and choices will be limited by a thousand obstacles beyond your control—wealth, law, strength, time, location, genetics. These are just a few of the obstacles you will face. Your thoughts, however, can be limitless if you train your mind to accept what cannot be changed and to overcome what is possible.
We don’t do that though. We tend to practice escapism rather than mindfulness in our culture. We just can’t seem to enjoy living in the unpleasant moments. We’re strangely more motivated to snap the perfect selfie–to share with strangers on the internet–than we are to risk experiencing the uncomfortableness of reflecting on the quality of our lives.
I think therein lies the crux of the problem. Living in the moment requires you to experience and accept the disappointments and unpleasantness that surround you within any given breath. You experience the passing of time and the consequences of the choices you make. You must experience something in order to appreciate it. So, if we fail to reflect on our decisions and disappointments, is it really a surprise we fail to appreciate life? If we lack the capacity to appreciate living, then where do we expect to find happiness? In death?
“On the day [I finished this titan’s masterpiece] more doves and butterflies took flight over the historic center of [my hometown] than ever before. There was even a double rainbow that extended all the way from [Burger King] to the [Public Library]. You would have been impressed, if you had been there to see it” (Refer to Epilogue for comparison text).
Okay, I’ll leave the narrating to Sharma, but it’s finally time to tell you what I think about Sharma’s 5 AM Club and the book he wrote to describe it.
I was clearly not a fan of the narrative style in this piece. I didn’t see the value in being told when, where, how and what to believe on every step of this journey. I’d rather have been presented with more facts and science (not “magic”) to help me improve the quality of my life. I felt like I was being indoctrinated into a cult of personality at times.
To be fair, the actual ideas, charts and formulas for success that comprise the 5 AM Club are legitimately valid approaches that could help the reader maximize the return on their investment of time for improving the quality of their life. If the storytelling were removed and we were presented quick tips or FAQs in a 15 minute read or video, we may have had a winner. I know I’d be willing to watch the TedTalk.
In the end though, there’s nothing really new here in either the philosophy of the 5 AM Club or the narrative. The storytelling led me down a path of resistance rather than intrigue. Overall, I was disappointed. I felt that a second reading of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People would better accomplish the same goals presented here, but in a clearer more approachable way.
With enough money, doesn’t everything look and feel like magic? Was it the 5AM Club that made life a dream for the entrepreneur and artist or was it the happenstance meeting with someone who had unlimited resources that opened the door to create a rare but attainable opportunity for these two to thrive?
Maybe I’m just as jaded as the entrepreneur in the beginning of the story. Perhaps, I just need a billionaire to take me under his wing and show me how this “magic” really works. Would seeing the wonders in the world through the lens of the One Percent’s vast estates and wealth have made this journey attainable for me? I don’t know. I don’t know any billionaires to ask.
Anyhoo, as Riley would say, if you’re a billionaire and you think I have it all wrong, I’m willing to open my mind and give you a chance to mentor. Until then, I’d recommend trying something by Stephen Covey or Ryan Holiday for your next read. I think you’ll find a greater return on the investment of your time.
It seems everyone has heard of at least one apocryphal or even modern sage who has some “secret” to share for achieving your best life. They speak confidently that if you listen carefully, and follow their instructions precisely, you will ultimately find happiness.
The goal we are told to seek is flawed. We look for joy and forget the truth that the concept is fleeting. We treat our emotions as if they were tangible goods that could be bought in any marketplace. Then, when we can no longer grasp and hold on to this phantom “feeling,” we flounder in despair.
We struggle, and we fight against the world. We do more of the “right” things. We follow more of the same archaic rules. We continue to rely on the illusion of hope, because we’ve invested so much time and energy toward this single idea that we can’t bring ourselves to admit defeat and change our course. We act as if action and belief are enough to manifest joy and banish pain. We desperately justify and narrate our stories with grand fictions placing ourselves as either heroes or tragic victims. We create myth so that at least in fiction there is a version of happiness that will last the remainder of our lives.
This is the happinesses illusion. We end up blaming our failure to find our unobtainable goal as a defect in ourselves—in our faith, in our character or even in our will. Those “secrets” we were given only led to empty promises, and our unfounded hope binds us to an unpleasant truth.
We can do all the right things.
We can follow all the rules.
We still won’t find lasting happiness or joy.
Somewhere along the way we drew the erroneous conclusion that happiness should be the goal of life. We decided pleasure and joy were the endgame. If we could just achieve this almost sublime state of mind, then we had made it to the “promised land”—the mystical height of the human condition.
This is clearly untrue, but we still blindly support this belief system. Every time we make it our goal and purpose in life to be happy, we set ourselves up for failure. We reinforce this false dynamic with happiness traps.
If only I could save up enough money to buy a house, I’d be happy.
If only I could finish school…
If only I could get this job…
What’s keeping us from being happy with what we have? What’s preventing us from living successful and impactful lives without acquiring something more?
We all understand that happiness feels good. Pleasure is fun and it’s easy to to pursue. Who doesn’t want to have a little more fun in their lives? In contrast, hardships are unpleasant and we will do our best to avoid them. So, we end up choosing the wrong priorities. We stop thinking about how we can can live more impactful and influential lives, and instead we focus on what we can acquire to make our days a little more convenient and less burdensome.
Just because we avoid hardships doesn’t mean we should seek happiness as the end goal. The unfortunate truth is that we’re incapable of being happy 100% of the time. Happiness is a subjective, emotive and ever-adapting response to our environment. Happiness has never been a tangible measurement or a lasting state of mind. We can’t weigh happiness and ensure everyone keeps 5 lbs of joy on them at all times. So, why do we keep acting as if joy were something we can purchase or acquire through hard work?
Emotions are temporary responses to changes in our environment. By definition they cannot be sustained indefinitely. You can’t keep yourself in the throes of jubilation laughing for the rest of your life over the joke you told when you were in the third grade. Happiness is a roller coaster of highs and lows.
I can have a rough morning and find true happiness savoring a cup of coffee.
I can break my leg and find bliss looking into the eyes of my partner who’s there by my side.
I can lose my job and still come home to an enthusiastic, tail-wagging dog who always wants to play and has no concept of his human’s trials.
Happiness is like the rising and setting of the sun. It’s always there if you know both when and where to look for it. Joy is the metaphor we use for reminding ourselves to pause and appreciate the passing of the time.
All things come and go.
Bad things will eventually end.
Good things will ultimately disappear.
We need to make peace with the reality that we’re temporary—just like happiness.