Thanks to art forms and media, that most of us experienced as young, impressionable children, we have grown into adults who have mastered the art of outsourcing happiness. Little do we realise that building happiness on external factors strips us of personal power. Interestingly, we make ‘happiness goals’ around things that we desire. “I’ll be happy when…” We start off, giving an ultimatum, and allowing ourselves to mull in melancholy’s murk until we get what we want. Whereas, we forget that some people have those things we currently desire and those things have not guaranteed them happiness. Additionally, the things we have in this present moment were things once yearned for. Those things have not caused us to have happiness; else, we would have been content.
Emplacing our happiness on extraneous elements is akin to fetching water from another compound. Imagine this: you do not have a well in your compound. However, your neighbour in the next compound has a borehole. They did the work required to sink that borehole and now they have water in abundance. Every morning, you go to the next compound and knock on the gate to fetch water. At times, the occupant of that compound opens the gate immediately. At other times, they are reluctant to get the gate. In rare cases, you go home without fetching water as the owner of the borehole is not home to let you in. Do you know on one fine day, the owner of the borehole can tell you never to come to fetch water? What would you do in the event that happens? Will you take to the mountains and scream, “Woe is I?” Eventually, you would have to do the necessary work by digging your borehole at your backyard. It will take time – patience and adequate work are required. In the end, you will have water in your own house and would not have to go outside to fetch water.
It gets more interesting that happiness is a feeling. Feelings are fickle and passing. This explains why after achieving a goal we built our happiness around, we fall back into feeling sad. The euphoria of getting that wish ebbs like a high. If we are not careful, we might even start resenting that thing, partly because of the see-finish factor. That iPhone we were longing to have soon becomes boring. Worse, we misplace it. The car we wanted to buy starts needing repair almost on a monthly basis. We segue into another bout of unfortunate sorrow.
In a broader sense, we want contentment. Contentment is a blend of (inner) peace and bliss. Like pain and love (not the romantic type), contentment is a state. It lingers for a long time. The crux of the matter is realising that what we want is contentment, not essentially happiness. Happiness is fleeting. Comparatively, contentment is protracted happiness and satisfaction. What we really want is to find that feeling of happiness, mix it with peace of mind, and hold it in for the longest time so that whatever happens, we do not lose it.
It is important that we do not delegate the responsibility of our happiness to factors outside us. Happiness that emanates from within is harder to lose in comparison to happiness that comes from external factors. This way, we find ourselves being in a state of contentment. One of the many ways we can generate happiness from within is waking up early to work out. To a certain extent, we have control over this. People who work out say there is a kinda high they feel, courtesy endorphins. In comparison to eating junk food (an external factor) to eradicate sadness, we know which is healthy.
The key to not outsourcing happiness is to do the inner work by grounding happiness on the things we can influence. Fetching water from another compound is stressful, so is outsourcing happiness. “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” – James Openheim. This goes on to show that happiness is an inside job. It is something we cultivate and create for ourselves. That which gives us happiness can wake up one morning and leave.
Seeing as impermanence is the only thing that has permanence, it is certain that that happiness-giver is bound to run its course and expire someday. What are we going to do when that day comes? In addition, we run the risk of getting dependent and addicted to it. The problem of addiction is not the object of our fixation: it is the power the object wields over us.
P.S. Happiness is not largely in the big things. It lies in the little things we take for granted: the scent of clean bed-sheets and towels after being dried in the sun; the dark green leaves of trees that contrast with the blue gradient of the sky; the soft feel of that velvet-upholstered couch; that song you love so much; the ability to go about your daily business in freedom.
Of course, there would be days we do not have these things. But when we train the mind to find happiness in the little things, it would always be in a state of seeing things for which to be grateful.