The Secret to a Happy and Fulfilled Life
I first posted this at the turn of the year, and I think it’s so important it’s worth posting again. It’s a question that could change your life!
Here’s the deal…
Sam replied to one of the emails I sent,
“Hi Cathy, I want to ask, with so much uncertainty in the world and in our lives, is it possible to live peacefully, with joy and hope, and also to do things that are useful to the world?
“How can we be happy and fulfilled despite the negative things people do…? What are the secrets to that kind of a life…?”
Wow, a big question — how to live a life that is happy and also useful to society? I’d like to bet it’s a question most of us have asked ourselves at one time or another.
Inherent, though, in her question is the suggestion that it’s not possible — or, at least, that it’s hard to find happiness and live a life of contribution — especially against a backdrop of political uncertainty and perhaps even personal hardship.
Here’s what I also see in the question — that Sam is a good and generous person, with a positive spirit. And, like all of us, that means she has the potential for happiness and contribution — but not before she disentangles her expectation that one is a consequence of the other…
1. The Big Misunderstanding…
It’s common to believe that there’s a link between what we do (or what we have) and how ‘happy’ we feel. I’ll be happy when... I’m sure we’ve all said it at one time or another — it’s a common enough shorthand for our imaginary future.
We know, at some level, that ‘stuff’ won’t make us happy (although we kinda hope it will!). And, yet, when it comes to what we do, we think this is the secret to unlocking happiness and lifelong satisfaction.
When I’m doing work I love, when I find my purpose, that job I want, work that matters… and so on.
But, what if that’s a misunderstanding about how things work?
What if there’s a fundamental separation between how we feel and how we spend our time.
What if we can be happy in a great job / business / relationship, and also unhappy in that very same job / business / relationship?
What happens when we have the inevitable bad day, or we become bored of, even grow to hate, what we once loved?
If that’s true, then where does our happiness come from?
2. What if we can’t create it, we can only experience it?
What if we can’t create happiness, we can only notice when it comes along?
Sure, we can spend time with people we love and do things that inspire us (or so we imagine) but I’m certain we’ve all had moments in a great relationship where the other person drives us crazy, and we’ve all had bad days even when we do work we love.
Some days when I write emails to my subscribers, the words flow and I feel calm and creative; other days, I find myself agitated, I can’t concentrate, and I want to dive in and out of social media as if somehow that’s where inspiration will come from (a sure-fire way to feel worse!).
The task’s the same; the feelings are different.
Sure, I can make myself more unhappy about a situation if I want to — I simply need to start obsessing and over-thinking it! Mostly, though, on an average day, I have moments when I’m feeling pretty happy with life, and moments when I feel less good. And I don’t have to do anything to experience a general feeling of contentment.
3. If we have no control over our feelings, why not choose to do the work that matters most?
If it’s true that what we do isn’t the secret to happiness, and that happiness can come to us however we spend our time, would we do things differently?
For example, I choose to write those weekly emails because I want to stay in touch with my community, I want to share my thoughts, and I want to see if it’s possible to spark an insight or a new idea for someone, even just one person.
I make that bigger commitment to write every week, regardless of how I feel when I’m actually doing the work.
Think about that: if how you feel isn’t linked to what you do, if there is nothing for you to personally lose or gain and — within reason — I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll have good days and bad days doing it — would you make different decisions?
If you were going to be OK anyway, and knew your contentment wasn’t related to world events, wasn’t related to the job you did, do you think it would be easier to choose something you thought was worth spending time on?
Maybe you’d be bolder about doing work that made a difference because it didn’t matter what people said, or thought, about you?
Maybe you wouldn’t wait so long to start those projects you really want to do?
Maybe you’d choose to be of service and to make more of an impact in the world?
Maybe you’d put your personal life first, your family, your friends?
Whatever you choose, de-linking that choice from your ego and your personal happiness is massively freeing.
I know that this year, especially, many of us have felt some degree of sadness, shock, even horror, at the events that have happened around the world. Maybe grief at the passing of a much-loved artist, someone whose work we admired and that perhaps shaped our younger self?
Those emotions come and go and we shouldn’t be scared of them.
My experience is that, once I let go of the attachment to being happy, then I make different choices — I stop waiting, I stop caring so much about other people’s opinions, I stop worrying about all the things that could go wrong (or right) in an imagined future. And, ironically, I become happier by living this way!
My experience is that my clients who truly understand this difference open up to the potential of what they can do, they immediately see that the work is more important than they are, they take different — bolder — actions, and they find a deep inner strength and a security about themselves and their future.
What choices will you make in the coming weeks and months?
It’s particularly relevant at New Year when we take the time out to evaluate our year, but we can change in any single moment. Maybe, as part of your weekly reflection, you can ask yourself this question…
“What would I choose to do if I knew that happiness and peace of mind are available to me whatever I do, even if nothing in my situation changes? What would I create if I knew that I was going to be OK? If that understanding gave me a blank slate, what would I do differently next week or next year?”
Of course, as with anything we write, this is my truth, not necessarily the truth.
I’d love to know what you guys think — post a comment below…
Whatever your answer, I wish you a wonderful week and a fabulous rest of your year.