- State of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
- Emotions experienced when in a state of well-being
I just want to be happy!
Is that too much to ask?
I want you to think back to a time when you were happy. I mean really happy. When was it? Was it when you were a child? Was it when you first fell in love? Or was it sometime more recently, like when someone bought you a really expensive present, or you went on a “dream” holiday? Maybe you got a promotion which came with more money, or maybe when you had a child? That is what we are here to find out!
According to my mother, I was never a miserable child, and in fact, throughout my life people have always said that I had a “sunny disposition,” but I don’t think I was ever truly “happy.”
As I passed through my turbulent teens, and into my twenties, I became more and more “unhappy,” and more dissatisfied with everything that was going on in my life. I could never hold down a job, although I was bright. I drank too much, and I flitted from girl to girl.
Although I had fleeting moments of happiness, such as getting a new job, finding a new girlfriend, getting my paycheck, buying new gadgets, cars, or going on holiday; these intense moments of happiness were followed by a steady decline into boredom and dissatisfaction. Nothing could make me happy I concluded, except perhaps an abundance of money.
Yes. That was what was required, and I set off in search of it. I found I could do contracting in the information technology field, and I “blagged” my way into a project management job which was paying about six times the hourly rate I was on previously. When my first week’s paycheck came in I couldn’t believe it! Wow! All this money for me! I was so happy. And at the weekend, I treated my girlfriend to a nice meal, bought her some nice presents, bought myself some nice presents, bought a bottle of champagne and celebrated.
This was more like it, and I was starting to feel much happier. My parents were happier with me as I wasn’t borrowing money from them anymore, my girlfriend was happy because now we could afford nice things, and I could buy her presents and take her out, and internally it felt like a great stone had been removed from my neck. I was free! I could now do anything I wanted. I had plenty of money.
This went on for about six months, but I was noticing that although I was earning five to six times as much as I had been previously, I was also spending five to six times as much and sometimes more! We moved into a big house by the sea, I bought my girlfriend a horse and a dog, we had a nice new 4×4 jeep, and we went skiing for christmas. This was the life. I was now much happier than I had been for years, and as I approached my thirtieth birthday, I felt pretty good about everything.
But one day, as I was walking down by the sea with the dog, I got a tiny piece of insight which told me, that as much I was earning, I was spending, and even if I earned more than I was earning now, I could see that I would probably spend it. I then worked out what I believed the maximum amount of money I could earn as an consultant would be, and concluded that I was probably nearly at that amount already. Then what? If I couldn’t earn anymore then what would happen to my happiness? I decided that something had to be done!
One afternoon, as we were grooming our horse in a little field close to the sea, I turned to my girlfriend casually and said:
“Do you want to go travelling to australia?”
“Yeah, ok!” She replied excitedly.
In search of happiness?
And that was it. We sold all our possessions for a tenth of what they were worth, stored a few personal things at my parents house, and gave the rest away. I handed in my notice, emptied my bank accounts, begrudgingly gave some to my girlfriend, and five months later we were standing at the airport with our rucksacks on. As the plane climbed into the night sky, I thought to myself “Ha! We’re free! I’m so happy!”
The first month or two were fantastic. We were so happy in australia; It was new and exciting, money wasn’t a problem, and we bought surfboards, new clothes, new watches, a car, new jewellery and partied like it was going out of fashion! The beer flowed, and the money flowed, day in, day out.
But that wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, I thought to myself as I woke up in the hostel with yet another raging hangover. I wanted to drive around australia, and I would. “We have to leave straight after christmas,” I told my girlfriend; and on boxing day, we got into the car, and started driving.
This was it. Freedom. Travelling the open road; stopping to look at the natural wonders, sleeping in a makeshift bed in the back of the car. This was what happiness was about I concluded, and I relished every moment of it. But not for long.
Why does the money always dry up?
In my state of happiness at being on the open road, I had forgotten to check how much money we were spending (as neither of us had jobs), and within six months, it was gone.
My relationship with my girlfriend became more and more strained as I realised that without the money to keep us happy, there was no love between us, and we split up. How was I going to get money to live?
I was now desperately unhappy; alone in a country with no friends, save for party backpackers with whom I would share an occasional drunken night with.
But then something magical happened. I met a girl whose was working at the backpackers I was staying in. At first we felt nothing towards each other, but that soon changed as we decided to head off to sydney together. We stopped in a little village called byron bay, and it was there that we fell in love. And what a love it was. I say “was,” because we too have split up, after six and a half years travelling the world together, working together, learning together, sharing successes and disappointments.
During the first few years everything was great. I had forgotten how desperately unhappy I had been with my previous girlfriends and previous jobs. I met really interesting people, and I learned a lot about myself.
Money wasn’t important to me anymore, I decided (although we were still having to work just to scrape by). I felt like there was a huge change in me, and I liked it. Except it was only temporary.
We returned to australia with the idea of starting a massage business, but with only a few pounds left over from our travelling days, it was impossible to get going properly. My wife (for we had got married the previous year) got a job straight away, but I was obsessed with the idea of getting this business off the ground. So once again, I was unhappy. Unhappy at the life I found myself in. I didn’t want to be poor!
“I am not good at being poor,” I thought, so I too got a job, and although I was earning a decent salary, it wasn’t enough to allow me to keep buying new things (which I loved to do). I couldn’t buy presents for my wife, and I couldn’t do the things I liked doing. This was no good.
Why wasn’t I happy? I had a beautiful wife, a nice (rented) house in melbourne, australia, and I had a job of sorts, and a couple of friends; in fact, everything that anyone could wish for, but still it wasn’t enough.
I had to go travelling again I decided. So off on the plane I jumped once more, for thailand and the uk, but it was different this time, without the person I loved by my side. I felt empty and even more unhappy.
I spent more and more time at the pub drinking, pretending to be the happy traveller that everyone envied. I had to get back to australia, to my wife, I thought, so on the plane I jumped, back to melbourne. I got another job, and I tried my hardest to be happy but inside there was just darkness.
The months dragged on and I said:
“I’m off travelling again.”
“What? Why?” my wife asked.
“I just need to get away,” I replied.
And that night in bed she said to me:
“If you stay, we can work this out, I promise. But if you go this time, don’t come back.”
Oh my god, she was giving me an ultimatum, that wasn’t good. But my mind was already made up. I had to go. And I did.
A new beginning?
Since that time I’ve been involved with a couple of other people, started writing this book in earnest, travelled to several different places, and worked in several different jobs – all in search of true happiness. But it is only in the last six months I have come to realise what happiness is (and what it isn’t).
I thought happiness meant having a stable family life, with a career, and two holidays a year. I thought the reason I was miserable was because I didn’t have any money. It was so obvious to me! When I had plenty of money, I was happy. When I had none, I was miserable. So the only way to ensure I had this constant state of happiness was to ensure a constant flow of money. Hey, this is easy!
I knew what I needed to do. I needed to get a good job. Get a nice house. Get someone attractive and intelligent to live with, get a dog maybe… But a little voice in the back of my mind was saying “But you’ve had all this before, alan.”
“Oh, no!” I thought.
The voice (which was my own) was right. Years before, I had all this. The well paid job, the attractive girlfriend, the dog, the house by the sea, and now several years later, I wanted it all back. How stupid had I been? Why did I hand in my notice, why did I go travelling, what was the point of all this. Oh, how stupid I was! I had been out of computers for over nine years so there was no chance of getting my old contracting jobs back, and that was all I knew. My life was finished, I would end up working cleaning toilets or something like that! I cursed myself for being so idiotic. “How could I think there would be more than I already had? Stupid. Stupid.”
I couldn’t believe what I had done. I had given up everything I held dear to me on a whim, and traded it for this. For nothing. Why hadn’t I seen this coming? Why couldn’t I go back to the way it was before? I didn’t even bloody like this new me.
People I knew were starting to question me about what I would be doing with my life now I had come back from australia. “Oh, I’m writing a book” I would reply, hoping that got me off the hook, but my parents were even more insistent that I give them an answer.
“Now come on alan, you’re 37 years old, don’t you think it’s time you gave up all this travelling nonsense and settle down?”
“No! I don’t want to settle down,” I shouted. “I don’t.”
“Then what do you want to do, son?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
And it was true, I didn’t. Sure, I was writing this book, but that would be over in a couple of years, and then what would I do? Would I end up on the streets, addicted to drugs or alcohol? Would people look back on me and say “It’s a shame what happened, he was a really bright boy with a bright future ahead of him, but he threw it all away, shame.”
I thought and I thought, but I couldn’t see a way out of the misery I had created for myself. I had really screwed up, and I knew it. I was going to be a forty something backpacker, going from place to place, trying to meet new people who were just embarking on their travels, and boring them with my stories. Where would I work? What if I got sick? Where would I live when my parents died? What would I do?
I got more and more depressed and spent more and more time trying to find a solution in a beer glass, but it wasn’t helping, nothing was helping.
I was utterly dissatisfied with my life.
And then it hit me. I was discontent with everything. I was discontent with people, with politicians, with careers, authority, litter, prejudice, poverty, greed, murder. I was discontent with being told to conform to someone else’s idea of what happiness was. The reason I wasn’t happy was because I wasn’t conforming.
If only I had settled down to a job as soon as I left school, If only I had done better at school, and just been satisfied with my lot in life, this discontent would never have arisen.
By now I could have had a nice career, company car, a wife and family. My parents would have been pleased for me. And they would love having grandchildren! On sundays, after lunch, we could all go for a walk with the kids and the dogs. And we would be having a very nice time thank you.
“If only you had conformed” say the powers that be, “you wouldn’t be in this silly situation. You weren’t supposed to tamper with the program. If only you’d gone along with it, you’d be perfectly happy right now. You’ve only got yourself to blame.”
“But I am not unhappy!” I thought “I love life. I have always loved life. But boy am I angry. Boy am I discontent, and I’m going to do something about it.”
- A longing for something better than the present situation
The more I thought about it, the more angry I became. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have thought that happiness was something I could get with money or by constantly travelling around the world?
As a child I was happy. As a child I loved everything. It was only when I became an adult that things started going wrong, when I was expected to behave in a certain way I became discontent with life. The more I started to see the truth of it, the less angry I became. There was no point in being angry all the time. All I would do as alienate more people from my life.
I could start a revolution and try to overthrow the government but what purpose would that serve except either ending in my death, or that of many others, and anyway, who was I? Certainly no revolutionary! No. I had to find a better way. I had to transcend the anger I was feeling and try to understand what it was that was making me angry.
The dictionary definition of discontent is “a longing for something better than the present situation,” but I couldn’t accept that I was longing for something better. I actually wanted to create something better. I wanted to create a better world, one where money was not god, where people did not conform, where happiness was not just an external illusion. A world where compassion and love replaced fear and violence. But how would I do it? This was surely going to be a mammoth task.
How could I get everyone in the entire world to change? I realised that once again I was being stupid! You can never force people to change. They have to want to change, and the only person you could change was you. So I did.
I let go of the anger I was feeling, as I realised it could do no other purpose but stop me from seeing the truth of the whole situation, and started to become aware of what it really meant to be discontent. Why was I discontented with the life I had, when on the surface it appeared that I had everything I needed to make me happy? The first thing I did was to accept that I was happy. I was happy to be alive. And that was a good starting point if I wanted to dig any deeper.
My mother was right; I was a happy child. And I was a happy adult. I was just so caught up in my own external needs of wanting to be happy, that I was blind to see the truth.
Being alive on this wonderful abundant planet, so full of beauty, was enough. Sure, we needed to eat and to have shelter, clothing and procreate to keep the species alive but they had nothing to do with happiness. Those were the basics we needed as a species to survive, bolt-on happiness providers like having a girlfriend, children, nice house, holidays, money, were all illusion – illusions created by conforming.
Happiness is contentment with who you are. Happiness is an absence of conflict in the mind and knowing no fear. Happiness is accepting that you are part of the universe, and it is part of you; and that you are not alone, although it sometimes feels like that. You are happy. You have always been happy, and that the desire for happiness is just desire. Nothing more. But don’t take my word for it.
Watch yourself next time you feel happy, watch the movement of your mind, notice how your body feels and your heart is beating.
Are you sure you are not confusing happiness with excitement (the feeling of lively and cheerful joy, The state of being emotionally aroused and worked up)? You can call it happiness, or anything else you want, but you will notice that these are only temporary feelings and then the discontentment returns.
I get a pay rise. Wow! I am excited. I am happy, but then it passes.
Wow! I have found the love of my life, I’m going to marry her, and I am excited and I am happy, but then it passes.
Wow! We have just bought a new house, and I am so happy, but then it passes.
Wow! We have just had a baby boy. We are so excited. It is the happiest day of our life. But then it passes.
With all things of the material – even having children – the state of happiness is only ever temporary. You may love your child, but are you as happy as the day you noticed you were pregnant or the day you had the baby (maybe not happy, given the amount of pain you probably suffered). But can you see what I am getting at?
Happiness, as we know it, is only a temporary emotional state, and when the feeling of elation or joy passes, discontentment fills the space; until the next happy moment, and then back to discontentment.
You cannot force yourself to be happy every day, and trying to, as I did, by filling my days with so many “temporary excitement moments” only made the discontentment worse when it came. From a great high, always comes a great low, as anyone who has ever taken drugs will tell you.
So learning to live in a state of happiness or joy is not about filling your life with things to take away the discontentment. It is allowing the discontent to rise in you until such time as you wake up! And wake up with a bang you will. Only then can you start to understand what true happiness is about. Let the discontentment begin!
By Alan Macmillan Orr
“The Natural Mind – Waking Up”