It is time to unveil a trap that stops us from being happy.
We often convince ourselves that once something happens or changes, then we can be happy?
Once I find a partner, then I can stop being so frustrated.
Once I finish this project at work, then I can relax.
Once I make more money, then I can be satisfied.
Once I finish this course, then I can be happy.
Once I am financially secure, then I can be free.
Once I die, then I can…oh wait.
In 2013, in the midst of a demanding research year, I found myself curled up in a ball and crying. My girlfriend (now wife) was trying her best to console me.
“I am sick of this sh**. I keep getting told that once this happens, then I will be happy. It’s bullsh**. First it was getting into Medicine. I thought that if I work hard and get into Medicine, then I can relax. Medicine is harder than school! Then it was research. Once I do some good research and get it published, then I can get a really good job and be happy. Now it is to become a doctor. Once I finish medical school and become a doctor, then I can be happy right? It’s all bullsh**.”
I didn’t know it at the time but in this moment of utter pain and frustration, “Dr G” and this #DoHappy journey was being born. I was met with a painful realisation. Conditional happiness is a loser’s game. Believing that happiness, whatever that means to you, is conditional to something happening is a trap. The unwritten parameter of “Once X, then I will be happy” is flawed.
On the day I got married, my older brother gave a speech that still resonates with me. He famously said, “the destination is boring”. We prioritise the destination. Whether it is a job promotion, building your dream home, achieving financial freedom or meeting the love of your life. When we get there, we often find that it’s not what we expected. The destination is often boring. Even if it is exciting, it doesn’t last. You simply upgrade to different problems and the cycle starts again.
We need to ask better questions. This is the question that I posed to myself many years ago. It changed my life.
How can I be happy before, during and after ANYTHING? In other words, how can I be happy all the time?
To explore this question, we have to set an important parameter. You have to assume that it is possible.
So, what would be required if you were to be happy all the time? I suggest that you stop reading and try to answer it. If you want, email me your answer to email@example.com before reading on. I would love to hear your secrets.
Ok we are back!
How can you be happy all the time?
It requires a few things.
- A useful definition of happiness.
I view happiness as a game. Like any game, there are rules and the aim is to win. In order to win the happiness game, you have to rig it in your favour. It starts with clearly defining what happiness actually is. If you define it as a feeling, you have already lost.
- Intentional design.
Winning the happiness game requires that you design your mind for worst case scenarios. If you can be happy when you are sick, exhausted, been fired from work, lose a lot of money, receive a scary diagnosis or someone you love dies, that’s check mate! If you can find a way to be happy in these type of moments, there is nothing left. This requires a ruthless lowering of expectations. My expectations are very low. As morbid as it sounds, I don’t even expect to wake up in the morning. For the time being, I have been waking up. What a pleasant surprise! It sounds like a low bar to set. In some ways, it is. In a more profound way, it shows a fundamental understanding of the nature of this game that we call life. We are all going to die one day. All of us. If I wake up, that means I get to do this thing for at least a bit longer. That makes me incredibly happy. Even on a really “bad” day, it’s still awesome. Because I get to have a bad day. The alternative is not ideal.
Please don’t confuse low expectations with low outcomes. My expectations are high if I can control it. I can control whether I write this article or whether I exercise. I have very low expectations for what I can’t control. For example, I don’t expect anyone to read the article or share it. Part of me, also doesn’t expect to wake up tomorrow. I am always happy when I do. One day, that won’t be the case. That’s OK. Living forever is not a game that we can rig.
You may find this a morbid way to approach life. It’s actually liberating. If you know me, you wouldn’t consider me morbid. In fact, most people think I am a happy and jovial human being.
Disclaimer: I still fall into the trap. Unfortunately, I am still human.
I love to help people to win the happiness game. If you would like to learn more about coaching, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Much love to you and of course, myself.
If you want to find out more about coaching, email me at email@example.com
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