There are four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.
– Johnny Depp
I’ve suffered and worked hard so hopefully you don’t have to.
Here are two tips that will help you live happy and relatively fulfilled:
1. Seek love (for self) rather than acceptance.
2. Life is about learning, not winning.
Love & Acceptance
While doing research for my upcoming book, I came across the comprehensive longitudinal study, the Grant Study. Where Harvard researchers examined and followed two hundred sixty-eight men over seventy-two years. I wrote a blog post about it over at GoodLifeZen.com titled “Love Really is All You Need” which discusses the gist of the study, that Happiness is Love, full stop.
Are you going about it backwards?
Are you seeking acceptance as opposed to love?
I’m pretty sure that’s what I was doing.
For most of my life there was an underlying knowing that I could figure things out. Whatever life threw my way—when I really put my mind to it—I could overcome anything with self-will.
My turning point was the realization that self-will was not enough. A place of complete surrender, desperation, and acceptance that I had no idea how to be happy. Every possible scenario, option, and outcome had been rolled around in my head, leaving no more edges; just a big ball of guilt, regrets, and fear spinning at light speed.
In contrast was the moment of clarity that made a decision inevitable, the complete and total clarity in the realization that the solution was not in my power to achieve. I tasted true humility for the first time in my life.
What followed was hard work. Books, therapists, clergy, psychiatrists, life coaches, spiritual coaches, rocks, trees,… you name it, if I thought they had something to teach me I was listening. I no longer cared what others thought of me.
I was just happy to be alive and anything after that was just gravy. I was taking real action and responsibility for my own life and happiness. The most important thing I learned was how little I cared for myself; which was hard for me to accept or imagine at first.
Most of my friends would have described me as; positive, out-going, funny, and having my crap together. So it took a while for me to realize that’s just what I was showing on the outside. Inside I was consumed by fear. Fear of not being loved or accepted, which for me was the same thing.
I realized that I was living to make everyone else happy.
I have a pretty realistic view and love for my authentic self today. I often compare my life to this allergy commercial I saw on TV a few years ago. There’s a man walking through the woods split into two different, slightly transparent versions of himself; each one on a slightly different path. After taking the allergy medicine, he comes together as one clearly defined individual walking confidently down the center of the path.
I’m no longer split in two, I’m who I’m supposed to be and I’m OK with that. Actually, it’s pretty awesome.
It’s no big secret that chasing happiness is futile; that it’s already inside each of us and it’s our birthright. Just as the apple seed has everything it needs to sprout, grow, and produce fruit, each of us intrinsically have everything we need to be happy, loved, and fulfilled.
But I think a lot of us still over complicate happiness. In most cases it just takes a little work. But that work is often uncomfortable; it means dealing with emotions. And as humans, we mostly try and avoid uncomfortable situations. We avoid looking deep inside ourselves for the answers because either we don’t know how, or we’re afraid of what we might find. So we choose the path of least resistance; external sources, immediate gratification, and acceptance.
It’s OK that we do that, it’s natural. I lived that way most of my life, seemingly happy. But it’s not comparable to the happiness I experience today. The process of self-discovery allowed me to become emotionally connected with myself. Sometimes referred to as self-love or self-acceptance, but the concept is pretty basic; know yourself better than anyone else and learn true acceptance and love for self.
Seeking acceptance from others is an endless cycle; needing to constantly refill our depletion of a positive self image through external validation. Internal acceptance and love flows outwards and changes everything, like our perception of the world and our place in it.
Of course I didn’t just wake up one day and, POW! I suddenly knew how to love and accept myself. It took work, and thankfully I took notes. So if you’re wondering how it’s done, don’t fret. I outline the entire process in my upcoming book Happiness for the Practical Mind: 7 Steps to Discovering and Loving Your Authentic Self. (I have a tentative launch date of May 1). Yes, that was shameless self-promotion. But I’m telling you it’s going to be awesome! But I’ll also warn you, it takes work and it’s only for those serious about real change.
Learning vs. Winning
While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.
– Leonardo da Vinci
At first glance I thought that quote was morbid. But I get it.
My father once commented to my wife Emily, “I’ve learned everything I need to know.” He died suddenly a few years later. I hope I never want to stop learning.
I do understand where he was coming from though. I certainly have less drive to master new things with huge learning curves these days. You know, like electronics and new computer programs. I guess it depends on the perceived payoff. Like this whole book publishing thing… it’s been a huge learning curve and hard work. But I know it’s going to be worth it!
The concept of winning vs. learning is quite simple. Winning suggests there’s an end; as in I’ve won. It implies that I’m getting something that someone else is not. That if I’m winning, someone else must be loosing.
I relate winning mostly to gaining material possessions or achieving something externally. I’m not sure if that’s valid or correct in this context, but it’s me writing so… Of course I can’t say “winning” these days without thinking of Charlie Sheen.
Learning means acquiring by instruction or study, or modification of a behavioral tendency by experience. It never stops until we die.
Winning suggests competition and getting more than my fair share. Learning fosters humility.
Once I made a conscious effort to learn more about myself—specifically my emotions, thoughts, and fears—my life started getting exponentially better. I didn’t know I was trying to win before; I was just trying to get ahead and be accepted.
In the end, all we have is what we’ve learned. Did we learn how to win or be at peace with ourselves and our choices in life? Have we learned to love and accept ourselves?
When you’re on your death bed, what will you say; I won, or I learned to love?