Most people want to be happy.
In fact, the Dalia Lama himself has said that the purpose of life is to be happy. And the whole field of positive psychology has been built around studying conditions that lead to happiness.
And yet, even though most of us want to be happy, we struggle with creating the happiness that we so deeply desire.
Happiness remains this thing that we desperately want that always seems just outside of our grasp.
The problem is that most of us search for happiness outside of ourselves.
I know because that’s how I’ve lived most of my life.
I’ve looked for happiness in my careers. I’ve looked for happiness in relationships. I’ve looked for happiness in moving to a new place. I’ve looked for happiness by traveling to new places.
And those sort of experiences CAN provide happiness.
Unfortunately happiness that comes from external conditions is fleeting and something that we’re continually chasing.
There are two primary reasons why external happiness will never lead to lasting happiness.
The first reason is that we have limited control over the external conditions of our lives.
For example, if you chose to pursue a college degree, you have control over what you study in school. And you may believe that once you’re done with school and working in your chosen profession, THEN you’ll be happy.
But think about all the things that you either have limited or no control over.
What jobs are available when you graduate. Who ultimately offers you a job. How much money you make. How your boss treats you. How many hours you’re required to work. What projects you’re asked to work on. And so on.
The second reason is that external conditions are always changing.
You buy a new car and feel happy whenever you look at your car. But then you get in a car accident, your car is damaged, and now you feel anger whenever you look at your car.
Or you marry the “perfect” person but then that person gains 30 pounds and now no longer looks quite so perfect to you. Maybe you even feel disgust when looking at them.
So no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never arrange the external conditions of your life to your complete satisfaction. Which means your brain will continually be repeating the “I’ll be happy when…” refrain.
The Secret to True Happiness
So what then is the secret to true happiness?
Quite simply…..resist nothing.
Or to put it another way….accept everything.
Here’s the thing.
As I’ve already discussed, you have limited control over what happens in your life. And your life will unfold in lots of ways that won’t reflect what you want.
When you resist these external conditions, when you reject your life as it is, you sow the seeds of your own unhappiness.
Resistance leads to suffering and unhappiness. Period.
Only by accepting life as it is, accepting all the things that you do want along with all the things you don’t want, can you create true happiness.
True happiness comes from saying YES to your life just as it is.
And this is particularly true of your past. How much time and energy have you wasted wanting your past to be different? Resisting what has already happened and is impossible to change.
True Happiness Is Not About Passivity
Now. I want to be very clear about one thing.
Resisting nothing and accepting your life as it is does not mean that you stop working to improve conditions in your own life or in the lives of others.
For example, if someone is mistreating you, then take action to change that situation. Set boundaries. Have a talk with the person. End the relationship. Whatever it takes.
At the same time, you have to accept that the situation may never change. Or it may get worse before it gets better. Or even if you manage to “fix” this particular problem, another problem will be along soon.
In order to be truly happy, you have to approach your life with the attitude of: This can happen AND I can be happy AND I can work to improve it AND if it never changes, I will still be happy.
Practicing True Happiness
I would be remiss if I didn’t end this post by talking about how you can practice true happiness, how you can practice accepting everything and resisting nothing.
If you wait for it to happen on its own, you’ll likely be waiting a long time.
Instead, you need to actively cultivate this attitude of resisting nothing.
The key to cultivating this attitude is by paying attention to your life. And any time you feel yourself resisting the external conditions of your life, you need to repeat “This too” or “I can live with this” or “Yes” or “I can accept this” or any similar phrase that resonates with you.
This is a simple practice and yet it’s one that you need to do over and over again. You can either do it informally whenever you notice resistance in your mind or as part of a formal meditation practice.
Chances are you’ll find that there are lots of things in your life that you resist. So you’ll need to practice a lot until it becomes second nature for you to accept your life just as it is.
Once you do, once you learn to accept everything and resist nothing, you’ll be well on your way to cultivating the true happiness that you deeply desire.