Recently, a reader asked me the following questions:

If our source of happiness ultimately comes from within, how do we know when to make external changes in our lives and find the impetus to do so? Similarly, if our external reality is a reflection of our internal state, does it ever really make sense to look for happiness by changing circumstances? Or is it the case that circumstances change as a reflection of our internal landscape shifting?

These are challenging questions and ones that I think we’ve all struggled with. (I know I have!)

On the one hand, we’re told that we should find happiness inside of ourselves.

That we can be happy no matter what.

That if we look for happiness outside of ourselves, we’ve bound to be unhappy, constantly searching for something that we’ll never find.

And our happiness will always be somewhere in the future, always just outside of our reach.

And we know that’s true. 

We know that we shouldn’t tell ourselves things like:

  • I'll be happy when...
  • I can only be happy if...
  • I need X to be happy.
  • Etc, Etc, Etc.

And yet we all do it, over and over and over again.

The conditions that we put around our happiness are endless.

And ultimately keep us from being happy.

So we should just focus on being happy no matter what and not try to change any of our external circumstances, right?

Except there’s a problem with that idea, a BIG problem. 

Let’s say that you know someone who’s in an abusive relationship. 

Would you honestly tell them “Don’t worry about the abuse. You can be happy no matter what!”. 

I would hope you wouldn’t do that!

If you did, they’d probably end the friendship and be right in doing so.

Meanwhile, most of the people that we admire, that we consider our heroes are those who fought to overcome challenging circumstances.

They weren’t willing to just accept things as they were.

They basically said “I’m not happy with the status quo and I’m going to do whatever it takes to change my life.

Great social movements – the fight for democracy, the fight for women’s rights, the fight for LGBT rights, the fight for African American’s rights, etc. – are based on the same principle. 

People not being willing to accept the status quo.

And most of us feel something similar inside.

We don’t want to just accept the status quo of our lives. 

We feel a longing inside of us, a desire for something better, a need to strive and overcome our circumstances. 

So how do we resolve this apparent dilemma?

CONDITIONS THAT FACILITATE HAPPINESS

Let’s be honest about something.

Yes, in theory you can be happy no matter what.

But some circumstances make it DAMN hard to be happy.

Just as plants need certain things to survive and thrive, there are certain conditions that facilitate happiness in humans.

Among those conditions are:

  • Physical safety: We all need to feel physically safe - to be safe from violence, to have access to food, to have physical shelter, etc.
  • Mental safety: Similar to physical safety, we need to feel mentally safe and free from verbal abuse.
  • Authentic connection: Humans are social creatures and it's hard for us to feel happy without some form of authentic connection to others.
  • Freedom to make choices: As human beings, we need to feel free, we need to feel in control of our lives, we need to feel that we can shape our destiny.
  • Authentic expression: We all desire to authentically express who we are in the world.

Again, can you be happy without these things?

Yes, in theory,

But in practice it’s almost impossible.

And think about it..you don’t see many people volunteering for a life of slavery, or physical abuse, or hunger, etc.

There must be a reason for that!

We Are All Different and Unique

Beyond basic conditions that facilitate happiness for all human beings, we should also acknowledge that we are all different and unique.

And that what resonates with you may not resonate with me and vice versa. 

For example, my wife is a forest person.

Me, I’m a water person.

My cousin loves deserts.

I hated my job with the US government; my boss loved that same job.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Just as a lotus blooms in water and a cactus blooms in the desert, where you bloom and grow is 100% unique to who you are.

If you’re struggling to be happy under your present life circumstances, then why not change those circumstances and see if you can find an environment where you can grow, thrive, flourish, be happy. 

Follow the Dalai Lama's Example

There’s no doubt that the Dalai Lama is one of the happiest people in the world.

And he would probably say that you can be happy no matter what.

But let’s take a closer look.

When the Chinese army invaded Tibet in 1950, did he sit around meditating on happiness?

Nope!

He gathered up as many followers as he could and fled to India.

And now that he is free and safe, what does he do?

He works tirelessly for the freedom of the Tibetan people who were left behind.

Yes, they can try to be as happy as they can under their present circumstances in which their lives are controlled by the Chinese.

But even the Dalai Lama recognizes that they need and deserve more – the right to practice their religion, the right to choose their own government leaders, the right to free from persecution, etc.

In other words, the freedom to live their lives as they want.

Some Conditions Can't Be Changed

Of course, we should also acknowledge that some conditions can’t be changed.

Some of those conditions are permanent, some are temporary.

For example, I can’t change my age. 

Or my height.

Or my past.

Those are permanent conditions.

Other conditions are temporary.

For example, you may hate your job but not have the finances to make a change right now.

So what should you do under those circumstances?

If it’s a permanent condition, then you’ll need to work on accepting it. 

If it’s a temporary condition, then you will also neeed to work on accepting it, while also striving to chnge things for the future. 

Conclusion

The idea that you can be happy no matter what is a nice theory. 

But it doesn’t reflect the reality that most of us live in.

If you’re not happy with your present circumstances, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with changing them. 

Yes, there are some things that you need to accept as they are. 

But otherwise, go ahead and change what you want!

You may find that it’s just what you need in order to bloom, grow, find happiness.

**Would You Like My Help?**

If you’re looking for a new path in life where you can bloom, grow, and thrive, then I’d like to invite your to apply for a complimentary discovery session

Just click the button below, fill out the application, and we’ll schedule a time to talk.

Ed Herzog

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Surviving and thriving are different things. We can get by, be sorta happy, and be semi-productive under many external conditions. But use plants as an (imperfect) example. The containers say “best in full sunlight, partial shade, or deep shade.” A deep shade plant will not thrive in full sunlight. I think many people are the same way. They will thrive and bloom best when surrounded by certain external conditions. The same fire that hardens the steel burns the wood.

    1. Yep, I think that’s pretty much what I was trying to say as well. You just did it much more succinctly!!!

  2. Thanks for your viewpoint on happiness.

    I’d like to add that for me, the most important ingredient in creating happiness is knowing that I can make choices in my life. There was a time where I felt “stuck” and that is the worst feeling of unhappiness I had experienced. It allows no room for change or growth.

    Making choices puts us into action mode which brings about curiosity, the wide-eyed “what if?”

    In relationships, happiness is each person’s responsibility. When someone tells you: “I’m happy when you are happy,” run for the hills.

    1. Oh I definitely agree Judy! You might have noticed that I sprinkled a few references to “freedom” in the post. :)

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