I give up. I give up on “happiness.” I give up on happiness because I can’t define it. Sure, I can refer to a dictionary definition, but for me it is an abstract term.
How many times have you been asked if you’re happy? If you’re like me, the question instantly makes you self conscious, a bit nervous, and then maybe a lot anxious. “Wow, am I happy? What does happiness even feel like? What should happiness feel like? Have I ever been happy? WILL I ever be happy?”
Stop Trying to Be Happy and Start “Happy-ing”
Several years ago I attended a personal development seminar where I heard a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) expert named Wyatt Woodsmall share his wisdom about how we humans think. The NLPers of the world will tell you that words like “happy” are indeed abstract terms, just like the word “fair.” What is “fair?” OK, that’s a topic for another day.
On the other hand, concrete nouns are literally ‘material things’ you can put in a wheelbarrow. Water. Stones. Flowers. iPhones. Bacon. Kittens. And yes, concrete. But you can’t put HAPPY in a wheelbarrow.
The NLPers will suggest that instead of focusing on the abstract noun that can mean so many different things to us, we ‘denominalize‘ the term by inserting an ‘ing’ at the end of it. Therefore we can think about what the act of ‘happy-ing’ encompasses rather than pondering our levels of so-called happiness.
For me, ‘happy-ing’ would include starting the day with a great cup of coffee, working out, taking an outdoor hike, spending time with my wife and daughter, laughing with friends, eating a simple and tasty meal, or listening to great music. Of course there is always the next Hawaii vacation, which is pretty much the cure for everything.
Better Yet, Give (Inner) Peace a Chance
In one of his former “Ask Altucher” podcast episodes, James Altucher spoke about the potential folly of striving for happiness because we tend to associate external circumstances we cannot control with our happiness levels. For some reason this concept really stuck with me. Therefore I am now taking James’ lead and focusing on ‘inner peace’ instead of happiness. Even though the term is still abstract, I have a much easier time defining what it means for me. Note: James Altucher called his desired state ‘well being.’ I will stick with ‘inner peace.’
Inner peace for me includes feelings and thoughts of ease, calmness, confidence, tranquility and harmony regardless of what is going on in the outside world and despite whatever obstacles I encounter. It is also the ability to consistently maintain self control. This is what I am striving for. I may not be able to accurately assess how happy I am at a given point in time, but I know for sure that if my heart is pounding while I’m luxuriating in a La-Z Boy Maverick Recliner looking at a bed of roses, I am not experiencing inner peace. Don’t get me wrong. I do not subscribe to denying or repressing emotions like sadness. For me, the biggest message of the stellar movie “Inside Out” was that each of our emotions serve us provided we harness rather than over-indulge in any one of them.
You can recognize people filled to the brim with ‘inner peace’ by what they don’t do. They do not destructively criticize, tear down, attack, tease, or gossip. In your job setting, they don’t needlessly share opinions and critiques, nor do they derail projects at the inevitable last minute. In short they don’t break glass or shit disturb.
Instead, they fill your bucket, act as empowering role models, and are consistently positive and self assured. In group settings they typically ask amazingly insightful open-ended questions. “What if we could…How can we….What do we need to do in order to….What’s the best way for us to…What can we learn from…?”
While they are often demanding, they wrap civility, respect and discrete humor around their urgency. They manage their time well, and are willing to help out as long as it doesn’t compromise their productivity.
Five Building Blocks for Inner Peace
How does one get to this seemingly unattainable level of inner peace? Hell if I know! But I believe it comes more easily through a combination of self-acceptance, present moment awareness, detachment, gratitude, and seeing the best in a situation or person.
Self-Acceptance: The best way to grasp this concept is to think of the opposite scenario – rejecting any part of oneself. Years ago I worked with a woman named Tina. She was fairly serious and took herself…fairly seriously. One time, in drawing one of many contrasts between her personality and mine, she said, “I never put myself down in any way. Even jokingly, I don’t engage in self-deprecation.” At the time, I thought she would have been better off removing the large metal pole from her behind, but in retrospect I appreciate her wisdom. This means accepting your imperfections. Of course you can and hopefully will strive to ‘do’ better and aspire to a higher standard. But it means being comfortable in your own skin and loving who you are right now with no put-downs. And speaking of right now…
Present-Moment Awareness: No ‘what if’thinking in dreading the future. No ‘if only’ thinking in regretting or getting pissed off about the past. It is about simply living in the ‘now.’ Yes, this is an insanely ideal state but there is a long road between spending eighty versus forty percent of one’s day not living in the future or the past. I’ll take the forty percent – thank you very much.
Detachment: This is a big one for me. It’s not just about detachment from ‘things’ but from negative thoughts, emotions, and yes, even people. “How important will XX be in 10 years?” is a great question to ask yourself because if you acknowledge its lack of importance, then why does ‘it’ have such a hold on you now?
Gratitude: Yes, I know…we hear this all the time. Practice gratitude yadda yadda yadda. “Yes, I’m grateful I can clench my fists and punch you in the nose.” Well hold on their sailor and take a deep breath! Again, let’s engage in a good old fashioned George Costanza ‘Do the opposite’ moment and see how far thanklessness, condemnation, and ingratitude takes us toward achieving inner peace. Being thankful for every little thing pulls you back into the present moment, which helps you in…
Seeing the Best in a Situation or Person: Do you ever notice those people who are highly adept at constantly reframing seemingly negative situations in the moment? We need to learn from them. Tony Robbins used to suggest asking the penultimate question when encountering a suboptimal scenario or personality, “What else could this mean?”
All of this seemingly platitudinal advice does not imply you need to don a flowing white robe, crank up the Enya, pull out the Tarot Cards and squirt patchouli oil all around your cube.
And of course aspiring to higher levels of inner peace doesn’t mean you should stop setting and attaining goals. In fact, I’d submit you are likely to think more clearly in defining what you want and will accomplish more in a state of relative ‘chill’ than when constantly behaving like the building is on fire.
This is the promise and potential of gaining more inner peace. Namaste.