We always feel that some change in our life will make us happier. We feel unfulfilled because we sense that there is something missing in our lives. So we try to fill in the gaps in the hope that we will feel fulfilled. This tension creates conflicts in our lives and we become unhappy when there are conflicts. The gaps could be money, sensual pleasures, security (both physical and emotional), power or appreciation. We begin to use the words ‘I wish, I want, I desire’. The result is the creation of a list of things that will make us happy (wish-list).
I wish I could eat a nice Thai meal. I wish I could go on vacation. I wish I had a better job, larger car, a bigger house, and more insurance. I wish my relationships were better. I wish my wife listens to me. I wish my boss doesn’t push me around so much. I wish I am appreciated by my colleagues. The wish-list goes on and on. Even if we do not write it down, the wish-list exists in our head and we are quite attached to it. The wish-list creates conflicts in us leading to unhappiness.
The conflicts of the wish-list can be of many types:
- When I am at the car showroom, I think a club membership will make me happier. At the club, I feel a car will make me happier. I don’t have money for both.
- I have a television which works well. But the latest technology looks more attractive and I become disenchanted with my old set.
- I have enough money. But when I am on vacation in Bali, I think Fiji would have been a better location – not here, but there.
- I look at my life and think my college days were much happier, or I am looking forward to my retirement days – not now, but then.
- I am on vacation and wish to have a memorable time. But my mind wanders from the happy events to the irritants, which become prominent. I selectively start seeing the negative side of situations.
- My tea has to be the right temperature and the snacks should not be too spicy. The specifications are too narrow and any deviation creates disharmony.
- I have a luxury car, but my neighbor has a super luxury car – conflict due to the comparison.
- I am not happy however much my wife listens to me or my colleagues appreciate me. It could always be more. I am never satisfied, causing disharmony.
- I could be happier if I gave more time to my family. I could be happier if I worked a little harder and got that promotion. I have to compromise some of my goals. Conflict arises between areas of life like career and family.
Due to the above conflicts, we are never happy. We also believe that some other product, person or experience will make us happier, so we search for other options. Hence the wishes keep increasing, by which all the conflicts become stronger. Paradoxically, the ever-increasing wish-list creates misery.
If we can enjoy the vacation at Bali without thinking of Fiji, the conflicts would have reduced. The vacation would then be an authentic and fulfilling experience. This rarely happens because our mind constantly believes that ‘grass is greener on the other side’. While experiencing an item on our wish-list, our mind tells us that some other item will make us happier. This prevents us from experiencing the present authentically and so we are never fulfilled at any point.
All of us have experienced real fulfillment at some time in our lives, though fleetingly, and the memory lingers. Admission to a good college, our first job, meeting the love of our life, and the birth of our child, are such moments. During those moments there are no conflicts at all because we feel complete, and the feeling is far superior to the happiness that we experience at a vacation. The wish-list conflicts create a dilution in fulfillment and our experience becomes superficial. We constantly yearn for the authentic experience.
We can’t live without wishes. Our drive towards excellence in our chosen field or building character – these are wishes that makes life worthwhile. Hence we only have to shrink our wish-list and not eliminate it completely.
Can we shrink our wish-list? We certainly can because we realize that a significant part of our wish-list is created by the ‘happiness hype’. Most of the conflicts described earlier have been ingrained into us because of our increasing fixation on happiness. What if we do not upgrade the television, or decide to not go for vacations at all, or forget both the club and the car? Can’t we get out of the happiness culture?
When we SAY NO TO HAPPINESS, we suddenly realize our wish-list has shrunk and paradoxically we become far happier. But it is not as easy as it seems, because this will become just another new technique until we really realize how ‘happiness’ is a hyped-up goal. Even though happiness is elusive, at least it existed as an illusory goal. The paradigm shift of removing happiness as our goal creates a sense of purposelessness. This purpose vacuum has to be filled with an alternate goal because it is impossible for us to live without a goal. Otherwise, we will switch back to our goal of ‘happiness’. This alternate goal is elaborated in the book SAY NO TO HAPPINESS.
This approach of ‘SAY NO TO HAPPINESS’ is about authentic leadership, relationships, parenting, spirituality – in short, every aspect of our life. It is a counterintuitive approach to living a far more fulfilling life and is founded on my personal experience of jumping out of the happiness paradigm.