“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rooms 39-41: Find Your Bliss
Discontent and the Art of Pursuing Happiness
Who wants to be happy?
Of course, the answer is obvious. We all want to be happy.
But, here’s the real question: Who wants to do what it takes to be happy? I mean who wants to do the soul searching work that brings genuine happiness—not satisfaction, pleasure or amusement—but long lasting contentment and peace.
Most of us would like to think we do. Isn’t that why we seek work that feeds our souls, friends that nourish us, mates to share our lives with, or why we have families, celebrate holidays, go to the beach, take up hiking, travel the world? It’s no mistake our founding fathers called the “pursuit of happiness” one of our inalienable rights. We need to be happy as much as we need life or liberty.
Of course, what happens when we’re still unhappy, even after we have the family, friends, career, and all the laughter, wine and roses that go with it. What happens when we still find ourselves walking around with that nagging discontent—that uneasy feeling that there is something missing in our lives.
I suspect many of us feel guilty for even thinking this way, believing that with all the blessings we have in our lives, to feel otherwise is inexcusable, or at the very least ungrateful.
Well, don’t believe it for a second.
Yes, we can have gratitude for all we do have, but we should not apologize for the discontent we feel. In fact, I say we should welcome it, celebrate it, even thank it.
It is that discontent which puts us in the company of every great poet, saint and mystic who looked deep into their heart and said there has to be more to the life I’m leading. It’s that discontent that makes us alive, and should we choose, leads to our awakening and the promise of lasting happiness.
Of course, turning discontent into a happy life takes bold action, beginning with our commitment to approach happiness from a brand new point of view.
Now I realize everyone from Buddha to Homer Simpson has offered their advice on how to be happy. But, here’s the harsh reality. Nobody can tell us what happiness is. We have to find it for ourselves. We have to discover its meaning on our own.
What we can do is put ourselves in a position to find happiness. Here are 3 steps to get started.
1. Give Yourself To The World
“If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.”
It’s a great paradox that the more we help another, the more we help ourselves. The more we give, the more we get. Yes, Paul McCartney was right. “The love we take is equal to the love we make.” In our search for happiness, this means forgetting about what we want out of life and start focusing on what someone else needs. It means stop thinking about what’s missing in our lives and start thinking about what we can add to someone else’s. How can we be of service? How can we nurture, show compassion, care for and inspire others? How can we help someone else achieve their dream, discover their happiness?
This is what the world wants and needs from us—our whole self, given freely and selflessly. In the words of Mother Teresa, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
2. Don’t Chase The Illusion
“Amusement is the happiness of those who cannot think.”
Let’s face it, nobody can sabotage our own happiness like we can. We’ve become experts at it, endlessly chasing stuff that won’t bring us true happiness. We chase money, houses, cars and vacations. We chase alcohol, drugs, TV, bad food, idleness, and unhealthy relationships, not to mention, power, ambition, greed, ego, anger, pride, lust and stubbornness. You name it and we’ll chase it. And we’ll chase it all with the justification that everyone else is chasing the same thing.
And it’s true, most of us are.
But down deep, in our wise discontent, we know we’re chasing illusions. Yes, having a house, car, or vacation isn’t bad in itself, any more than moving up the corporate ladder might be. But, it’s chasing all that as a means to happiness that is potentially destructive.
The problem arises when we spend so much time holding onto these illusions that we become blinded to the things which truly bring us joy. We become so tired from the chase, we’re left with no energy to start looking for the things that really do matter.
Fortunately, if we choose to listen to the nagging nudge of our discontent, we can also choose to stop running and let the illusion run off without us. We don’t need to follow it anymore.
And, in doing so, we can free up the time and energy to switch directions, moving instead toward the life nourishing qualities we’ve been missing out on, things like giving, gratitude, humility, acceptance, patience, humor, playfulness, joy, wonder, freedom, and love. Put them all together and you have the ingredients for a happy life.
So, how do we start? By simply asking two questions: Where do we feel the discontent in our lives the most? And what are we chasing that doesn’t add to the quality of our lives?
Dig deep, find your answers, then make it your mission in life to discover how you will begin to change your life for the better. It won’t be easy, but I guarantee, it will be worth it.
3. Discover Your Purpose In Life
“True happiness... is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
While there are a lot of reasons we’re unhappy in this world, I think one of the most profound and unrecognized reasons is that we simply don’t know what we want out of life. We lack purpose, direction, and the goals that will bring our life meaning.
But, that’s the beautiful thing about discontent…it forces us to ask the big, sometimes existential, questions. Why are we here, what is my destiny, how will I find meaning?
Discontent helps us realize that our mission in life is to find our mission in life. It is to discover for ourselves why we were put on this planet. After that, it will be up to each of us to decide whether we will we answer the call. Will we follow our North Star and pursue our destiny or will we stay put, masking our discontent with the illusions that will eventually make us forget we had a dream in the first place?
Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” And, while it’s probably true, it doesn’t have to be that way. We have a choice. We can begin singing at any moment in our lives and follow our bliss wherever it takes us.
And whether that means we’ll end up as musicians, park rangers, entrepreneurs, mechanics, landscapers, painters, teachers, homemakers, screenwriters, or tattoo artists, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we will have followed our heart.
And if we do so with a sense of purpose and passion, a magical thing will happen. We will suddenly find ourselves leaping out of bed each morning with a newfound sense of urgency and joy. And along the way, our discontent will have slowly disappeared and in it’s place we will have found happiness.
That’s a room worth pursuing.