If I asked you: “When is the last time you have been happy for 24h straight?”
You would probably go like: “What do you mean?!”
Twenty-four hours straight of pure happiness? We don’t even think it’s possible.
This is because our default state is not happiness, but rather it’s worry, anxiety, boredom, apathy, discomfort.. with some sparks of happiness now and then.
In other words, we are mostly unhappy.
Why is that?
Let me take you on a journey to find the answer.
It all starts with one word: survival.
That’s what we do, from the moment we come to life.
It doesn’t matter how sophisticated our lives might look right now: whether we have thousands of Instagram followers, whether we eat sushi every tuesday, or we apply mustache wax…
..at the very core of our nature, we are animals wired to survive. Me, you, the guy in the picture (Seriously, dude?)..all of us.
“Well, duh! So what?” — you might argue.
Well, think about it!
We come to this world as miracles. We are incredibly beautiful and precious.. But also terribly, terribly fragile and needy.
To survive, we need other people, and we need them for rather a long time!
To quote American author Robert Greene: “We remain relatively weak for many years before we can truly operate on our own.
This extended period of immaturity, lasting some twelve to eighteen years, serves a valuable function: it gives us a chance to focus on developing our brain — by far the most important weapon in the human arsenal.
But this prolonged childhood comes with a price.”
Our brain develops by adapting to the external environment. In other words it adjusts to the inputs it receives from the people around us.
Particularly, the brain tends to soak in the inputs from those people who represent an authority for us, i.e. whoever holds the power in the reality we live in (parents, teachers, the alpha male in our group of friends..etc).
They are responsible for us, therefore entitled to tell us how to behave.
They decide what is right and what is wrong. They teach us their values.
Our job is pretty simple:
Do as they say and you’ll be loved and rewarded: good boy!
Do otherwise and you’ll be excluded and punished: bad boy!
Given the fact that each one of us is unique and different from one another, it’s 100% sure that at some point we will fail to conform to the standards of the society and someone is going to make us feel bad about it.
A few examples could be:
- The father that makes you feel “wrong” because you like dancing instead of football
- The teacher that tells you “You will never amount to anything” after you fail the math test
- The bully that makes fun of you because you don’t dress like everyone else
..and so on.
In a society that only loves you when you fit in and punishes you when you don’t, we learn that by default we are not good enough to be loved.
Take some time to read it again.
We learn that by default we are not good enough to be loved.
That’s a sick belief to buy in. But when you are 8-years old there is no time to get spiritual.
We can’t afford being abandoned or we are fucked.
So we store that belief in our subconscious mind, and we start to get rid of all those parts of ourselves that other people judge as “bad” or “not ok”. These are the parts that usually make us different and beautiful in an original way.
And then we move on, forgetting that this has ever happened.
That is the moment we unconsciously sign a lifetime-contract to be unhappy.
No wonder 20 years later we find ourselves living lives we never chose, obsessed with the judgement of people we don’t really like, and even worse, pretending all is fine, when deep down inside we feel like something is wrong.
Welcome to adulthood. You look like a mess.
The only good news is that finally we became more self-reliant to provide for ourselves, so that we don’t need others as much as we used to.
But still we want to be happy, and yet we don’t know how.
Since we believe that we are not good enough as we are, we start adding things from the outside, hoping that something, at some point, will finally make us feel whole and worthy of love.
Maybe if I meet a nice girl.
Maybe if I please my parents.
Maybe if I have a great career.
If I make more money.
If I buy a house.
If I get married.
If I look more beautiful.
If I become more successful.
And so on, and so on.
We try to amplify the good part of ourselves to compensate for the “bad part” we disowned.
Every time we get what we think it will finally make us happy.. we actually feel good!!…until we start to perceive our new condition as ordinary and we go back to square one.
It’s a hamster wheel.
None of that can ever make us happy.
What we are looking for, we already have it.
It’s all the parts of ourselves that we disowned along the way in order to survive.
We are not missing anything. We just need to own again what makes us whole by nature.
Happiness cannot be achieved, but rather perceived again through a deep inner work.
The right question to ask ourselves is not
“What am I missing in order to finally be happy?”
“How can I be happy again?”
Truly understanding this can save you decades of life spent walking in the wrong direction.
To express it with the words of the wise ones:
“The end of our exploring will be to arrive at where we started, and to know the place for the first time.” — T.S. Eliot
“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” — Steven Pressfield
Now, how do you do that?!!
We are talking of the work of a lifetime. You’ll need to wrestle with your subconscious beliefs, and it’s not gonna be fun.
See, if you’ve believed something to be true for (*insert your age*) years of your life, how likely are you to let it go very fast?
Not likely at all.
You will encounter very soon your enemy number #1: Resistance.
It doesn’t matter how unhappy you are, how much you are struggling to keep it together, or how tired you are to pretend that everything is fine.
Whatever life and social image you have right now.. at least it gives you an identity.
Why on earth would you let it go??!
What if you jump and there is nothing on the other side??!
Well, let’s try not to hyperventilate here and see what we can practically do to let go and be happier.
A Practical Guide To Own Yourself and Be Happy
This is the best advice I could give you and it comes from my own life experience.
It could be summarized in a quote:
“He or she who is willing to be the most uncomfortable is not only the bravest, but rises the fastest.” — Brené Brown
Everything starts with awareness.
Only when you become aware of how the self negative beliefs are creating suffering in your life, you can act to let them go and replace them with better ones.
The process usually involves the following actions:
- Stop blaming others for your unhappiness. Whether it’s your parents, your friends, the ex-girlfriend, your colleagues, the education system, the government or whoever “fucked you up”…stop being a victim and take responsibility for it. Complaining never helped anybody.
- Stop pleasing others. How many things do you do because you feel compelled to (e.g. going out with some friends because you have known them for a long time, staying in a relationship because your partner would otherwise get mad at you)? Let these things go. Don’t live to please others. I know these are tough calls, but there is your happiness at stake. A quote from Seneca says “Associate with people who are likely to improve you.” Use it as a guideline and have the courage to end poor relationships: you’ll meet new people along the way.
- Be unapologetically honest. Express what you honestly think and feel in every situation. Take the habit of speaking the truth (which is sexy, by the way 😍) but stay kind. Saying what you really think can hurt others often times. Don’t do it if it’s not necessary, but if it’s a matter of choosing between “expressing your intention” or “belonging to the group”, always choose the former.
- Stay focused on your lane. Nowadays, we spend a lot of time on social media looking up to other people’s lives. Since everyone only shares the good moments of their lives, and hides the other ones, we come to believe that everyone has an incredible life and we are the only ones struggling. Here is the truth: everyone is miserable in his own way, no matter the followers. Take solace in that and stay focused only on how you can improve yourself.
- Take the time you need for yourself. Do you need some time to unwind? To travel? To be creative? To meditate? To read some books? TAKE IT! Do you know why we are so scared to have a “gap” in our curriculum? Because we are terrified not to fit in anymore when we come back (and therefore to die!!!). But that’s just not the case. You will be more than fine. Go. Leave. Now! 😎
- Get vulnerable on purpose. This is probably one of the fastest ways to expose your emotional blockages. What does scare you? Where are you most susceptible to guilt, shame or embarrassment? It might be disappointing your parent’s expectations, asking someone out, sharing your thoughts online, making art, speaking in public, starting a new venture. You know what triggers you, what scares you the most. Do it! It’s exactly what you need.
- Go back to your Authorities. Who do you hate? Who do you resent? Who did hurt you the most? What specific things did they do or say to you? Go back to the authorities of your childhood or adolescence and talk about it. It doesn’t matter if it happened years ago. It’s still relevant to you now. Release your pain and make space for forgiveness.
- Cultivate Presence. Living the present moment is key to awareness. Learning to be quiet, to be still, is something that nobody teaches us to do. In fact, it’s the opposite attitude of the fast-paced consumer society we live in. But to get on the stage of your mind and gain the microphone back, instead of letting your subconscious run the show, you must learn to tame the mental noise. Here is my advice on how to start to meditate.
- Be comfortable feeling your body. This is also key. You experience your emotions as energy fields. When your energy is low, the pain comes from saying “I am depressed, my life sucks”, not from the energy itself. Learn to observe and feel your body in a detached way, without judgment. The emotions will lose power and so it will the belief behind it.
- Walk towards your negative emotions. Related to the previous one: sit with your most unpleasant feelings, instead of avoiding them. I know it’s hard to do it, because your first reaction is to run away from them. Escapism takes many forms: alchohol, sex, masturbation, social media procrastination, shopping, eating, “being busy” and so on. It’s very hard to stop and stay with your negative feelings, but if you do, that’s a shortcut to let them go. Acceptance is forgiveness and forgiveness is release.
- Become aware of all the subtle ways you hurt yourself. Do you smoke? Do you eat unhealthy food? Do you see people who give you depressing feelings? Do you have a job that doesn’t match your ambition or potential? Become aware of all the subtle ways you are holding yourself back. And then let them go by replacing them with better habits and a better image of yourself.
- Take advantage of the many portals. There are many portals to awareness. I already mentioned meditation, but you could also try breathing exercises, cold exposure, yoga, psychedelics, art and others. Find what works for you and use it until you need it.
I will continue to expand this list in the future, as more insights come to mind.
The question for now is..does it work?
Yes, it does.
From my own experience I can tell you that the perceived happiness in my daily life significantly increased by doing all the things I mentioned above.
That said, it’s not all roses either.
When you are moving from a life lived to fit in and conform, to a more authentic and original one, you end up feeling quite isolated and full of doubts.
It feels like walking in the dark.
Will you make it on your own? Will you find your tribe? Will you accomplish the things you dream about?
It’s definitely not an easy path.
It takes a lot of courage to change your belief system and to be enough for yourself.
It also takes a lot of time to learn to be free, because we are not used to make choices on our own and take responsibility for them.
“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” — George Bernard Shaw
But this is what I can tell you, even if I just got started:
Every time I express my creativity, I expand from within.
Every time I overcome a self-imposed limit, I expand from within.
Every time I stand up for my values, I expand from within.
Every time I surrender to my emotions, I expand from within.
Every time I take responsibility for my reality, I expand from within.
Every time I express my intentions, I expand from within.
Every time I act from a place of love, I expand from within.
The more I expand from within, the more I own myself.
The more I own myself, the happier I am.
For what I know so far, that’s how you win the game of life.
Happy expansion to you all! 😄
This post is hugely inspired by the work of the following people:
Please note that in this post I considered only “educational traumas”. In many cases kids and adolescents suffer from even more impactful traumas such as violence, abuse, parental divorce, loss of relatives and so on.