In our daily routines fueled by drive and ambition, sometimes we find ourselves at a crossroads: Do we push harder toward achievement, or do we take a step back and instead seek quiet happiness? Some would argue that happiness is found in the achievement. If that’s true, then I ask for someone to show me.
Achievement is fleeting.
What matters more is the feeling underneath it.
The challenge is how to navigate both worlds. Is it possible to both be in a position of power and be humble? Can you be wealthy outside and in? How does one navigate the grueling road of business or high-speed innovation, while maintaining openness and gratitude?
We do a lot of talking about both sides in themselves. The goal, however, is to merge them.
As you go about pursuing your goals, it’s important to continually ask yourself, “What makes me truly happy?” It’s OK if what you are working toward, or your day job, or even part of your daily routine is not your “end all.” What is important is that, regardless of what you’re doing, you find a way to extract positivity and fuel your happiness.
Remember: Happiness is not outside of you. It is not something you have to go find or reach or “achieve.” It is always available. It is everywhere around you. The question is, how can you tap into it over and over again?
Such a cliché. So overdiscussed and misunderstood. So flagrantly mentioned in every conversation surrounding presence and self-awareness. And yet so underpracticed.
See if you can take one deep breath, one single deep breath, without letting a thought enter your mind. Just one. One inhale, one exhale. Five seconds. Try, and you will be amazed at how quickly your mind will start to convince you that what you’re doing is a waste, you have too much to do, you don’t have time for this, you have somewhere to be, etc.
Start with one single breath and then go from there. Breath is the root of all happiness — releasing stress, letting go of anxiety, and welcoming whatever your path has to offer.
So much unhappiness stems from a lack of listening. We tend to have trouble listening, really listening, because we are too in our heads. We think about what we’re going to say next, what the other person is thinking about us, what our facial expressions are revealing, etc.
To truly listen is to get out of your mind and into your heart. Listening is a form of presence, and it creates space between you and the other person to be heard.
Learning to listen is an art. And that art breeds happiness in both parties.
Our eyes deceive us. We forget that we see the world through a lens of logic, putting and placing objects in our minds to better and more efficiently “understand” what is around us.
To deeply look at something (or someone) reveals its depth. Again, it reminds you of the abundant joy available when you are present. To clarify: Presence is when you feel more than you think, and time begins to fade away. This feeling of presence is easily recognized during long periods of work. We lose ourselves in our work and hours pass without our noticing. That is, in a sense, a form of presence.
Take that and apply it elsewhere. Look around. But do not look with a purpose, or with judgment, or even an interest to “understand” when you’re looking at.
Look in the same way a painter looks.
In meditation, there is a method called dual focus. This is where you combine intentional breathing exercises with the rubbing of your pointer finger and thumb, creating a secondary point of focus. If you are able to focus on both the breath and the sensation of your pointer finger and thumb simultaneously, you will not have room in your head for thoughts — and without thoughts, you will more quickly fall into a state of meditation.
To bring yourself out of your head and return to the happiness of the moment, use touch. Rub your pointer finger and thumb together, and focus on its feeling. Especially in careers and pursuits that require a lot of time in front of the computer, it can become easy to lose connection to the importance of touch.
As humans, we need touch. We need to feel and remember we are alive. And when we do, we feel overwhelming joy.
In America, we abuse food. Some parts of our country have improved and are doing wonderful things with nutrition, but the vast majority sees food as a coping mechanism more than a source of life.
There is something to be said for being able to sit and enjoy a healthy meal, and taste the flavors of food not artificially manufactured or sweetened. A bowl of fresh fruit, or a big salad, eaten slowly and deliberately will give you the opportunity to taste, feel and come back to the importance of taking care of your body.
Nature will forever be a vital part of who we are. Stress, anxiety, unhappiness, etc., they all stem from deeper issues that become masked by surface-level problems — “I didn’t get that raise I wanted, I have to work longer hours, I thought I’d be retired by now,” etc.
To share a personal story here: When I was 19 years old, I canoed 320 miles through Florida, down into the Gulf of Mexico. We camped the entire way. I didn’t see civilization for 30 days. I didn’t shower for 30 days. I went to the bathroom in the woods, every day for 30 days. With a group of 12 other guys, I completely stepped out of the modern world and lived among nature for a month.
That experience changed my life. And if all it took was 30 days in nature to drastically change my perception and source of happiness, then what does that say about the day-to-day the majority of us carry on for years or decades?
Detoxing is important. Go for a long walk on a trail. Go sit by a river and let yourself enjoy the sounds of the water. Grab a tent and lie under the stars. It does something to you. It reminds you that this experience here on earth is far more beautiful than anything you could ever achieve and any amount of money in the bank.
7. Daily Dream
And finally, the key to maintaining a true sense of deep happiness is to practice what I like to call your Daily Dream.
Most people don’t realize that their unhappiness comes from the fact that they no longer have any aspirations of their own. Their lives have become dictated by the expectations placed upon them by their parents or their bosses or their peers or even their towns and cities.
True happiness is found at the heart of what you love. And in this world where everyone has a voice, sometimes it can be hard to remember which one is yours.
To maintain your unique voice, you have to practice. You have to realize that the deep happiness I am talking about cannot be found by following someone else’s expectations of what you should be, think, feel, say or do.
You have to do it for yourself. And when you do, when you live your dream, every day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes — 15 minutes at your desk painting or drawing or playing music or writing or knitting or inventing or designing or constructing — you will tap into the most true part of who you are. The part that wants to do, just for the sake of doing. The part that wants to play and discover and, most of all, be happy.
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Originally published at www.inc.com