The Path of Unconditional Happiness
Maybe there’s only really one choice in life…
Or perhaps better said, maybe there’s one choice that precedes all others: one choice that makes thousands of others inconsequential. That’s the choice to be happy no matter what happens.
This is the path of unconditional happiness.
Now this may sound radical - most people don’t think they have that choice because life is not under their control. Or they think it’s some self-help positivity guru thing. Well, we’ll get to those points and you can reference the great spiritual teacher Mickey Singer’s commentary on it if you’re a total skeptic (Oprah.com excerpt). Let me start with a personal story.
I’m writing this from the Ft. Lauderdale airport on 4 hours of sleep and 165mg of caffeine. I had to get up at 4am for my flight. Last night I was up until 11pm sitting on my laptop like a miserable sad sack.
What’s even more ironic is that the thing that had me overworked and sleep deprived was working on a video resource library of happiness curriculum. Imagine that – you’re a ball of tension and frustration as you make videos teaching about how to be happier. I might as well have had “jackass” written on my forehead! (In fact I could probably still edit that into the videos!)
What happened was as I worked through the videos I ran into tech issue after tech issue. I could feel tension building every time my Mac did some nonsense maneuver (such as autonomously migrating a bunch of files to icloud from my computer without informing me, the human operator, of its decision). But I just “had to” get them done. And next thing I know I realize it’s 11pm and I have to be up in 5 hours. So not only did I not enjoy myself, but I also threw away the next day!
And as I realized this, I got even more annoyed! And then I was mad about being mad!
And I stepped back and looked at the situation of a totally miserable happiness nerd working on his laptop pulling an all-nighter to meet an arbitrary deadline set by his dickhead boss (who happens to be me, as I am self-employed).
As I sat in this self-imposed ridiculousness, I felt like the teacher of life was teaching me something (via satire). And I thought, am I giving myself permission to be unhappy? After all, I teach that happiness is a matter of intention and inner state.
And I realized yes, I am. I’m saying implicitly “yeah sure, I want to be happy, as long as I get my work done. I want to be happy as long as things go smoothly.” I’m saying “I’m willing to be unhappy if I think there’s a ‘good enough reason’. In this case it’s worth it to be unhappy.”
But what if I simply said it was never worth it? What if I dared to say “no matter what happens I’ll just remain happy?”
Now, is that easy? Definitely not. Is that reasonable? Probably not.
It’s not easy but it is simple. As simple as no matter what happens to annoy, frustrate, or bug me I just won’t compromise. I won’t say it’s worth it to give up my happiness.
But maybe it is reasonable. Maybe what’s unreasonable is to not enjoy your short life while you’re floating around on this weird, wet rock in the middle of infinite darkness. Is there a better alternative for our situation?
At this point you might say, okay maybe but what if I get cancer? What if my spouse dies? What if I lose everything in a Ponzi scheme?
I am certainly not saying life should be or will be fair. And I’m not saying you’ll be on cloud nine 24/7 and jumping for joy after you lose a loved one or go bankrupt. But after some time the following choices would emerge:
Do I want to be sick, alone, or broke and miserable? Or do I want to be sick, alone, or broke and happy?
Last year I burned $7,000 investing in startup businesses where the founders ghosted me. The girl I thought I was going to marry (oops) sent me a text on a Monday afternoon saying she didn’t want to be together. Of course I was not ecstatic after either of these events. But fairly quickly I arrived at the same set of choices - would it be reasonable to be a coldhearted grouch who never gave anyone another shot? Yes. Would it be practical? No.
I know I’m sounding radical. But I think that’s my intent. What I’m talking about here is a radical act of sanity. It is the ultimate spiritual challenge. It’s the one decision that subordinates all others.
That’s why I call it the ultimate spiritual challenge. Could you be happy regardless of if you’re sick, alone, or broke?
All the examples I’ve given above have something in common. They represent conditions placed on happiness. That’s why I call the challenge “unconditional happiness”. It means removing the conditions.
It’s a challenge because it’s easy as hell to have happiness when everything is going right. But what about when it’s not!
After all, the challenge wasn’t - do you want to be happy as long as you have all these things. The challenge was just - do you want to be happy? Will you dare to never give yourself permission to be unhappy?
Now to absorb this, I need to offer a final point. We have to understand that what we really want is happiness.
You don’t really want a great career, a nice home, a car, a cute family, a great partner, etc. And I’ll prove it.
Let’s say I’m a genie who says I can grant you all those things and more – all the recognition, money, success, and pleasures you could want. But I’m going to remove the part of your brain that allows you to feel happiness.
Would you take it?
All the things we think we want are means to an end, not an end in themselves. What we want are the feelings.
I want financial freedom because I want to feel certainty and peace —> happiness.
I want an amazing wife because I want to feel love and connection —> happiness.
I want to be a successful thought leader to feel significance and growth —> happiness.
We don’t want the things we want – we want the feelings of happiness.
And if you really get this, then what I say about the challenge of unconditional happiness, as radical as it is, make perfect sense.
The path of unconditional happiness is the ultimate path of growth and the hardest thing there is. You could go live as a monk (like I did). You could spend a lifetime studying all the Yoga sutras. You could repent or become a nun. Or you could just do this. You could just accept this challenge and make a radical commitment to unconditional happiness.
I believe this will someday take you through all the various stages of religious practice and spiritual insight. That’s because if you stay true to this commitment you’ll have to let go of the things that religions tell you to let go of. You’ll have to transcend the personal – the ego, the fears, the desires. You’ll have to go towards where all these traditions are pointing towards – towards the beyond.
Life itself will be your God, your teacher, and your practice. Pointing you towards going beyond.
So how does one do this?
Frankly, I’m not entirely sure. I’m far from perfect with this myself. But to start, I’d say – just don’t give yourself permission to stay unhappy. Sure when something tragic happens, be sad. When something wrong happens, be angry. But don’t live there. Stay open to letting the events of life flow through you without resistance.
Suffering = pain x resistance.
So let resistance go to zero.
No matter how appealing and reasonable it may seem, don’t let your mind trick you into thinking “this time it’s worth it”. Just don’t give yourself permission to stay unhappy.
I think this is maybe the most radical thing a human being can do and also the most logical. This is the ultimate challenge. This is THE decision. This is the path of unconditional happiness. Do you dare to take it?
Your happiness nerd,
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