By Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW
There is a saying that I use almost every day in my work (and for me personally) which says, “life is a journey, not a destination.” There are so many pressures for us to become what we need to be to be happy. We want this job, we want this house, we want this money in our account, we want this relationship, and all that, and only then will I be happy. The problem usually arises that once we get to that place, then we dangle another carrot in front of us and we are off to the races again. A moving target is very hard to get.
I remember many years ago when I got my first full-time job (this was so long ago). I was making money and I was so happy, I had never in my life made that much money. All was good with the world and I could not have been happier. Less than a year into that job I was already plotting for a raise. Seems that starting salary I was so happy with didn’t satisfy for long. I did not realize it at the time, but I jumped on a hamster wheel of money answering all my needs, and I could not get enough. Funny, we human beings do that a lot, don’t we? We seem to never get enough of what we want, and we just want more. There is a reason we do this, and it is actually chemical. When we think getting something is good, we release a chemical in our brains and it makes us want to keep getting that “high” from that chemical.
We do not realize it, but we control more of how we feel than we may recognize. Whether it is feeling accomplished, successful, safe, or rewarded, we set up in our minds what it takes to be happy. The longer the list, the more that we must have, the unhappier we are, and at the same time the more desperate to go get something to make us okay. I was watching the news one morning with the big lottery totals and the unclaimed money. The anchor stated that the odds of winning were very small. He said that statistically speaking, you have more of a chance of getting sainthood than winning the lottery. I thought, how strange, with such bad odds why do so many rush to get as many tickets as they can, and the answer is because there is a chance we could win – just the hope that we could win, makes us try.
That shows the power of our mind to influence our feelings and our overall happiness. I am always reminded of the Buddhist teaching that all suffering comes from attachments. Attachments are all those things I started off with, the job, the car, the relationship and all that. The more things that we must have to be happy, in the end, the more we suffer.
So how to change this? It starts in our thinking. We have to slow down. Life doesn’t happen to us, we can be deliberate in how we live it. But when we are so caught up in the next IPhone or meeting Mr. or Ms. Right, we do not think, we just go. Try and stop for a minute and think about all those drawers and boxes of treasures from yesterday that we thought would make us so happy, they are in the back of a drawer or in a box and we never look at it (usually until we move). We accumulate so much stuff, but does any of it really bring happiness? No. Happiness comes from within. Start to accept what you have, start to see what you REALLY need to make you happy. When you cut all the extra stuff away, it may take a lot less than you think to make you happy. So, try putting your phone down, slow down, think about what you really need, and start to appreciate what you already have. When can that be enough?
If you can ever reach to having enough, you might find you were happier than before, and just getting off that hamster wheel feels good. There are still things to work for, but there is a difference in withholding happiness from yourself until you get there, or just working toward something and being happy in the process. Give it a try!
Dr. Nelson is the Clinical Director for The Florida House Experience, an innovative integrated behavioral treatment facility in Deerfield Beach. He has been a mental health professional for 20 years and continues to work with substance abuse, dual diagnosis and mental health clients and helping clients develop their skills for finding happiness and better ways to be their best self.