“Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.” ~Theodore Roethke
Note: This is a guest post from fellow blogger, Vlad Dolezal.
Lately, I’ve seen an unusually high amount of posts in the blogosphere extolling “being happy with what you have”. They’ve been springing up like mushrooms after a mushroom soup factory explosion.
Unfortunately, most authors leave out crucial details. Like the fact that being fully content with your current situation for an extended period of time is utter nonsense.
After seeing a guest post touching on this topic here on M2bH a few weeks back, I decided to get in touch with Ken to see if he’d let me share my contrarian perspective on this popular topic. Being the curious, open-minded guy that he is, he agreed—so today, I’d like to share why chasing after being fully content in your situation in life is a fool’s dream.
Now, before you grab your pitchfork and run straight to the comment section to tell me that my head is full of bird feed, let me stop you.
First, read a bit below to see what I’m going on about. Only then leave a comment telling me how wrong I am, alright?
The “Be-Happy-with-what-You-Have” Movement
I’m sure you’ve met a person or two who are always unhappy with what they have, always chasing after happiness “out there”. People who complete the statement, “I’ll be happy when…” with material achievements, or status symbols.
Maybe you’ve even been that person.
In response to those people, there sprung up a movement of people promoting the idea that you can be happy with what you have.
Happiness is a state of mind, not a certain amount of possessions or awards.
That’s a great thing. If you’re the sort of person who’s been chasing “I’ll be happy when…” kinds of goals, that’s exactly what you need to hear. If you’re not happy with what you have right now, having more won’t magically make you happy (unless you’re currently starving).
But some authors take this too far. They claim that you can choose happiness in whatever situation you find yourself, and you shouldn’t be looking to make changes.
So you get it in your head that you should be able to be completely content in your current situation. You do gratitude exercises, and meditation, and feel truly happy with what you have for a bit.
But then restlessness sets in. You feel like this is not quite it. Your passion for life starts to dip, and you feel the need to chase after some goals. To make changes.
Then you beat yourself up about it, because clearly you haven’t quite got the hang of being happy with what you have.
Don’t. It doesn’t mean you’re a silly westerner with an untamed monkey mind. It means that you’re a wonderful, amazing kind of creature – a human. A completely normal human, exactly as you should be.
It’s part of being human to be unable to be happy in any one static situation for too long.
Let me explain.
Passion in the Climb
There lives a rock-climbing instructor in the UK, named Mal, who has an interesting way of testing applicants for his advanced rock-climbing class.
He has them climb a mountain where, about two thirds of the way up, there’s an overhang. From below, it looks like the top of the mountain, but once you climb over it, you see a big chunk of the mountain still towering over you.
And Mal’s way of testing applicants is simply hiding behind a rock at the overhang and watching the climbers’ expression when they scale the overhang.
Many applicants look disappointed or annoyed that they’re not at the top yet. Mal politely declines these people the entry to his advanced class.
But some applicants… when they scale the overhang and see the mountain looming over them, their eyes light up with excitement at the prospect of more climbing!
Mal welcomes these applicants with open arms.
You will never become an advanced rock-climber if you’re only doing it to reach the top and hate the climbing itself. Real rock-climbers love climbing. A mountain top is merely a goal that gives them focus and challenge.
I love Mal’s example, because it’s such a great metaphor for life itself.
A fulfilling life isn’t static. You don’t just reach the top of a mountain and then sit there happily ever after without moving. You get restless, and itch to climb more.
A fulfilling life is just like that. Dynamic. Striving after worthy goals. Defeating challenges. Growing in the process.
How Do You Define Being Alive?
In fact, it comes to the very definition of life. Biologists define being alive as deliberately impacting your environment.
That’s the difference between a rock and a tree. A rock simply lies there, fully content with its situation. A tree, on the other hand, grows roots, and gathers nutrients, and combines them with carbon from the air to grow a lush green canopy.
If you ever reached a situation where you were completely content with everything you had, and had no more outstanding goals and desires… you’d be dead. As long as you’re alive, that will never happen.
You have a natural, deeply ingrained drive to strive for goals, and impact your surroundings. That’s what makes you truly happy, truly alive.
Even meditation gurus who seem to spend their days sitting around quietly are like that. They’ve just taken their goal-seeking and turned it inwards, constantly perfecting and refining their mental arts.
Which brings us to a fun twist on this “being happy with what you have” idea.
“Being Happy” vs. “Striving for Goals”
So, hoping that you will finally reach happiness, if only you hit that one last goal … is clearly not the answer.
But being fully content with your life isn’t the answer either. You get restless and your passion for life drains.
So what is the answer?
The Joy of Climbing
Just like advanced rock-climbers, they don’t climb to reach the top. They climb for the pure, simple joy of the climb itself.
You won’t find happiness at the end of a rainbow either, or reaching a certain salary or finding a partner to share your life with. These won’t magically make you happy.
Instead, embrace the process of striving.
In my humble opinion, the search for happiness comes down to these steps:
- Accept your current situation. You got here by making what you thought were the best decisions at the time. Give yourself a pat on the back—you’ve grown and learned from all your decisions, both good and bad. It’s okay for you to be exactly where you are.
- Find a Worthy Goal to strive for. Something that aligns with your values, something that makes your heart sing with joy, a goal that makes you weep when you think of it.
- Embrace the process of striving for that goal, step by step. That’s where true happiness lies—in striving to make the world a better, happier place through your actions.
Embrace the striving.
YOUR TURN …
- What do you think?
- On which side of the debate do you fall?
- Or are you somewhere in the middle?
- We would love to read your thoughts in the comments!
To find your own Worthy Goal that makes your heart sing, check out Vlad’s e-book How to Find Your Life Purpose (completely free, you don’t even have to leave your e-mail address!). Or if you already have a worthy goal, but are having trouble taking action on it, how about making a personal development plan? Or check out Vlad’s twitter. Or blog. Go wild.