We all want to be happy, specially while breathing. But if given a choice, would we rather be happy now or happier in the future? How about both! Is that possible? Long answer short: Not always. We live in an era of instant everything specially gratification. “Why would I wait for happiness later (specially if I don’t know if later is really going to come) when I can have it right now? Right?” Ask that to the girl who’s trying to lose weight and decided to ditch good health practices for not seeing immediate results, or the woman who chose Mr. Right Now instead of Mr. Right or the guy who chose a wrong career path just to please others or the 15 year old girl who decided to become a mother or the kid who ate the two marshmallows on the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, etc… you get the picture.
Now, aren’t we supposed to enjoy the moment? Indeed we are! But with responsibility. The same responsibility that makes us enjoy that piece of dessert after having healthy eats during the week, or taking a well deserved trip after a long year of work, or striving to pursue a passion even if it involves pain and risk (which in most cases it does), etc. Otherwise happiness becomes the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As a work in progress procrastinator I’ve come to realize that simply thinking about all the things that I have to do (while enjoying myself in the hammock of my own comfort) sucks the life out of me in more profound ways than one, than actually doing those things when I’m supposed to. I’m a firm believer that joy is derived from meaning more so than pleasure. Both are important, yet the former has a longer shelf life.
“… in the end, the price of comfort is always higher than the price of effort”
Truth be told we tend to be more comfortable wishing for happiness than we are of actually enjoying it. Not just because our unconscious mind tends to think happiness is something to strive for without fully realizing it is the journey itself, but because happiness takes conscious effort. The kind of effort that sets our priorities in order and allows us to focus on what’s really important. E.g., when we come across a beautiful sunrise we tend to think: “Oh, if only so and so were here to watch it with me. Oh I know I will instagram it, pick a cool background and later post it for all to enjoy.” Bam! We just missed our moment!
After reading quite a few books* on existentialism I’ve learned that there a three basic sources of joy: Pleasure, knowledge and spirituality. All of them involve a quest. And all of them are meant to be sought out by humans. We tend to incline on either one of them at different stages of our lives. For example, the first third of our lives we are prone to seek pleasure as a way to understand our own existence, then we seek knowledge for the same purpose at a deeper level (self-awareness), after which we move on to the latter to attain self-realization. Now, not everyone follows this same pattern. The truth is we’re constantly in search of all three to find joy. Our flesh is designed for pleasure, our mind for knowledge and our spirit for spirituality (closeness to God).
“Dmitri the sensualist, Ivan the intellectual & Alexei the spiritual…”- The Brothers Karamazov
As we all know and experienced, the quest for pleasure takes the least amount of time compared to the other two. Hence, those who constantly crave instant gratification tend to fall into the pleasure seeking category. Those who choose to seek meaning through out their lives despite possessions tend to fall into the spiritual category. And so on.
The question is, which one do we consciously choose to hold on to (through out the compos mentis stages of our lives) as a means of deriving joy? Ask yourself: Does happiness revolve around being with people? How much you know? How you look? Your résumé? Acquiring new things? The opposite sex? Your life’s purpose? All of the above? I’m not saying that these things are bad in and of themselves. But, what if we – God forbid – lose them in an instant? How would we be able to cope? Not feeling pain is not the issue here (it is evidently out of the question), but the amount and length of it is directly correlated to how attached we are to these things/situations/people.
“…walk by the Spirit…”- Galatians 5:16
What if we had a choice of attaching joy to the things we can control? This is only found in the spiritual realm, within ourselves and God (our supreme power). Every situation we encounter, whether good or bad, gives us the opportunity to practice this new found freedom of choice, which will in time become second nature. We have learned through out history about many examples of people who chose the spiritual realm as the source of joy, who fought for a greater cause than themselves and were stripped away of everything – even their lives – except their spirit. I bet very little came between them and their joy.
“Our ultimate freedom is to choose our attitude despite our circumstance” Viktor Frankl
Let us undermine the reigns of things, situations and people with the destiny of our joy. If we come to think of it, when we choose to disempower others, even those we love, as the sole source of our joy, we are capable to love them better because we take the burden out of them having to make us happy. Whatever they choose to do or don’t won’t matter as much, because our joy is not dependent on them, but on what lies within ourselves.
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose from within.”- Viktor Frankl
*The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, Logotherapy by Viktor Frankl, To have or to Be by Erich Fromm, The Bible by God – among others.