Today, an excerpt from a book I’m writing right now:
My plan to get happy was okay—good, even, especially for someone that age.
But it’s not what I’d recommend.
Remember how in the last chapter I told you what I think happiness really is and how I think you can get it? Happiness is getting what you want, I said, and getting rid of what you don’t.
Well, that, I think, is a much better plan.
And a much bigger one, too.
Of course, you don’t have to sit down and write out your entire plan right now—not unless you want to. (Personally, I wouldn’t blame you if you did—I love making plans and writing things down.) But it does mean that somewhere in your mind, you should reserve a spot and you should mark that spot: How I’m Going to Finally Get Happy. Or: How I’m Going To Finally Get Really Happy, For Real.
That is what I recommend.
Then, by the end of this book, and possibly several more like it, you might open up this mental file and find it full.
What a nice surprise that would be.
But what kinds of things should you put in there?
Some people think that it’s wrong to want too many things. They tell the story of the paraplegic who is happier after his accident than before it, and of the lifelong prisoner who’s found a new purpose to his life, too. Once I even heard a lady talk about how having her house burned down was the best thing that had ever happened to her, because after that, she found God.
Things and circumstances don’t make you happy, these people all say. But choosing not to want more than you have will.
Well. I’m not sorry to say:
I couldn’t disagree more.
Sure, you’ve got to be in the right frame of mind to really enjoy most of the things you have—a depressed person can be depressed no matter how much they have, after all. And sure, ultimately happiness does come from within.
But I lived without a lot of things for a long time, and let me tell you, I am much happier now that I have everything.
And even if you think you disagree with me, think about it just a little bit more: Is there anything you want right now—want really, really badly? Why do you want it? Is it because you think you’ll be happier when you have it?
If I were to try to convince you that you wouldn’t, would you believe me?
But why? Is it just an innate character flaw in all of us that makes us feel this way, erroneously, detrimentally, and unchangably?
I don’t think so.
Here’s why: Think back to a time when you had the same amount of inner peace and general sense of well-being as you do now (in other words, all else being roughly equal), but you didn’t have something major that you have now—a new car, for instance, or a baby, or a husband, or the internet. Or maybe even something small, like free shipping on Amazon. A great book to read.
Are you happier—either a little or a lot—than you were before, now that you have those new things? Are you happier than you were before even after you’ve had them a while, and the initial newness has worn off?
If so, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, sometimes this is not the case. Sometimes, you’re no more happy now than you were before you had the new thing that you thought you wanted.
Let’s take a new car as an example. It was shiny, it was yellow, and you bought it because you were sure you’d get much more value out of the good feeling of driving it around town than you would by driving your old college car. But, alas, you were wrong. You’ve had the car a while now, and you barely think about the difference, and besides that, the payments are nagging, nasty reminders of your mistake.
But think about this for a moment: If you would have gotten that car as a gift, wouldn’t you still, today, appreciate it more than ever? Wouldn’t you agree that you are happier with it than without it?
The secret, then, to getting happier by getting more is this: pay less for something than it’s ultimately worth to you.
Do this consistently, and do this skillfully, and you’ll get a good long way towards your goal.
But what about the paraplegic, then, and what about the prisoner, and what about the lady whose house had burned down? Are they all lying to us when they say they’re happier now than before?
No. Probably not.
Very likely not, actually.
But it is a shame that they had to lose what they already had in order to appreciate the things they still did.
And that is where the second part of this book, and the second part of the plan for happiness that I’m going to talk about, comes in: In order to be really happy, you can’t just get the things you want and then go tripping merrily on your way. You have to do something that is much harder than that:
You have to get rid of things, too.
Ingratitude, for example. Pessimism. Low self-esteem.
If you can do that—if you can get the things you want, all the while learning to let go of the things that you don’t, the things that ultimately take more pleasure than they give—I think you’ll be pretty much good to go.
I think that finally, you’ll be happy.