“Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”
Robert Plant said that, but it just as easily could have been me, except I’m not particularly poetic, and I wasn’t alive in 1971. I’m glad he said it, though. In addition to being one of the greatest songs ever written, it sums up a major tenet of my life’s philosophy more eloquently than I ever could:
Everyone, ultimately, is seeking the same thing: happiness.
There are two divergent paths in life: the path toward money and “success”, and the path toward happiness. You might achieve monetary success through a life dedicated to happiness…that happens all the time. But if you fail, you’ll at least likely be happy and fulfilled.
On the flip side, it is rare to find lasting happiness through a life dedicated to the pursuit of money. You might find temporary happiness, but it’s unlikely to stick with you.
The paths are divergent because the farther down the path you get on one, the farther away the other path becomes. If you spend 20 years focused solely on happiness, it’s unlikely you’ll switch one day and decide to spend your time dedicated to making money. You still might make money – you might make a LOT of money – but you’re unlikely to start focusing solely on it.
Likewise, if you spend 20 years focused 100% on making money and being successful, it becomes increasingly difficult to switch gears and start focusing on being happy and fulfilled. You’ve had a lifetime of positive and negative reinforcement on one path. It seems illogical to scrap it and start over. Your lifetime of cause and effect kicks in and tells you to suck it up and get back to work!
So you’re saying I should just focus on being happy?
Sort of. My take is that your planning, your effort, and your energy should all be focused primarily upon making yourself happy and keeping yourself from being unhappy – in the short run, in the long run, and everything in between.
Sure, the money/success path is easier in many ways, not the least of which is that it’s quantifiable. You either made more money than last year, than your brother, than your friends, or you didn’t. But how happy are you compared to them? 10%? 20%? You can’t quantify your happiness or fulfillment. Peter Drucker once said, “what gets measured gets managed,” but you can’t measure smiles, warm feelings, positivity, optimism, and hope. It’s hard to manage that which can’t be put down in numbers.
The money/success path is also the default in our country. Go to college. Work your way up in your job. Join the military to pay for college and learn some skills so you can get a good job. Marry someone who is successful. Marry someone who is from a good (read: monetarily successful) family. Network. Aspire. Grab the brass ring.
Have empathy for the haters.
It makes sense, then, when you focus on happiness, when you decide to allow life to happen, to trust in the infinite universe to provide for you, and to distance yourself from ego and scorekeeping, you’re likely to also experience pushback from others who are not on that path. We call those people “haters,” and the fact that you have some means you’re probably doing it right.
People who aren’t on the path toward happiness are amazingly generous when it comes to advice! They will tell you that you just haven’t found the right job/person/school yet. They will insist that your choices will have a negative consequence in the end. They’ll call you brave, but tell you it’s not as easy when [insert “seemingly noble trait they embody and you apparently don’t” here].
They’re haters. The fact that you are doing what you are doing calls their path’s validity into question. The simple truth that you are focusing on being happy is seen as an affront to their quest to achieve something else.
Remember – they are seeking happiness, too. They have simply been convinced that the path to happiness is circuitous, fraught with danger, and significantly left to chance. They’ve been duped into a series of crazy “if-then” statements. If you achieve success, then you’ll be happy. If you get that promotion, then you’ll be happy. If you accrue enough money to retire early, then you’ll be happy. If your house is amazing, then you’ll be happy. If you hit the lottery, then you’ll be happy.
What you’ve discovered, however, invalidates all of that. What you’ve discovered is the actual short cut.
What you’ve discovered is that you can simply focus on being happy as a means to achieving happiness.
I’m not naïve – I understand that you have to make a living. I’m simply arguing that it is immensely wiser to view your education, your job search, your weekly to do list, and everything else, through the lens of what is going to make you happy, not what’s going to make you “successful”. You’ve still gotta do dirty work sometimes. Sometimes you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do.
But the keys to lifelong happiness and fulfillment are actually quite simple:
(1) Do more of what you want to do.
Straightforward, but if hiking makes you happy, do more of it. Don’t make excuses of why you can’t. Put it in your calendar and do it. Replace “hiking” with any damned thing you can think of. If it makes you happy and doesn’t actively destroy anyone (including you), make time to do more of it.
(2) Do less of what you don’t want to do.
Again, straightforward, but if going to meetings kills your soul, find a way to do significantly less of that. Replace “going to meetings” with any shitty routine that smacks of “if-then” when you boil it down. If it isn’t part and parcel of your path toward happiness, start brainstorming an out, or at least a reduction.
(3) Focus on “happiness” itself as a completely viable, legitimate goal.
Grade yourself. Journal daily. Write every to-do list with this in mind. Break it down into smaller sub-goals that are specific and realistic.
(4) Frame all decisions through these rules.
Relationships, location, jobs – all have the chance to be tools on your journey toward happiness, but all also have the possibility of getting in your way. If you’re doing more of what you want do, doing less of what you don’t want to do, and focused on happiness as your goal…does this relationship enhance the likelihood that you’ll achieve happiness? Does this job give you a chance to do more of what you want to do and less of what you don’t want to do? Can you envision pursuing happiness living in this town?
Or are you stuck in “if-then” land? If I stick this job out, then I can get promoted and be happy. If I can just improve this relationship a little more, then I can be happy.
The good news – and this is the best news of all: if you’ve found yourself on the never-ending “if-then” path, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.