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Ursula Le Guin, from “Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching”
In the movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness”, the main protagonist - Chris Gardner (Will Smith) - was irked upon seeing the word “happyness” spelled wrong on the wall outside his son’s daycare. After pointing it out to the teacher, he started thinking about his own pursuit of happiness.
“It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it.”
Ever wanted something so bad you’re willing to do anything just to have it?
Take for example, happiness. Everybody wants to have it. Ask anyone what they want in life and they will most likely say, “I just want to be happy”.
But what is happiness, really?
From a scientific perspective, psychology defines happiness as a mental or emotional state that can be described as positive feeling and pleasant emotions.
Which means that If I love burgers, then happiness is when I’m munching on a “Double-double” from In-N-Out.
If I’m a runner, happiness is whenever my foot hits the road, wind on my face, lost in thought, running across dirt roads by my lonesome.
If I’m an entrepreneur, happiness is growing my business and accumulating a ridiculous amount of money.
But is this really what happiness is all about?
If happiness simply means fulfilling a need or a craving, then how come there’s a lot depressed rich people? And why do overweight people hate themselves after enjoying their favorite meal?
Am I missing something here?
As I’m pondering on the answer, I remember a quote from a book I read two years ago:
“The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
From the way I see it, happiness is a moving target that has to be constantly pursued. But to be specific, it’s a moving target that aligns with your personal compass and true values. It’s almost never something in the form of material possessions.
Which means I’m not simply running after the next best thing that tickles my fancy. It’s not an end goal like, “Once I have X amount of dollars I’ll be happy”. Or something like, “I’ll be so happy once I have that latest iPhone”.
From my experience, it never works that way.
To me, I experience true happiness when I am:
You might be thinking though, “If happiness is a moving target, how can we make sure we’re on the right path?”
This is where the teachings of the old master, Lao Tzu, comes to aid us.
“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”
At the beginning of this year, I quit my full time job as a client relationship manager for 6 years and went full time as a freelance writer.
Was it scary? Absolutely. Did I get writing jobs immediately? No. Took me two months to land a permanent writing gig. Did I make the right decision? Hell, yeah!
I was not hasty though, before I decided to quit my job, I had plans in place. Also, I’ve freelanced on the side for years, which is why I was confident I’ll find work.
The point is, I asked myself what truly makes me happy. And it answered back, “You’re most happy when you write”.
So even if earning money as a freelancer is harder, the joy I find in writing gives me the fuel to push through. I’ve always thought, “A bad day of writing will always be better than a good day in the office babysitting clients”.
Oh and before I forget, right now I make the same amount of money as with my previous full-time job --- at just half the total hours a week. And this wouldn’t have been possible have I not followed my heart.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
When was the last time you got so hyped about something only to find yourself saying “Meh” as soon as you got it?
This, my friend, is one of the reasons why achieving material goals will always feel subpar compared to meaningful experiences.
It’s the reason why even losers in a boxing match hugs their opponents and thanks them for a great fight. While it would have been sweeter to win the belt, it would be inconsequential if the match was not hard won. They gave it their best shot. They will learn from this bittersweet experience and push themselves further next time --- allowing them to grow.
At the age of 38, two years after leaving the Bulls, Michael Jordan went out of retirement and played for the Washington Wizards.
Some people thought he was too old. Some said he should have just retired permanently and left the world with his glorious memories as a Bull. He already had 6 rings, several MVP awards, scoring titles, defensive player awards, and a whole lot of other accolades. He was considered to be the greatest of all time. He had nothing else to prove.
But when asked why he did it, he simply said, “For the love of the game”.
He didn’t want to stop doing the thing he loved. He was still enjoying the journey, savoring every moment of the game of basketball while he still can. Whether there’s a trophy at stake or not.
“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”
Lao Tzu taught that if we are simple in both our thoughts and action, we return to the source of our being. We operate from our core. When we are patient with others, we keep things in harmony. This is essential in living a meaningful and peaceful life. If we are compassionate towards ourselves, we open up ourselves to others and share the same compassion. Together we express the tao of humanity.
“Act without expectation”
To do something for its own sake; without expecting any reward, consequence, or results is taking action simply because it needs to be done. Because you’re unburdened with results, you free your mind and focus on the task itself.
“Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment”
How many times have we lost our temper just by reading Facebook posts and comments? Here you are, putting yourself out there, doing the work, showing your art, and in response you get a boatload of negativity and insult simply because they can. It’s hard not to get offended. It seems just right to give them a dose of their own medicine. Right?
But as hard as it may seem, Lao Tzu tells us to look the other way. To respond gracefully and with respect. To not stoop down to their level.
Because the high road is always the right path to take.
Amiel is a staff writer at Kaiya, who enjoys the simple things that life has to offer. When not reading, he's usually taking long walks, or spending time with his family.