Buying HappinessFeb 03, 2021
I wish everyone could experience being rich and famous, so they’d see it wasn’t the answer to anything – Jim Carrey
Have you ever heard anyone tell a child that money will buy them happiness? I never have, and yet so many people are going after money because they believe it will bring happiness along with it. Even though repeatedly, from almost all parents, children’s entertainment, music, and even the affluent themselves warn us that money will not bring happiness. So, where does this belief come from?
Children pay more attention to what they see than what they hear. It is monkey see monkey do. When they see their parents, family, friends, and community wake up every day to go on the hunt for money, they believe that must be where happiness is. I mean, if happiness is the ultimate goal, then this thing called money must bring it since everyone is going after it, right?
On the surface, it is easy to see where this comes from. A child is blissfully happy for the most part and spends time with loved ones. But then the fun ends when the parents have to go to work. Eventually, the child feels abandon and asks why the happiness has to stop. The parents will say because we have to go to work to make money to pay for food, clothing, and the home we all live in together. The next logical conclusion is that if we had more money, no one would have to leave, and the child wouldn’t have to feel lonely. Money is the cause of the unhappiness because it forces people to go to work, but it is simultaneously the solution to the abandonment. “If I had more money, no one would leave, and everyone could stay and play,” the child thinks. “That is why they are all going after more money so they can have more time to spend with the people they love. That is the reason I will do it too. So that no one has to feel the pain of having the happiness end.”
The Happiness Equation
What is born in this young person’s mind is what I call the happiness equation. It is a simple formula for happiness. When I get this thing, then I will be happy, is how the algorithm works. Me plus the thing that I want equals happiness.
What is inherently wrong in this equation is that you are looking outside of yourself for an internal feeling. This is the cause of so much suffering in humanity. It creates a void inside of you that can never be filled because we are going about things backward. It is easy to see with the example of the body. If someone is bulimic or anorexic, when they look in the mirror, all they see is a fat body. Even if they are skin and bone emaciated, they still view themselves as overweight. So they take extreme measures to remove fat from their body. This is a life-threatening disorder because they are attempting to fix the outer world to the point of death by starvation but not realizing that it is the inner world that sees a problem in the first place that needs fixing. They think once they have the perfect body, then they’ll be happy, but that day never comes because they see a problem where there is none.
Money is no different than this. Most people think that once they have more money, then they’ll be happy, but that day never comes. Think about your first job, how much did you earn? My first job was as a pool cleaner and a painter for the apartments that I lived in. My mom got me the job as a way to save money on rent. I think I made five dollars an hour for pool cleaning and ten for painting. Though the painting jobs only came when a neighbor moved out, and the agony of pool cleaning at eleven years old was all summer. My point though is that at the time, five dollars an hour was better than nothing and more money than I had ever had. However, trying to imagine living today on that wage seems impossible.
What is interesting is that from your first job to your current one, and hopefully the ones in between, you probably made consistently more money. But are you happy? The equation is when I get more money, then I’ll be happy, right? And you have more money now than you did when you started working, right? So then, according to the equation, you are happy because you have more, correct?
This is what happens when you adopt the belief that money will bring happiness. When money comes, and happiness doesn’t follow because money is external from your internal emotions, then you think, “well, I must just need more then, this isn’t enough.” But what is enough? If you handed the kid who had your first job your current salary, would it be enough for them? If not, why not, and if so, what changed?
You might say, “well, my expenses have increased since back then. I have a car, a place to live, and a family to feed. Life’s not cheap.” I get it, money doesn’t bring happiness, but the things that money buys does, right? Those things you have that you work hard to pay for bring happiness into your life, correct? No? Maybe you just need nicer things, bigger and more luxurious, or just more stuff like a vacation home, a sports car, or a boat? That will finally make you happy; I know it.
All you need is a little bit more money to be happy, except that is what you have been telling yourself your whole life. No matter how much more comes into your life experience, you keep repeating the same mantra telling yourself that you need more. You have turned money into a drug, and all you need is a little more to get your fix.
There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way -Thich Nhat Hanh
The Short Cut
If happiness was the goal of every child’s life, then wouldn’t it make more sense to teach them how to find what makes them happy. If happiness was the goal, it would be obvious to let them explore the world they live in to find what makes them happy, right? “But if they find what makes them happy, how will they afford it,” you may ask? Everyone will find a way to their calling when it presents itself. There are an infinite number of ways around any challenge in between you and your highest excitement.
The problem is we are training human beings to go after money as if it was their calling in life. We say money doesn’t buy happiness but then build an elaborate system in order to get them from grade school to college, to supposedly train for a specialized career, all in the hopes that the job and the money it pays will make them happy. What we are actually training people to do is suffer through things they dislike in order to afford the thing that makes them happy, if they ever find it at all, because they have to keep a roof over their head and have bills to pay.
Couldn’t we shortcut this entire process by going directly after what makes us happy while trusting that the Creator of All Things will have our backs in meeting our basic needs on the way to and when we get there? Is it just me, or does it seem absolutely bonkers to believe we need to suffer in order to obtain happiness? It is completely contradictory. Wouldn’t choosing happiness lead to more happiness, and choosing suffering lead to more suffering?
What if when you adopt the belief that more money will bring you happiness, it keeps you going after more money but doesn’t make you actually arrive at happiness? What I mean is that keeping up with the Jones’s and constantly needing a bigger house, nicer car, and higher salary just makes sure happiness is always out of reach. It keeps you striving but never arriving. Because if you arrived, you wouldn’t need more money, so the belief would have to die. Beliefs will fight to stay alive and always have to be right, even if they make no logical sense like this one.
I have to tell you, in my experience talking to so many Americans about money, it is rare to find people following their highest excitement. Probably because we teach humans to believe that they can’t make money doing what they love. The game of life we have set up is all about accumulating a reserve of capital so they can finally do what their heart calls them to do when they retire, and their body is giving out. At the end of the day, we are all just kids that want to play and have fun. We want to be happy, blissful, and joyous with the people that we love. But the money that was supposed to serve that purpose has now become the goal instead of the happiness. It is like we are in constant search for the signpost to the destination instead of the destination itself.
No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now -Alan Watts
The Ultimate Happiness Equation
Let’s get a little deeper and radically shake things up, shall we? What if happiness is not the ultimate goal? To be happy all day, every day, is the goal of a child. To accept every emotion, the blissful and the painful, as the space that holds it all is enlightenment. The fear of negative emotion paradoxically keeps us from experiencing happiness more of the time. The fear drives a wedge between us and the pain we need to feel.
If we wanted to experience pure nonstop bliss, we wouldn’t have come into this reality where both joy and agony are allowed to exist. We have been handed down a belief through thousands of generations that all kids should only experience happiness throughout their entire childhood. That no child should ever be bullied, abused, abandon, or have any painful experiences whatsoever. That is the objective of almost every parent, to protect their kids from this negativity. But is it true that we are not supposed to experience those things? Are we saying that only when a child is grown to a young adult, then they are allowed to feel pain? But at that point, they will have no clue how to deal with it, how to identify and process the negative emotion. They will not understand their emotional guidance system, pointing them to the beliefs that are underneath the emotion.
This is what we do as adults. We do everything we can to stop a child from crying. We take so many steps to insulate them from depression, anxiety, anger, fear, and unworthiness. Essentially, we tell them that it is not alright to feel anything but happiness. So then it is no wonder that we have an entire world’s population that is completely disconnected from their entire emotional spectrum because we have been invalidating them since birth.
This creates a collective belief that everyone should only be happy. That happiness is the ultimate goal, and that you need to be happy all of the time. All other emotions are not allowed. Well, guess what that does? It creates self-judgment, and any time we don’t feel happy, we immediately judge it as wrong. This in turn, brings shame into our experience, perhaps the lowest emotion of all, and makes sure we beat ourselves up for feeling anything but happiness.
We are living in the emotional dark ages because we suppress or repress all our negative emotions. Or try to fix the outside world, so we don’t have to experience them at all. Emotions are never in a vacuum; they are always accompanied by a belief system. If I have a belief that fathers should love their children as much as mothers do and my dad says something cruel to me, it is going to create emotional pain. That pain is to point you to the fact that something is wrong with your thinking, which needs to be cleared up; otherwise, you are going to keep feeling the painful emotion. Negative emotions are an alarm system telling you there is a potential hazard in your mental programming. To suppress emotion is to allow the destructive beliefs to go unchecked.
What if attachment to happiness is blocking you from experiencing acceptance? You want to accept all of your emotions. To exclude any emotion is to exclude a part of yourself. Acceptance of what is now is the freedom you are seeking. Acceptance of the amount of money you currently have as enough is arriving. Acceptance of the emotions you feel is self-acceptance. Acceptance of who you are is to accept the perfection in God’s creation. Just like the acceptance that your body is a miracle and is doing exactly what it needs to do can stop an eating disorder, acceptance of your life as it is today will stop this incessant need for more.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you condone abusive behavior and should blindly accept others who intend to harm you. Quite the opposite in fact, because if you fully accepted all your emotions as valid, the negative ones that the abuse makes you feel would point you to the belief that you deserve to feel that way. That you don’t deserve to feel good, that the Universe doesn’t love you, and that you are not good enough at life to which this abuse is your punishment. Once those beliefs are cleared up, you would realize that anyone who attacks you is not deserving of your time, attention, or presence.
Acceptance also doesn’t mean that your life won’t evolve and change will not take place; it simply means you will not be forcing change out of not wanting to be here now. You will enjoy this here now and every here now to come. If you aren’t accepting of this here now, how do you know you will be accepting of the one that has everything you ever dreamed of? I bet that kid that had your first job dreamed of one day being where you are now. Looking to the future for more is to deny that inner child’s dream life you are living today.
Radical self-acceptance, along with gratitude for everything you have experienced and will ever experience, is the doorway to an entirely new Universe. One of bliss, joy, happiness, and peace. You are enough now. You are exactly where you are meant to be. Every emotion and experience is there to serve you. All is as it should be, now and forevermore.
In all my years of spiritual practice, I have not gotten rid of one of my neuroses. They come around less, and when they do show up, I invite them in for tea like an old friend. I accept them as a part of myself -Ram Dass