The Physics of Happiness and Success (#855)

Imagine a series of boats sitting in a marina by the shores of a beautiful ocean. One boat is called “Lots O’ Money”; another is called “Amazing Marriage”, and another is called “Thin and Beautiful”. Across the quay are boats called “Spectacular Career ” and “Abundant Fame” and “Loving Family”.

The water level in this marina represents our current level of well-being, and each one of the boats represents one of the things we associate with happiness in our culture. The strategy we are taught at a very early age is that if we want to experience more well-being in our life, we need to raise our level of success in one or more of these boats.  If we can raise at least one of the boats high enough and keep it raised, the water level (our level of well-being) will rise up with it and we will be finally be truly happy and at peace.

Isn’t that what you were taught growing up?  That if only you had more money, a better career, a more loving partner, a nicer family, and could find a way to become thinner and more attractive that you would be happier and more secure than you are right now?

Now, chances are that in those moments where you’ve gotten what you wanted, it seemed as though that life strategy was working out pretty well.  You lost weight, fit into that amazing outfit, and felt great. Or you landed the new job, made the big sale, got the long awaited promotion and felt like a million bucks.

But what about the next day? And the next? And the day after that?

Are you still as happy and at peace as you were in the moment you reached  your goals?

In my experience, the problem in life isn’t that we don’t have enough strategies for success. The problem is that we’re looking for happiness in the wrong place. We were all brought up inside the idea that we could somehow find our inner sense of contentment in the outside world. And on the whole, this idea has gone so unquestioned for so long that when we notice our success doesn’t consistently lead to happiness, we tend to make up a variety of reasons to explain that fact away.

The most common of these reasons seems to be some variation on “I’m just not successful enough, rich enough, or thin enough” yet, and so we redouble our efforts to make ourselves stronger, lift the boat(s) of our choosing even higher, and hold them up even longer.

But the truth is so much simpler:

The reason lifting a boat will never lift the ocean is because the physics of water doesn’t work that way. And the reason that your success in life, no matter how much or little of it you think you’ve had, has not brought you the level of happiness you would like in your life is because success doesn’t bring happiness.  That’s not the relationship between those two things. It just doesn’t work that way.

If we understand the physics of water, we know it finds its own level, independent of what happens to be floating on it. Similarly, if in our metaphor the water is well-being, there’s only one sustainable way to get the “boats” of our experience to rise – through a sustained increase in our level of well-being.

It all just comes down to understanding the physics.  Since success doesn’t lead to happiness, more success can’t lead to more happiness.  But as our level of well-being rises, our  experience of career, relationships, finances, and self will rise with it.  If that rise is temporary, like a sudden tidal wave of bliss, chances are it will crash back down and our experience of all our “boats” will crash down with it. But if we find a way to sustainably increase our level of well-being, our experience of our self and our lives will get better as well.

So how do we do it?

We don’t.  Not because we can’t, but because we don’t have to.  While we all get caught up in waves of thinking from time to time that make our success seem more important than it is, the moment that thinking passes, we’re right back in the well-being of the whole, and our level rises all by itself.

You don’t have to stop the waves.  You don’t even have to learn to surf them.  You can simply be still and know that you’re made of the same water as the rest of the ocean.  It’s your nature.  And when you understand the physics of it, happiness is never more than one thought away.

With all my love,
Michael

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