It’s Unanimous – it comes from within!
At the recent Flow, with Purpose, as Yourself ™ events that we’ve been running in London, the concept of Happiness always prompts some great conversation. It seems that people unanimously agree that happiness, in its purest form (i.e. Unconditional Happiness), comes from within. That is, happiness does not rely on attachment to material things or even to people and the relationships we have. Instead, it comes from living in a state of inner contentment and peace of mind – a state where free ourselves from the concerns that plague us and we live fully confortable in our own skin, enjoying and immersed in the present moment.
I’m pleased to say that in each of the conversations that were had at the events, everyone agreed that this is a state that we can all achieve this, although only if we have the desire and focus to do so.
A Paradox – Happiness versus Purpose?
However – and here’s the paradox – despite everyone agreeing that Unconditional Happiness comes from within, we also all agreed that it cannot in itself be a goal that we pursue. That is, Unconditional Happiness is not achieved by focusing solely on it. If we focus solely on achieving happiness it becomes an illusive destination rather than a way of experiencing the moments along the journey of our life.
But, this raises a question:
If Unconditional Happiness is not a goal, how do we achieve the state of inner contentment and peace of mind we desire?
Victor Frankl I believe provides the answer to this; you do not pursue happiness, instead you ensue Unconditional Happiness through focusing on your purpose. And, your purpose involves giving to others – making a positive contribution to the world. In this respect, the best way to ‘achieve’ Unconditional Happiness is paradoxically to forget about it…and focus on giving to others.
Recognising the Paradox – Purpose = Happiness
Any paradox – two conflicting truths – creates tension. In modern society however, we see tension as uncomfortable and therefore negative. Furthermore, we are taught to resolve the tension as quickly as possible to help us return to a comfortable state. This is why we’ve created a quick fix culture where, for example, we ‘pop pills’ at the slightest ailment hoping to ‘fix’ it as quickly as possible. At one level, this ‘quick fix’ culture could be seen as useful, but when applied as a blanket philosophy across our lives it removes some of the life giving tension that we as humans so desperately need.
To use the paradox of happiness – i.e. that to ‘achieve’ happiness, we must forget about it and focus on our purpose – we must learn to hold the two conflicting truths in a state of tension. That is, imagine you are holding your hands in front of you with palms facing the sky. In your left hand is your desire to achieve the state of Unconditional Happiness – inner contentment and peace of mind – which you know, can only come from within. In your right hand is your need to focus on your purpose, which is all about giving to others. As you look at and feel both your hands you can sense the tension between them; to achieve what I desperately need for me in my left hand, I must give to others in my right hand!
When we become aware of a paradox it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it, hence wanting to ease the tension that’s created. In respect to the paradox of happiness, this would represent dropping one of your hands to focus only on the other – i.e. I either focus solely on me and my happiness, or I focus solely on others and their happiness. However, rather than doing this, to get the most out of the paradox and therefore to achieve Unconditional Happiness through focusing on fulfilling your purpose, I would suggest holding your hands in place. It is only through doing this that you feel the weight of both sides of the paradox, and you can begin to explore and appreciate the tension that’s been created. And it is only through doing this, that you can realize that Purpose = Happiness…which means to be selfish (i.e. to achieve our desired happiness) we must be selfless (i.e. giving to others).
Paradox of Happiness Part 2 – Focusing on Purpose