Happiness, Joy, Peace, Fulfillment.
These are all states of mind that people in our culture search for. But the longer I live, the more I have come to realize that these things are choices we make in any circumstance rather than byproducts of some level of success or accomplishment.
It feels to me that so many people understand this at a cognitive level, but we cannot seem to let it soak in at a meta-cognitive level. Another way to put that is we "get it" in our heads, but our actions and beliefs are still trapped in how the broader culture wants us to understand and experience joy and happiness (as a byproduct of accomplishment).
Let me put it this way: have you ever encountered a very accomplished, yet miserable person? Or do you know someone who wouldn’t be counted amongst the highly successful, but seems to have embraced life in a way that transcends the world’s definitions of success? I have known both. And this would seem to indicate that there is not a necessary correlation between accomplishment and happiness or fulfillment.
I should hasten to add that this is a very tricky subject to address. For instance, if you take that last sentence from the paragraph above to the extreme, it could seem like what I am espousing is that "in order to feel joy and peace and happiness we must by default become unsuccessful." To be clear, I am not saying that either.
What I would like to offer in this short article today is an initial hypothesis and suggestion if peace and happiness have eluded you -- irrespective of your circumstances.
Here it is: Practice Curiosity.
When we lose curiosity, we simultaneously lose wonder. When we lose wonder, the circumstances and people around us become mundane and routine. When that begins, we often look to external things to make us happy or fulfilled. Then we inevitably learn at some point in the future that external things don’t make us happy. Ever read any research on lottery winners and their level of happiness a few months after their big win? (Hint: it's not so good.)
The whole thing is a set up for missing the point.
I might suggest that, wherever you are today and in whatever circumstances you find yourself, there is beauty and joy to be had if we would only let our curiosity and sense of wonder return.
Let us stop allowing the world’s definition of the “pursuit of happiness” define us. Allow yourself to deeply appreciate the beauty around you that already exists.
Photo credit Dylan Nolte on Unsplash