Happiness is like an Orgasm… if you think about it too hard it goes away
On a recent trip through South East Asia I met an old Buddhist Monk (I know, very cliche). He taught me many things, the most useful of which was about letting go. He began by telling me a story, in broken English (I know, also very cliche).
‘The men in my village catch monkey using trap. They get coconut and cut small hole. They put fruit inside coconut and tie to tree. When monkey come, it reach into coconut to grab fruit, but, when it holding onto fruit it hand too big to pull out. Monkey is stubborn, refuse to let go. Even when hunter is coming to kill monkey, monkey won’t let go. So you see, if you don’t let go, you end up trapping yourself. This is life for many people. They are not in cage, but they are trapped.’
The story of the monkey trap is an old fable, dating back to somewhere around the 1300’s (using cherry jars instead of coconuts). In any case, the lesson is a powerful one, particularly relevant in a world in which so many people are obsessed with ‘The Pursuit of Happiness.’ Ironically, viewing happiness as a pursuit practically guarantees we will be looking the wrong way when it passes by.
As comedian Tim Minchin once said, ‘Happiness is like an orgasm, if you think about it too hard it goes away.’
While happiness is staring us right in the face, we have our eyes closed – thinking about work, our bank balance, our chances of promotion, our bank balance (again), our frustrating work colleagues, our bank balance (again)… We worry about these things because we think they will make us happy. But, as the old Buddhist Monk told me, ‘money is nice, but if you can’t be satisfied without it, you won’t be satisfied with it.’
If we refuse to let go of what we think will make us happy, we will forever be trapped in unhappiness.
The car, the promotion, the new house, the trip to Hawaii, none of these things really make us happy. They may provide a short-lived dose of pleasure, but as we discovered in our post, ‘why party animals often end up chronically unhappy‘, pleasure and happiness are not the same thing.
According to researcher Dan Gilbert, happiness is less about achieving success and more learning the skills of life satisfaction. These two skills are: Building a life that is more satisfying and learning to experience satisfaction in life. So, just as boredom is the inability to appreciate what is in front of you, unhappiness is the inability to derive joy from your life.
Now to the monkey trap analogy. Letting go does not mean becoming apathetic about life. It does not mean lowering your standards either. It simply means being adaptable with your dreams, plans and visions of the future. To quote Tim Minchin again, ‘if you focus too far into the future you’re likely to miss the shiny thing in your periphery.’ These shiny things are what makes life exciting.
In my potentially cliche opinion, life is like a roller-coaster – If you try to battle the roller coaster you end up spending every minute of the ride in agony, staring at the bar on your lap, wishing for everything to slow down. But, if you are willing to accept that you aren’t in control, you may just be able to let the roller coaster do its thing, to let go of the sides, to raise your arms, to open your eyes and enjoy the beauty and excitement of uncertainty.
We have only just tickled the tip of The Science of Happiness. To find out the other 3 things that you need to learn to increase your happiness check out our eBook The No-Bull Pathway to Happiness. And for a limited time you can even grab yourself a free copy by popping your details in the form below.