Thursday, 28 December 2006

In Pursuit of Happiness and Success

Click the audioplayer below to listen to this article.

In today's fast-paced, ultra-modern world many are in pursuit of happiness and success and many see the two as being interdependent. The truth is that whether you feel happy or successful or not, as the case may be, is simply a choice for whatever your circumstances you have the power to choose how you feel. It is one of our greatest gifts.

Viktor Frankl in his "Man's Search for Meaning" said,

"Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances - to choose one's own way."

Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor. His wife, brother, mother and father did not share his fate. They died in the concentration camps. Yet, it was during his own internment, through which he was tortured and made to endure the most heinous of indignities, he discovered that, no matter what his captors did to his body, he alone was master of his mind.

You hear of so many people saying that they want to be happy but this, that and the other is happening in their life right now which is robbing them of their happiness. They think that if these situations were to be resolved that they would be happy.

Some also believe that they would be happy if only they could be successful. In reality, you have the ability to feel both happy and successful all along. For success, like happiness, however you define it, is first achieved in the mind.

Our mistake lies in actively pursuing happiness and success. Viktor Frankl advises,

"Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it."

It is our ability to control our emotions rather than let our emotions control us that helps to give us the strength to handle whatever life presents us. Am I saying that we should never feel sad? No.

However, just as a situation can cause us to feel sad there must also be something about that situation that can make us feel happy. After all, it is because we are able to feel sadness that we can appreciate happiness. We cannot know one without knowing the other.

Also, have you ever noticed that even when we are happiest, there is often a tinge of sadness?

Like when you watch a beautiful sunset. The joy that wells up inside you, as you witness such beauty and splendour, is tempered by sadness because you realise that you will never experience that particular sunset again.

Or, when you witness two people that you love get married. You may feel as though you are bursting with happiness for the couple. Yet, there is often an irrational touch of sorrow.

Or, have you ever noticed that when something is very amusing you can laugh until you literally cry. Funny that.

So, it is natural for us to see and experience both sides of any given situation. And, we tend to do so when we allow ourselves to fully live in the moment. Nowadays though, we often hurtle through life without really being present. Consequently, our senses become numbed. We miss the beautiful flower growing on a derelict site. We miss the sound of a child shrieking with delight as she chase birds in the park. We miss the aroma of freshly baked bread and the fond memories it evokes.

Our intellectual faculties also become rusty with disuse. Our will power weakens and we lose the resolve to follow our passion. We lose our ability to reason and so situations deteriorate that we could have maintained control over.

Our perception becomes one-dimensional when, in truth, there are a myriad of ways to view a situation. We forget that imagination is a preview of life's coming attractions. We stop listening to our inner guidance system - our intuition - there to help smooth our path and prevent us from making needless blunders.

And, perhaps worse of all, our memory declines so that we forget what a gift we have been given - the gift of life that surely should have us celebrating, not just every day we are alive but every moment we are alive.

When we allow our circumstances to control how we feel we are living solely through our senses. However, what differentiates us as humans from other animals are our higher intellectual faculties. Our free will enables us to choose how we think about any occurrence or event in our lives. Our imagination allows us to escape the physical confines of our amazing yet limited bodies and explore the unlimited realms of our minds to conjure up anything we choose.

Steven Covey said in his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" that,

"Our unique human endowments [self-awareness, imagination, independent will] lift us above the animal world. The extent to which we exercise and develop these endowments empowers us to fulfil our uniquely human potential. Between stimulus and response is our greatest power - the freedom to choose."

Isn't life a wonderful riddle? The more we pursue some things the more elusive they become.

So my advice to you is simple. Stop worrying about what you have to achieve and what you have to do to be successful. The feelings of happiness and success come from a state of being not doing.

"Be happy. Be successful."

And then the things that you do as a consequence will only add to your happiness and success.

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