Finding true fulfillment does not depend on following
any particular religion or holding any particular belief.
-- His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama
Research shows that we tend to get focused on the “one thing” that will bring us happiness—usually it is a possession, a relationship, or some experience like a trip to Hawaii or a raise. This is not to say these are not good things, but the happiness quotient simply doesn’t last, so we move our attention, our focus, onto another object of our happiness.
This is the illusion—nothing outside our self will bring lasting happiness—even writing a book or landing the perfect job or publisher. So that is the reason to develop inner states of well-being. These inner states become constant in an ever-changing outer world.
The Focusing Illusion: When I Get This I Will Be Happy
The illusion is that “when I get this I will be happy.” The focusing illusion includes putting our happiness on outward objects and circumstances and typically looks into the future. There is a lack of creativity involved because we are putting our energy in an illusionary state of when. The focus of your happiness is on something outside of yourself.
We get what we thought we wanted and find it doesn’t bring us the happiness or inspiration we expected, and we get discouraged and depressed. Or we go purchase another something that has gotten our attention or put our search engines onto another source in hopes that this will make us happy. Instead, we could come to an understanding of what brings us lasting happiness.
Buddhist philosophy and other mind-training practices, such as in the cognitive-behavioral sciences, identified this long ago—happiness is an inside job. This being the case, nothing on the outside will lastingly bring happiness—not another child, not a bestseller, not a new home, not a finished painting. Not even the right job.
Happiness Takes Place in the Moment
Happiness is something that takes place in the moment, a direct experience as a result of something you actively cultivated. It is ongoing and, therefore, creative. And whatever we manifest, no matter what form it takes, keeps changing. A published book, for instance, is like an adult child—the child may have left the home but stuff keeps happening!
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It’s the creating, living the inspired life, and sharing your creations that bring you lasting happiness. Authentic manifestation is active in that you are manifesting—it’s not what you have manifested. Authentic manifestation is relational. It is changing and impermanent like everything else.
It’s not the house or the written book that will bring you lasting happiness or further inspiration. It is the caring or decorating or living in the house that will give you happiness. It is in the sharing of what you have written, practicing what you teach, or getting onto the next novel that will keep you happy and inspired.
Keeping your mind on how many “likes” you have on Facebook or how many books you sold on Amazon will keep you stuck in a loop of dissatisfaction. Even if you hit the bestseller list, your happiness and inspiration will still come down to what you do with what you have—the sharing of yourself with others.
Searching for Something Specific to "Make You" Happy?
Awhile back I talked with my husband, who is a wildlife biologist, about how people put so much energy, time, and money into searching for happiness. They get their minds set on something and their desire for it increases. He promptly said, “Tinbergen’s research on prey selection.”
Nikolas Tinbergen found in his research that tits (Paridae) tended to favor one kind of larval Lepidoptera at any given time—a fancy term for their favored food. He saw that the birds were actively searching for these particular species while ignoring other potential food sources (prey). He labeled this phenomenon “specific search image.” This reveals a connection between Tinbergen’s study and how we too tend to go in search of a given source of happiness, missing other potential sources.
Even the search mentality itself is a hindrance. Humans tend to be very search specific; habitual in what we are looking for and the places that we look for it. We tend to become habitual in what we want, search for, and, as a result, find. This reflects a popular warning, be careful what you wish for. A more accurate caution is to be careful of what you are searching for.
As a therapist I witness people’s unhappiness increase as they narrow their search down to finding a romantic partner, to weight loss, or to some other specific image that they believe will end their particular hunger. With young adults it is often the next electronic gadget (well, this is true for many adults as well). But if these brought us as much happiness as anticipated we would not begin our search for the next object of our happiness so quickly after obtaining the last one.
This search intensifies when we have experienced some relief or happiness in the past from a given subject or experience (image). Just like Tinbergen’s birds. For example, in gambling addiction: the person who once had a big win early on is more likely to chase the next win, ignoring all the other potential sources of happiness (and often after considerable losses).
Buy This and Be Happy!
This phenomenon explains the distance that develops between ourselves and what the given moment and environment truly has to offer us—we can’t see beyond what we are searching for. People often speak of how unhappy they are with what they don’t have, losing sight of what they do possess. What they possess is a moment filled with potentiality and options for making meaning and lasting happiness. (Consider how much money the gambling addict lost that could be used to create or experience something new.)
We all have a bit of the addict in us. Notice how advertisers trigger our search engines to want and search for their product. They trigger the focusing illusion—“here, buy this and be happy.”
* Are you like the bird in the study, always going for the same source of nourishment (happiness, fulfillment) when something else might better feed you?
* What are other possibilities of where you can put your focus that you may be overlooking?
* Where are you the most habitual (this is where you are most likely in search mode)?
* Where are you putting your energy in seeking fulfillment from another rather than actively living a fulfilling life? (Consider the difference between the volunteer who went to Ecuador to help build bridges and the person that went to a shaman in Ecuador for insight into their purpose here on Earth.)
* How do you see yourself being spiritually or creatively fulfilled? (Hint: If fulfillment comes from some outward end result—beware, the focusing illusion is at play. If, on the other hand, fulfillment comes from the act of creating, then happiness is assured.)
Fortunately, unlike Tinbergen’s birds, we have the innate ability to train our minds and to put our attention where we choose. We can be more receptive to the beauty and mystery of each moment and get the full spectrum of possibilities offered up to us in a given moment.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Destiny Books,
a division of InnerTraditions Intl. ©2013. www.innertraditions.com
The Zero Point Agreement: How to Be Who You Already Are
by Julie Tallard Johnson.
About the Author
A licensed psychotherapist and creative writing teacher, Julie Tallard Johnson has kept journals since the age of sixteen discovering how the writer and spiritual path are one and the same. She has spent the last thirty years working with individuals and groups to help them discover a spiritual practice that brings them a sense of purpose and happiness. The author of many books for teens including Teen Psychic, Spiritual Journaling, The Thundering Years, I Ching for Teens and Making Friends, Falling in Love, which was recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the best books for teens, she lives in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Visit the author's web site at www.Julietallardjohnson.com
Watch an Interview with Julie Tallard Johnson