We are regularly told that happiness is a state. The more stuff you get and the more accomplished you are, the more “happiness” you have.
But this is an untruth. Picture everything you ever wanted – car, house, family, vacation, wealth – none of these things will make you intrinsically, permanently happy.
When you read those words – having things won’t make us happy – it feels obvious to the point of cliche. But almost everything we do, every marketing message we hear, and the behavior we see in others tells us that we need more things to feel happy.
But the reality is that joy is found in the actions that produce those things .
Said another way, happiness isn’t a stock, but a flow.
This is why goals can both serve a useful purpose but also ultimately be an illusion for happiness. What makes you happy isn’t accomplishing the goal, but the movement towards it.
Happiness is motion, action, movement. It’s making progress and keeping promises to ourselves.
I’ve lost 20 pounds in the last 4 months. Before I did it this goal felt literally impossible.
But instead of thinking about success in terms of how much weight I lost, I focused my attention on a daily basis on whether I had exercised and eaten OK for that day.
If I didn’t feel like exercising for a full 45-60 minutes, I did 10. I did something that kept my motion, and kept my promise to myself. And instead of berating myself for not doing a full workout – focusing on the end state – I was able to celebrate that I kept a promise to myself.
“Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy.”
Instead of focusing on what you don’t have and the huge distance between where you are today and what you want to have, you can focus on the promises you can make and keep to yourself today.
Doing a little bit today feels so much better than thinking about how far we are from the thing we want. What separates people who do great things vs the normals isn’t some intrinsic property, but that the greats make a little progress every day.
They work on their thing for 2 hours instead of zero. You can make a lot of progress by consistently logging a ton of 2 hour days.
No matter who you are, or where you start, everyone can make forward motion today. All people can accomplish a daily task – no matter how small – that moves them in the right direction.
And this gives the extra benefit of making your current state irrelevant. Which is fantastic because 1) now you don’t worry about how “far behind” you might feel, and 2) whatever anyone else’s state might be is irrelevant.
By focusing on flows instead of your desired end state, it forces you to think about what’s specific to you instead of comparing your pile of stuff to someone else’s pile.
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