How to Begin Happiness Work

Jul 27, 2020

One Flawed Mortal: Episode 02

I really struggled with writing this script because happiness work is fucking haaaaard.

Like…really, really hard.

And I want to give you a formula or a potion so you don’t have to go through the misery that I went through…

But I can’t.

I want to.

But I can’t.

But I really, really want to save you the pain and heartache…but…I can’t.

And because of these two conflicting facts, it took me literally all week to write this script.

•••

What is Happiness Work?

Happiness Work is the art and practice of working through your shit so you can take ownership of who you are.

Happiness Work has been called many things. Confidence work. Self-love exercises. What we call it is irrelevant; you can call it anything you want.

But — whatever you call it — the net result should be true happiness with who you are as a human being and who you are as a spiritual being.

I — for the sake of ease — simply call it Happiness Work, because that’s what we’re doing: we’re working on becoming happy.

Before we go any further, I want to clarify:

Depression and unhappiness look similar.

True unhappiness is a feeling of discontentment with who you are and your place in the world. But depression is an ongoing, continual sadness about everything in your life (even small, mundane things). Sometimes the exact cause is completely unknown. You can be unhappy, but not depressed.

If you are depressed, you need to figure out if you are depressed because you don’t like yourself, or if your depression has another cause, like a brain chemical imbalance. To get clarity on your specific circumstance, you should seek help from a mental health professional who can help you understand your unique situation.

•••

I began Happiness Work — wholeheartedly committed to doing Happiness Work — in March of 2018. I had been unhappy for literally years up until that point, but kept doing the wrong things to try to fix it.

And the reason I was doing the wrong things is because nobody ever told me what happiness is or how to create it.

Up until that point, all I knew is that I was miserable. I had no idea why.

And because I didn’t know why, everything was a possible reason.

Especially my poor husband.

If he didn’t drink as much, or if he quit smoking, or if he didn’t watch all the soccer, or if he didn’t like anime…

And so on, and so on, and so on.

I told myself I was unhappy because he wasn’t doing enough to make me happy or because I didn’t like his behaviours.

But — in reality — my unhappiness had absolutely zero to do with my husband and absolutely everything to do with me.

One day while I was sitting on a beach in Florida in March of 2018, I had an epiphany.

I realised that if I didn’t get my shit together, I was going to end up old, alone, and even more miserable.

I resolved right then and there that I was going to become a woman I was proud to be, and that if I liked myself, maybe I would be happy, and if I was happy, maybe I could save my marriage.

And — thank the Gods — I was right.

My marriage very nearly ended, but because I was willing to do the messy, mucky work needed to find peace within myself, we are still together and better than ever.

•••

Before we dive into the process, I want to make you aware of a few things.

There are generally two schools of thought about personal development:

People never change; they only become more of who they already are at their core.

People do change, but only if their circumstances are dire enough.

Regardless of which you tend to believe, the fact remains: you’re a work in progress.

You’re either working to uncover who you are under all the muck that society threw on you, or you are working to become someone different.

Because you’re a work in progress, so is Happiness Work. You will never be done with it. Once you start down this path, you are committing to a life of growth and expansion.

This is the first thing I need you to understand: it’s never over.

Once you ring that bell, it cannot be unrung. Once you begin to awaken to the possibility of being your authentic self — and being happy with your authentic self — there’s no going back.

It’s intoxicating. It’s addictive.

The second thing I need you to understand: your social circles will change.

You will probably be the only one among your current friend circle who is going through this process, and after a while, you’ll get tired of being the only one going through this process.

You can’t force someone to awaken their true self. They will only do it when they are ready. You can’t force your friends to go through this with you; you have to do it on your own schedule, as do they.

And once you get to the point where you’re tired of going through your spiritual awakening on your own, you’ll start to seek out people who are also waking up.

The third thing I want you to understand is this: how you interact with the world will change.

This won’t happen right away, but over time, you’ll begin to interact with the world differently. You’ll be calm while the rest of the world is losing their shit. You’ll opt-out of mundane conversations, and you’ll disengage from drama.

The act of awakening who you are meant to be eclipses banality. You’ll realise how trivial most things really are, and you’ll eventually run out of fucks to give about trivialities.

•••

Navigating the Eight Worldly Dharmas

sage smudge stick in bowl on marble shelf near buddha head

Throughout your quest to become happy you will in all likelihood find yourself at odds with one or all of the Eight Worldly Dharmas.

The Eight Worldly Dharmas describe that which is most likely to block your quest for true happiness. As your spirit awakens and as you begin to uncover your true self, you will encounter obstacles in the form of the Eight Worldly Dharmas.

And — just to keep things interesting — these obstacles are going to be manufactured entirely within your own brain.

The Eight Worldly Dharmas are four pairs of hopes and fears.

  • Hope for happiness and fear of suffering.
  • Hope for recognition and fear of insignificance.
  • Hope for praise and fear of criticism.
  • Hope for gain and fear of loss.

By focusing on the positives (the hopes) or on the negatives (the fears), you cloud your ability to do the inner work that is necessary to live a life free of these dharmas.

When you have cultivated true happiness, you will spend less time preoccupied with the Eight Worldly Dharmas, but until that time comes, your brain is going to throw these dharmas up in front of you when you least expect them.

Here’s an example:

One day your energy will just be off for no discernible reason. You’ll just feel a bit more “bleh” about yourself or your life than usual. And so you might post a selfie on Instagram hoping you’ll be complimented about how lovely or youthful or happy you look.

While selfies certainly have their place in the world, posting a selfie because you’re feeling a bit “bleh” is an ego-driven action.

Your preoccupation with being praised, being made to feel better by other humans, is merely a diversion. You’re distracting yourself from sitting in your emotions and figuring out why you’re feeling bleh in the first place.

But your brain throws this dharma — the hope for praise — to the front of your consciousness because frankly it’s a hell of a lot easier and safer than doing the work. And for those of us who developed an unhealthy attachment to social media over the last decade, posting a selfie for an ego boost is a default action.

What will really throw you for a loop is navigating the hope for happiness. Of course you hope for happiness. Hey, that’s why you’re here right now.

Yet, at some point during your journey, your brain will decide to throw the hope for happiness dharma right to the front of your consciousness, and it’s going to mess with you.

You’ll be a few weeks, maybe a few months, into the process, and you’ll feel so hopeful by the progress you’ve made, and you’ll feel certain that happiness is just around the bend that you’ll cling to the idea at the exclusion of all other things.

And then — just to fuck with you even more — your brain will suddenly go, “hold up…what if I do become happy…but then it goes away?”

Just like that you’ll find yourself obsessed with the idea of losing happiness. Especially the thought that if you lose happiness once you have it, it will hurt even more than if you never found happiness in the first place. You’re faced now with the fear of suffering and the fear of loss. And these fears are powerful, especially when combined. Because they are so powerful, you might sabotage yourself as a defense mechanism.

There will be times when it feels safer to stop yourself, to stop pursuing happiness.

But that’s just your brain fucking with you. That’s your brain creating these dharmas at the front of your consciousness. If you can navigate through these dharmas, if you can release your attachment, if you can release your focus on the positive and the negative dharmas, you will persevere.

•••

How to begin Happiness Work

I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Happiness Work is never ending. It’s not easy and there is no guaranteed success. While the experience will be different for everyone, there are a few key steps that you can take that will make it easier for you.

1. Get clear on your values.

There’s an old saying: if you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything.

While it’s trite and cliche, it does hold water. If you aren’t crystal clear on what your values are, how can you possibly expect to act or live in alignment?

This was my biggest problem. I didn’t know what I valued, and so I would chase anything and everything that I thought would make me happy, including material wealth, and shallow, vapid relationships.

Once I got clear on my values I quick stopped any behaviour that made it difficult for me to live in alignment with those values.

I was ruthless, and looking back on it, I wish I was a bit more gentle with myself and others, but I felt like I was fighting for my life. I was certainly fighting for my marriage. Once my values were clear, I eradicated anything that felt like it didn’t line up with those values, including friendships and personal relationships with people who felt toxic.

Now that I’m on the other side of the muck, I no longer feel the need to isolate myself from “those people” any longer. I now understand that we are all trying to do the best we can. I am now empathetic towards those who haven’t begun the process to awaken their true self.

Your values are yours, and as such, they may be different from mine. And I certainly cannot tell you what your values should be. But for the sake of inspiration, here is what I value:

My values include:

  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Peace
  • Non-violence
  • Integrity
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom

2. Get clear on what you cherish and enjoy.

While your values are purely abstract, what you cherish and enjoy should be about activities, interests, or moments.

Things like savouring a really good cup of coffee, long hikes, sunny days, or cuddling up with a good book.

When you know what you cherish, you will start to build more of those moments into your life. But beyond that, it will help you paint a picture of the type of person you are. We all cherish different things, and nobody — I mean nobody — will cherish the same exact combination of things that you do.

By working through this exercise, you will begin to see how you are a unique human being, and when you see it, it’s easier for you to value it.

To get started here, grab a piece of paper and write out at least 50 things you cherish and enjoy. Try to reach 100, but do no less than 50. Remember how last week I asked you to start manufacturing joy? Those joyful moments you created throughout the week should go on the list.

I bet you will discover some interesting things about what you like, and through looking at the list, it will be easier for you to understand what a unique person you are.

When I first did this exercise what really stood out for me is that I love yoga, Downton Abbey, and gangsta rap. It’s a weird assortment of loves, the combination of which is 100% me.

3. Let go of negativity.

There is a lot — and I mean a lot — of negativity in this world, and it’s so easy to become overwhelmed by all the bad shit going on. Because we are only mortal and we’ve got these pesky brains to contend with, it’s almost second nature to focus on the negativity.

It’s easy to absorb negative energy from other people. It’s easy to zero in on negative news, and it’s easy to focus on all the things about yourself you perceive to be negative.

But, I bet if you look at the negative things you focus on, you’ll encounter at least one of the eight worldly dharmas. Probably, specifically, these three: fear of suffering, fear of loss, fear of insignificance.

Negativity is manufactured within our own minds as a result of what we observe and what we feel in response. When you remember this, it’s a lot easier to let go of negativity.

I am certainly not perfect when it comes to handling negativity. There are events that will piss me off, or frustrate me, but I recover from those much faster than I used to.

4. Set guidelines, not rules.

Rules suck. Rules make us feel obligated, and obedient, and — quite frankly — like sheeple. And nobody wants to be a sheeple. (I’m pretty sure sheeple don’t even want to be sheeple)

Even when they’re rules you set for yourself, it’s easy to think, “I fucking hate rules…” and ignore them, or declare your independence by doing the opposite.

Guidelines, on the other hand, are much easier to follow. When it’s not a hard and fast rule, you’re more likely to stick to it.

By creating guidelines you give yourself wiggle room to, well, be mortal. And to fuck it up.

Some guidelines that have helped me along this journey:

  • Reduce screentime
  • Move daily
  • Limit social media
  • Limit news exposure
  • Drink more water
  • Read more
  • Eliminate toxic people
  • Reduce caffeine

These are lifestyle choices, but in our crazy modern world, it’s all too easy to make poor lifestyle choices by rote, and when that happens, it’s really hard to know who you are.

The big one for me was social media and news. I am a firm believer it’s very hard to awaken your true self — and accept your true self — if your perspective of yourself and the world at large are continually being manipulated by what you encounter on social media and in the news.

Yet I was utterly addicted to social media. By the time I quit Facebook, I had been active on that platform for nearly 13 years.

I judged myself and my value in the world based on how people on social media were treating me. I fell victim to the eight worldly dharmas, especially the hope for praise, the hope for gain, and the hope for recognition. And because I was so focused on those, I used social media accordingly.

Your guidelines will be different based on what you currently do throughout your day, but there are a few criteria to follow when setting them:

Your guidelines should be simple to understand, and easy to follow. Sure, it may require discipline, but that should be the extent of the difficulty. If it’s too hard to implement — when you’re getting started especially — you won’t do it.

Your guidelines should make it easier for you to be happier. Primarily, you should focus on guidelines that reduce your exposure to negativity. Whether that’s negative people, negative energy, negative thought patterns, or negative feelings within your own body.

5. Choose to be happy.

This certainly takes practice, and continual refinement, but you can choose to be happy. I know what you’re probably thinking: if it were that easy, you’d already be happy, right?

Well, no.

Choosing to be happy is simple as a concept but it is not easy in practice. And this goes back to our eight worldly dharmas. It is easier for our brain to choose to focus on them than on being happy.

It is easy to focus on feeling insignificant (or worthless). It’s easy to focus on losing what we have, or enduring pain. It’s easy to worry about being criticised. And it’s easy to obsess about acquiring happiness, recognition, praise, and gain.

It’s much harder to choose to release that focus, and be present in who and where we are.

We must choose to listen to our inner truth. We must choose to love ourselves. And we must choose to act in alignment with our values, for when we choose to be our true, authentic self…when we choose to accept who we are, it becomes much easier to actually live as who we are.

It is impossible to be truly happy if we are not living as our true selves.

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