The Seeker of Peace

The Source of Unhappiness

People spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to find happiness. But where does happiness come from? Why do so few people have it? It took me almost forty years to figure it out.

It’s actually a lot easier to talk about where unhappiness comes from, since people are so much more familiar with that. Let’s define happiness as the absence of unhappiness.

Our egos have a set of beliefs that we use to judge everything around us. Some of these beliefs are easily recognizable. “I’d be happier with more money.” “I should lose weight.” “I need to be on the constant lookout for people trying to rip me off.” Some are much more subtle.

In this context, a “belief” is anything that you can’t actually know or prove by experience. So, the idea that touching a hot pan will burn you isn’t a belief, as you could easily prove it. However, most of what drives our lives we take on blind faith.

Unhappiness then arises whenever our beliefs cause us to judge the world negatively. Since we can’t control the world, this happens constantly. For example, suppose I hold the belief that I need my wife to make me happy. If my wife leaves me, I judge that as bad in light of my belief, and I’m unhappy.

Suppose my wife doesn’t leave? Well, I need to worry that she might in the future. Therefore, the possibility of my wife leaving is reason to judge the world negatively, and I’m unhappy. As long as I believe that I need her, it doesn’t matter whether she’s here or not: I’m unhappy either way.

All beliefs are similarly insidious. “I’d be happier with more money.” Suppose you suddenly get an unexpected gift, and you have more money. Are you happy? You may have a momentary rush, but you still believe that you’d be happier with even more money. That’s why so many people pursue money to the exclusion of all else: their belief that they’ll be happier with more money, no matter how much they have.

Self-help programs fall into two categories. Some work on aligning beliefs with the world. Others work on eliminating the beliefs and judgments themselves. “Motivational” materials fall into the first category. The idea is that if you get clear on what you want (i.e. believe will make you happy), and work hard to get it, then you’ll be happier. Some, like Tony Robbins, work on changing your beliefs too, so you have a better chance of judging your life positively.

The problem with this type of self-help is that you’re still judging everything that happens. You may greatly improve how many things you judge positively. However, you still don’t really have control over the world. Your beliefs still cause you to judge everything. You always know that bad things can and do happen. You may have enough good stuff going on to take the edge off, but there’s going to be an underlying unhappiness. Ironically, success gurus argue that this unhappiness provides the underlying motivation to keep achieving. In other words, they think it’s good that their programs don’t provide lasting happiness, because otherwise you might stop working hard!

But what if you can actually eliminate the beliefs that cause you to judge? That’s the objective of the second group of self-help programs. Whether or not they phrase it in these terms, this is the ultimate goal. If you can eliminate your beliefs, you’ll no longer be judging everything as good or bad. Then you can live in the now, enjoying whatever happens, not worrying.

I’ll illustrate the parallels in some popular programs:

Byron Katie’s The Work
The connection is very straightforward. You start a judgment. The four questions directly challenge the belief that underlies the judgment. The turnaround, if successful, shows you that the opposite of the belief is just as valid, negating both.

The Sedona Method
Judgments are what drive you to have the underlying wants of approval, control, and security. As you release the wants, you slowly dissolve the power of the beliefs that drive the judgments. The goal process is a good example. Every goal has an underlying belief that your life would be better if you achieved the goal. You can’t become “hootless” (emotionally free) about your goal as long as that belief remains intact. The goal process works on your judgments about the goal, ultimately dissolving the belief that made you want the goal.

A Course In Miracles
The Course says that we have substituted our judgment for God’s, and our grievances keep us from salvation. Our beliefs provide the ego with a substitute for God’s knowledge. To accept salvation, we must lay down the burden of judgment. To do that, we must abandon the ego’s cherished beliefs that it uses for that judgment.

Non-dualistic religions
All non-dualistic traditions contain this concept. For, if the world is illusion, what point is there in judging it? The Advaita branch of Hinduism, as popularized in the self-inquiry of Ramana Maharashi, teaches that the mind’s content creates a false identity. Buddhism’s dukkha (suffering) stems from the fact that everything worldly is anicca (impermanent), requiring us to seek nekkhamma (freedom from desires). Sikhism, Taoism, and many other traditions have similar ideas. In each case, the ego’s belief framework provides the foundation for the illusion of a separate identity.

Many approaches work on beliefs in an indirect manner. In my own spiritual path, I’ve found it increasingly valuable to work on them directly. Whatever approach one takes, it’s helpful to understand their role as the very foundation of the ego and the barrier to enduring happiness.


2 Comments so far
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I am interested in the details that make you approach your goals directly. What are the questions that you use? Are they evaluating whether they are “good” to hold? Do you question the underlying beliefs, or do you by-pass the belief entirely?
Simonton (Simonton Cancer Center) believes that one should plan goals for two years. But within these two, there should be three months small goals slots – these should not be unattainable lest, you just abandon the whole thing. These small goals should be a little below the mark of attainment, so you can achieve them easily and go on to the next phase.

I am bothered by emotional needs, intelligenc and growth. I find Goleman who has written about it quite complex to determine emotional intelligence and actually grow.
How do you take account of emotional intelligence in your goals? Best regards, Misha

Comment by Michael Domnin

Michael –

I talked more about addressing goals in my Nov. 7 post “The Beliefs Behind Goals.” In brief, I question the belief that the goal will make my life better.

I don’t take account of emotional intelligence in my goals at all. First, I’m trying to get rid of my goals, not set new ones! Second, if I stop judging everything, that will let me be happy with what is and make decisions without prejudice. That would give me EI’s “Self-awareness” and “Self-management” in spades!

– Jim

Comment by The Seeker of Peace

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