This article first appeared on The Good Men Project and has been republished with permission.
When I first started pursuing a career in the entertainment industry I had attached happiness as a by-product of “making it”. I had the idea in my head that once I got my life to a certain place and my career to a certain position that I would suddenly be happy and satisfied with my life. For some reason, I associated this future successful version of myself as the point where I’d finally find happiness.
While I still think that success will elevate your life to a higher level, it’s not going to suddenly transform you from an unhappy person into a happy person. They say fame, success, and money will magnify what you already are — so if you’re unhappy before fame, money, and success, then you actually become unhappier after achieving those things.
Since you had put the weight of everything you are into that thing that you thought would change your life and suddenly make you happy — and after figuring it that was not the answer after all — you feel even more empty than you did before. Because your mindset to sacrifice happiness in the present moment in order to achieve your goals and find happiness “down the road” turned out to be a giant crock of shit.
Here’s the thing: success is a pleasure but it’s not true happiness.
Success comes and goes. The lure of accomplishment on one project captures us for a few fleeting moments, and then we’re looking for the next rush of success that can fill us up for another moment.
I know there are a lot of people who fear being too content with their present moment, worried that it’s going to rob their ambition, make them lazy, and less motivated to transform and improve their lives. The fear is that potentially being too enlightened is going poison their innate, burning desire to become successful and achieve excellence.
You know that stigma that those who are very spiritual are poor and unsuccessful because their anti-capitalist attitude and belief that chasing money and power is a corruption of the soul. Therefore, finding inner peace and achieving spiritual enlightenment takes precedence over being successful. While striving for success at the expense of absolutely anything is not a mentality I can get behind. I also believe that you can find inner peace, joy, and gratitude while maintaining a hard-driving, Type-A, ambitious mindset.
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For myself, personally, I realized that this great pursuit of finding “success” was actually a rather hollow endeavour. That’s because I got tired of forging my present-day happiness for some payoff of “down the road” happiness after I’d reached my dreams and achieved my goals. I had all these ideas in my head that attached happiness to certain things that I did not already have. Not only that, but I’d put my potential happiness into the hands of volatile and dangerous things that weren’t even guaranteed, such as recognition, attention, and achievement.
Through my own infliction, I’d created a recurring story in my mindset and thinking that didn’t allow me to be happy. I robbed myself of my own happiness by giving its power away to things out of my control. Happiness is not something we find, it’s something we create and cultivate within ourselves.
Happiness is not a tangible thing that we can acquire and capture in a jar — it’s a practice that is shaped by our thoughts.
It takes practice, work, and a deep understanding of its source. Once I truly learned this, I regained my power and ability to be happy right now, with everything I am and everything I have right now.
With that being said, here is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about happiness:
Your relationship with yourself is task #1 on your happiness “to do list."
To find happiness and peace within ourselves we need to learn to talk to ourselves like we’re someone whom we respect deeply. We must take care of us and put us first, rather than engage in self-destructive behaviour that sabotages ourselves by putting us in patterns where we lose self-respect.
It’s important that we recognize our own internal narrative, which we developed early on and became our default self-talk pattern. If this pattern is something that is ultimately negative and destructive to our happiness and well being, then we must begin to learn a new pattern that will give us a default highway to happiness, rather than negativity.
For people who are anxious or depressed, the pattern of how they speak to themselves becomes inherently negative and self-destructive, “I’m not good enough,” “Things will never work out for me,” or “Nothing good ever happens." When we speak to ourselves negatively, the lens in which we view the world becomes negative. So, if you’re unhappy, first, look to your inner voice to see what patterns you’ve developed that are creating the framework for your own perception of your life.
For some people, this destructive inner voice can be rooted in trauma — being bullied in childhood and adolescence, or feelings of being an “outsider” their whole life can cause them to think they’re weird or different and not good enough. It’s this innate wiring and internal storytelling that prevents so many of us from being free of pain and allowing ourselves to feel like we’re enough.
But when we live in that pain, we’re allowing others to be the narrators of our story.
Ultimately, we take control of our story when we finally learn to forgive and love ourselves.
Real, rooted happiness, ultimately begins and ends with your relationship with yourself. If you don’t love yourself, then you have no love to give to the rest of the world.