To be happy, shift to the ‘untakeables’
Dr. Immanual Joseph , PhD. CPC. Chief Compassion Officer Compassion Leaders
Happiness is not about having more or having less. It is about embracing and appreciating what we have.
In life there are the ‘takeables’ and the ‘untakeables’. Takeables are those things/experiences that can be taken away from us- our jobs, money, relationships etc. These are usually external elements that can be acquired or lost. Untakeables are core values, like attitude, our choice to be happy or sad, mental freedom, pursuit of wisdom and knowledge etc,. Barring extreme life situations (e.g Alzhemiers or loss of mental faculties), untakeables cannot be taken away from us.
The state of mind we call happiness is not a fixed truth. Happiness is deeply personal since we manufacture it. So the same takeables that make you happy can make me sad and vice versa. That is because we process the takeables through the inner filters of the untakeables, and those filters vary between individuals.
While happiness is personal, there are common threads to our happiness and unhappiness. One common thread is the ‘If-Then’ clause we create for happiness. For example, we might create a clause saying that, IF I get a nice big house, THEN I will be happy. What this statement is also saying is, IF I do not get a big house, THEN I will not be happy. There are scores, perhaps hundreds of these self-defeating if-then statements that we have created- some because of of our social influence, and some by choice. The problem is we create most of these if-then statements on our takeables. In other words, we are placing our happiness bets on things/situations/experiences that can be taken away from us. When we allow this to happen, we are no longer in charge of our happiness.
To take charge of our personal happiness, we need to revisit and reinvent our if-then statements, and move our happiness clauses away from our takeables to our untakeables.
The very first shift in moving our happiness away from takeables to untakeables is acceptance. Acceptance is simply realizing that we do not need more or less of anything, but there is enough abundance to satisfy our craving for happiness as is. This sense of deep contentment was a natural part of us as children. We had the capacity to ‘telescope’ on whatever was available, and as they say ‘see the universe in a marble’. The happiness was there until we learnt to compare, and started setting up the clauses for our happiness.
Comparison is a major block to acceptance. We see snapshots of peoples lives in social media and we assume their happiness, which may or may not be true. Irrespective, we want what they have- what we perceive is making them happy- a new car, a trendy gadget, a vacation. But happiness is none of those things- if at all the person in a photograph is happy. Happiness is the mindset and the journey. We could acquire the same things and still not experience happiness. But that happiness mindset we cannot buy. It is untakeable. We have to cultivate it. An important shift to happiness is to realize that happiness cannot be compared, and cannot be pursued through acquiring material things. Instead telescope into what we already have. Savor life. Appreciate reality. Feel gratitude. There are billions of people out there who may not have what we currently have, and are hoping to have the same things that we have, not knowing that what we have is not making us happy. If we learn to cherish what we are given, feel great gratitude and pride for our gifts, then there is no happiness void to fill, and we will not be seeking out the things that we believe is making someone else happy.
Another dimension of acceptance is to embrace uncertainty. If we realize that that we cannot always be in control and our life is built on a flimsy foundation of takeables, we can start taking our emotional energy and effort to the untakeables. What if my health fails tomorrow? What if my car breaks down and I cannot afford a new car? What if I lose my job? Some things we can be proactive about. The onus is on us to create as much a stable reality for ourselves as possible. Afterall it is impossible to negate the influence of our takeables on our happiness completely, unless we have specifically chosen that spiritual journey of non-attachment. The trick for happiness is, to paraphrase the serenity prayer, ‘to change the things we can, to accept the things we cannot change, and never place our happiness bets on the outcomes’
Should acceptance trump pursuit of success. Should success be antithetical to happiness.
Not at all!
I like to believe that when your untakeables are in the right place, the takeables will happen. When our focus is on happiness, when we give our best to everything we have without comparison or attachment, the kind of success that will make us happy will naturally follow through. I believe, this is an inherent universal truth.
Back in the savannah, our ancestors had much less sensory experiences than what we are experiencing today. The sensory overload causes chaos, and a lot of internal chatter, which detracts us from happiness. We can partially regulate the amount of sensory experiences, but in general even then, we will be exposed to a far greater sensory overload than we are primed to. Being mindful of what we allow or disallow into our inner space, is a key to happiness. The walls of the inner world are not invulnerable and fall to the constant onslaught of external battering. Simply knowing what contributes to our unhappiness, creating a space away from the sensory overload, and disallowing harbingers of unhappiness into our private space helps.
Awareness, alignment to a larger life purpose, forgiveness, emotional navigation of relationships, compassion all factor into the untakeables. We have the capacity to cultivate and shift our dependence away from the takeables to the untakeables. This is the freedom that Viktor Frankl points out – “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This choice can become the foundation of happiness.