Never thought I would someday find my name in the pages of a men’s magazine. Here’s the text of my latest interview, this time about a topic for people who are in the dating scene:
by Nathan Chua
If you can sense some irony in the title of this piece, that’s because there is. With all the billboards, print or online ads, self-help books and motivational speakers constantly claiming to know the secret to a “happy” life, it is not surprising to see so many who tirelessly pursue, what they know they should not be tirelessly pursuing. It should happen effortlessly and instantaneously! That’s the message we see all over. Want to lose fat? No problem, we can hand it to you just for showing up and getting an hour’s treatment. Alas, we are all subject to the same subliminal messages and are all somehow victims of such a sincere but insidious message. Knock yourself out and be happy, and woe to those who don’t quite cut it.
I saw this unfold in real life when I listened to the story of someone who got a job that anyone would kill for. This client had a job that offered great pay, low stress and lots of free time to spend with his family. The only problem was there was still something missing. He felt depressed and couldn’t figure out why.
As we teased out the problem, we realized there was one element that was missing in his current job. He didn’t do the single thing that made him feel like he was worth something. All the elements of a good job were there for the taking, but the one thing that he felt was the essence of what he loved about the job wasn’t there. The part that he enjoyed doing the most was no longer part of his job description.
This reminds me of a metaphor that I love to use when talking with people who suffer issues of seemingly non-purposeful lives. It’s like a wild animal locked up in a beautiful, shiny golden cage. Yes it might be nice and comfortable in there. Food and water are in abundant supply, and no predators around to hurt you. But somehow, like a wild bird, the bird will escape the cage at the earliest opportunity. Why? It’s because that’s the life that a wild bird wants to live. A life full of peril, but also a life that produces opportunities for it to hunt and fly to survive. It’s what its instincts tell it to do.
A lot of the confusion about happiness stems really from having a correct definition of terms. When we look for happiness, it is usually in the form of an expensive car or a long holiday. Happiness is often confused with meaning. Another excellent example is when we have kids. Kids are great for sure, but what most of us don’t realize, is that raising one is a chore. We don’t recognize them as such, because somehow time stops when we are raising them. Much like when we are doing our favorite hobby, we don’t see time pass us by. We get less conscious of our finite time on earth. It is also similar to having sex. At some point we feel ageless and suspended in time. That momentary feeling of immortality that comes with having no concept of time, and how quickly it can pass, somehow gives us a taste of what it feels like to be immortal. Just think of the last time you were doing a task or in a job that you absolutely abhorred. You felt dead and all you could do was look up the clock.
True living is not just about pursuing happiness, but also about pursuing meaning. It’s really not our search for happiness that makes us tick, but our search for meaning. Woe to those who pursue happiness the way popular culture describes it, and glad is the one who pursues meaning in every step.
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change. I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience – that we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.