When you are searching you are looking for something – like buried treasure, a person lost in the woods or car keys. A search is temporary in nature. The mission is successful or it is not. Underway or terminated.
There is an vast amount of writing on the search for happiness. When searching for happiness what does the destination look like? Where do you arrive, and how do you know you are there?
In a given moment it can be easy to find it. Chase whatever pleasure is near you. The problem is, those moments can be short and unrewarding – and humans want more than fleeting happiness. If pleasure seeking behavior, which is short-term thinking, is a fallacy in the quest for long-term happiness than true happiness is being content with the direction your life is heading. As a span of time long-term means from this present moment far into the future. People are commonly trying to find happiness in the present, but it’s longer duration happiness they really want.
A wise investor should have no regard for the daily fluctuations of a stock she is invested in. This investor likely has a long-term investment horizon; hence the ‘wise’ investor. She won’t let the ups and downs of the market change her thoughts on the holding as long as the underlying fundamental analysis, which resulted in a ‘buy’ decision at one time, remains the same.
Take any large cap tech stock over the last five years. When viewed from that perspective the chart looks great. Consistent growth and strong returns – they’ve had a good run. However, when viewed on a daily or monthly basis you see an agitated cycle of ups and downs. Humans are all too frequently thrown into states of disarray over the ups and downs of daily life, with little concern over the direction their life is headed. Through which of those two lenses would you want to view happiness and your existence? It is this type of thinking (and admittedly a newfound disdain for complaining) that has resulted in my not having as many bad days in prison. I don’t want to be here, but I’m finding ways to make it more palatable.
If happiness isn’t something you can have in every moment, we fail when we constantly search for it. At times in life you can make a simple move that results in substantial changes. Take, for example, kayaking down a river. A slight rudder stroke with your paddle and the boat angle changes. Hold the blade in the water a few more seconds and with new direction and speed you navigate several feet to the left, avoiding a boulder in the middle of the river. It’s in those mild adjustments that you change the outcome of your entire run.
We search for a vanishing feeling when instead we could make an adjustment that would have a profound effect. The search for happiness should be the shift into happiness. You don’t look for happiness, you veer in to it. Searching in this regarding isn’t about looking. It’s about adjusting your perception, the way you see what it is you were looking for while also keeping an eye on the long-term direction life is heading.
I remember wanting to go sledding as a kid. The thrill of sliding down a hill and the glistening sparkle of the snow, soft but crackling under my feet. As I grew older this turned into a desire to go skiing. Which lead to wanting to live in a ski town. Once you can go skiing two or three days a week you might crave better terrain, clearer weather and of course, softer snow. Before you know it you’re in Sun Valley loading up on a helicopter for a three day backcountry ski trip.
When my time here is over skiing could go back to gliding around a mountain on two little sticks with your friends. Being happy to be out there – whatever the location or conditions. It is foggy? Whining won’t help. Icy? That makes the powder days better. Too windy? Okay, wind is super annoying. But be grateful that you’re out skiing and not walking around an icy track at a prison. Even that isn’t so bad though because at least I’m getting fresh air and listening to the sound of the snow under my feet.
Here in the far Southeast corner of South Dakota there is nothing more I want to acquire. It’s a freeing feeling. You have to hold on to every freeing feeling you have when incarcerated. The prison has a one page commissary sheet and on it, outside of replenishing food stocks, there is nothing else I truly need. Recently, however, I was eyeing a pair of a shoes. It would take three weeks from the time I order them to the time they arrive. A timeline to me that now seems perfectly reasonable. I knew I would find a small amount of joy in the anticipation of something new, all to well being aware of how foolish this thinking was. I contemplated how comfortable my feet would be, how the shoes might change the feel of my daily work duties, and subsequently my mood.
I caved. The new shoes fit me well. They’re kind of stretchy, like a slipper meets a shoe. For a commissary shoe option I could even say even have a bit of style. But they aren’t that comfortable. They don’t have ‘it’. Whatever ‘it’ is that makes your favorite pair of shoes your favorite pair of shoes. I may actually like my heavy composite toe work boots better. Although they hurt my ankles, have minimal flex and zero style. Maybe it’s the relaxed stride that comes from a boot that weighs so much, but they work for me…that somehow have ‘it’.
I should have known better but I also did – the whole time.
I caught myself mildly let down at the disappointment of my new shoes. It lasted only an hour or two, because I was glad for the subtle reminder of a life lesson everyone needs to hear again and again. It’s not in what you want, it’s in what you have. It’s not about thinking a new pair of shoes is going to make you happy, it’s adjusting your mindset if you want to be happy. What you seek can let you down because the only way plans or hopes for the future can actually flounder is when you realize them. Up until then, they’re hope filled dreams. Once attained, you may discover they weren’t what you were looking for. They didn’t deliver the promises you placed upon them. Everything you wanted you already had in that moment, you just had to shift into it.