Patience on the Path to Happiness
Work Hard and Treat Yourself with Kindness
They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Cliché or not, these words are wise. They are also easy to forget. Yet they apply to your happiness journey just as much as they do to your career, your relationship, and the awakening of humanity to more peaceful, prosperous, and loving times.
The truth is paradoxical. To be happy we must learn to embrace unhappiness—explore it, accept it, see what it feels like. To be happy we must learn to embrace the seeming contradiction of working hard and pushing our limits to accomplish a goal, yet also treating ourselves with kindness and patience, letting things naturally unfold at the pace they need to. We need meaning without attachment. As Lao Tzu told us 2500 years ago, “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”
Speed: The Unique Challenges of the Modern Age
Things have changed since then. Patience is still a virtue, yet the value of making things faster is almost never questioned. Modern humans get the pressure for things to happen immediately from sides of culture and technology.
- We’re bombarded by not just advertisements of revolutionary new technologies and products, but by actual revolution—democratizing the entirety of our species’ body of knowledge and making it freely available to anyone, anywhere, such as the smart phones that didn’t exist nearly a decade ago that are ingrained in the lives of even the remotest villages.
- We’re bombarded by actual revolutions—in countries that seemed like their autocracies would never fall, in minute-by-minute mobile updates.
- We’re bombarded with stories of YouTube fame and the exponential growth of wealth and influence through the Internet.
- Even our books, movies, and fables are adjusting to this faster pace. People fall in love and save the world overnight. Entire TV series take place in 24 hours.
Speed Is Good, But It Is Limited
Many if not most of these trends are not at all bad—I would go so far as to say that most of them are very, very exciting moves in a positive direction. Yet like everything else they need to be seen in context, and with a grain of salt, because otherwise we are comparing ourselves unfairly and causing completely unnecessary stress. This stress in turn keeps us from accomplishing the very goals we’re stressed about achieving.
What do I mean? It’s easy to watch The Social Network and forget that Facebook took five years to generate positive cash flow and almost nine years to become public. How long had Mark Zuckerberg been learning and practicing programming before he created the site? Probably the entirety of his then two decades on Earth. It’s easy to look at Egypt’s foray into democracy with disappointment, forgetting that the American Revolutionary War lasted eight years, and that wasn’t even close to the end of our struggles. It’s easy to forget that Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison before becoming a revered political leader, and was the leader of a military group before transforming into the peace advocate he is today.
Let the Process Model the Goal
Keep doing all you can to evolve yourself and your emotions. Keep pursuing the good life, keep reading DailyHap, keep meditating and working out and journaling. Keep holding space for friends to cry and giving advice when asked for it, keep recycling and rallying and protesting and donating to good causes. Keep educating and caring and creating and innovating and doing everything you can to make life better for yourself and the entire world, just do it with patience. And do it with faith.
Let the journey to a peaceful beach be a peaceful one. Let the process of becoming happy be a happy one.