Living the Happy Paradox
Overcome the Cultural Bias that Equates Happiness with Progress
Within a few years, your iPhone is outdated. Within a few months, the newest hit song is overplayed. And within a week, the big reveal from Game of Thrones is old news. It is easy to get caught up in the zeitgeist of today’s rapid change and forget that these things do not actually happen overnight.
Success Does Not Happen Overnight
That iPhone? The result of thousands of scientists and programmers who trained for years or decades, built upon centuries of technological advancement, with materials mined and shipped and manufactured by thousands of other people using thousands of other devices and technologies.
That song, even if the artist wrote it in a sitting? The result of thousands of hours of them learning, performing, and perfecting their craft.
That TV show? Forget the actors, directors, lighting, sound, editing, cameras, sets, and all the skill that went into that—how long did it take George R. R. Martin to become a good author, and then how long did it take him to apply his expertise to the storyline? Even the myth about Jack Kerouac writing On the Road in two weeks is an urban legend—his editor rejected the first draft (written indeed in two weeks) and the subsequent draft came back six months later.
Debunking the Myth of Instant Success
The point is that real change takes time, dedication, effort, and support from a lot of people. We’re wired to think that things can resolve quickly, probably biologically but definitely culturally—by the advertisements that promise instant gratification and by the tradition of storytelling which is most satisfying with a climax and resolution—but this is an oversimplification of reality.
Instant Gratification = Long Term Disappointment
And in the realm of happiness, if you’re expecting instant change, ten-minute abs, or love at first sight, you’re likely going to experience disappointment in the short term and miss out on deeper, lasting, unconditioned happiness that comes from effort over time.
This is particularly true in personal development. Internet marketing campaigns promise life-changing results quickly so we often expect too much and give up too quickly. Most people are not lying, they just are not telling the full story.
Change Takes Dedication
Take meditation for example—I have written extensively about how beneficial it is, and this has been verified over and over again by study after study. But the benefits come from dedication over time, and the hardest part of meditation is actually doing it, day in and day out. The hardest part is setting aside fifteen minutes for peace when the day is stressful, or you are tired, or the kids are hungry, or your partner is angry.
How to Track Your Changes
But I encourage my clients and meditation students to start journaling right away, and maintain their writing as they continue to practice. I encourage them to write about what bothers them, what their challenges are, emotionally, interpersonally, and professionally, and their goals.
This has obvious benefits in and of itself, but it also serves as a record of progress, where one can look back at the world from the eyes of their former self and see how much they’ve grown.
Look at Where You Came From, Not Just Where You Are Going
We are much like frogs in a pot of water, our development a series of slight increases in temperature that add up to boiling without our ever even noticing it.
Because it is so hard to get outside of our subjective experience, we often fail to realize how far we’ve come. All we’re doing is looking at how of the mountain we have left to climb that we forget to stop, look around, and see how far we’ve come.
Living the Happy Paradox
To sum it up, today’s advice for happiness is twofold:
(1) Recognize that our favorite stories and advertisements often exacerbate the human desire for instant gratification and this desire often leads to unhappiness. You do not have to buy in to the culture of “newer is better,” as the way these new creations are presented, be it a company selling for 1 billion dollars or a YouTube sensation, often ignores the enormous complexity of time, resources, systems, and history that created them.
(2) Embrace the paradox of perseverance and acceptance—keep turning up the heat, keep climbing the mountain, keep practicing, even as you appreciate what you’ve accomplished, celebrate your progress, and take it easy on yourself.