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Training to be Unhappy


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if Then

This mental model basically prevents us from being happy. Here's what you can do instead.


There’s an old story which goes something like this….

A primary school teacher once asked her students what they wanted to become once they grow up and then came the usual replies that we hear. One kid wanted to become Astronaut, one wanted to become a Soccer player, someone wanted to become a Doctor, and someone wanted to become a pilot. However, there was one guy who told that he wanted to become ‘happy’ once he grows up. To this, the teacher told that it’s Okay that he wanted to become ‘happy’ but what he really wants to become once he grows up. The kid replied, “I want to be happy’. The teacher then putting off this conversation said, “Probably you are not getting what I am asking”. The kid’s reply was, “Probably you are not getting what I am answering”.

It is human nature to be happy and that is what we strive for — be it our personal life or our professional career. Yet our happiness remains elusive. No matter what we do or what we achieve we remain unhappy looking for the next big thing which will make us happy.

Why is it so? Why are we so unhappy with ourselves and so unhappy with our life? It is because we have been trained to be unhappy right from our childhood. Yes, you read it correctly. We have spent our entire life learning to be unhappy. In fact, we have indoctrinated this system of belief so much into our lives that if anyone does something or say something which goes against this system of belief we say, s/he is a kid and doesn’t understand how the world works.

So, what is this belief?

The belief is that we got to get something or do something so that we can become happy. “I need to have loads of money so that I can go to some exotic vacations and be happy”, “I need to have a beautiful/handsome partner so that I can have a great married life and be happy”, “I need to have that job or that particular designation so that I can wield more power and be happy”, or “I need to have that latest SUV or a big house so that I can boast of my prosperity and be happy”.

All of these are variations of what the psychologists call the “if-then” model. And the “if-then” model basically states that “if this happens then I will be happy”. If you presently think about yourself, you would notice that you are chasing a particular “If” and only when this “If” satisfies that you think you would become happy.

“If only I had a better boss”, “If only I had a better job”, “If only I had a bigger house”, “If only I get a 15% hike”, “If only my son/daughter ace that exam”, “If only my husband listened to me”, “If only my wife didn’t bother me much”,“If only my kids went to an IIT/IIM and my neighbours’ or relatives’ kids didn’t make it”. WRONG!

The “If-then” model is fundamentally flawed. People don’t recognise this and that is why they keep suffering. Why is it flawed? First, because it makes you perennially unhappy — in case your “if” doesn’t get satisfied — which is against human nature. Second even if your particular “If” gets satisfied, have you wondered how long does that happiness last. Does your happiness last for eternity? No. Then does it last for a decade; a year; a month; or a week? No. You need to understand that the happiness which is dependent on some external events doesn’t last more than few days.

Once you make your “If” happen, you get happy for a while and then your subconscious which has been trained to be unhappy for decades steps in and says to you, “Ok Boss! You did it. Great! Now if you want to become happy you need to achieve something. Otherwise, you are doomed to remain unhappy”. So, what do you do? You set yourself for another torturous path of unhappiness in the pursuit of achieving something so that you can become happy again.

When I was a kid busy playing all sorts of games, I was oblivious to the fact that there exists something called unhappiness. I was happy, and I was jolly until I moved to my Class 10. It was at that moment I was told that I had no right to be happy until I did well in my Class 10 Board Exam. I did well and then I thought I am a happy man now. Wrong! I was bombarded with information on all sorts of competitive exams and told that once I get into an IIT, my life would be all set, and I would be happy. I made there as well thinking that I would be happy. But NO. The peers, relatives, society, and media told me that if I get into IIM, I would be all smiling and happy. I followed their advice and did go to an IIM. However, the happiness still eluded me because by now I had been trained to remain unhappy and my “If-Then” model had started working. Then I saw all the happy faces of NRIs settled in the USA and thought maybe if I go to America I would become happy. I would have a nice car, an independent house, clean air and better infrastructure at my disposal and I would be happy. Now that I have come to the USA and resumed my studies from one of the better universities in the world; the happiness has been elusive.

It was at this point in time that I realize that I can’t wait for Elon Musk to make commercially viable cars/rockets so that I can go to Mars and find happiness there. Probably I am missing something, and that happiness isn’t anywhere else but inside me and I just need to feel it to experience it.

Having experienced these events and upon introspection, I felt a compulsive need to find the reasons for my unhappiness and how can I be happy. And then I stumbled upon this “If-Then” model and got to know why I have remained unhappy for so long. However, “how I can become happy” was still unknown and my quest continued for some more time. Now that I have found some kind-of solution, let me share it with you.

One of the ways to become happy is to accept the thing as it is and not fight against it. Didn’t get what it means to be accepting the things as it is. Well, let me help you with some simple examples.

Remember the last time you had been to the valley, a sea-beach, or mountains where you witnessed a scene of spectacular beauty, something that took you outside of yourself to a place of great calm and serenity. You had felt peace and happiness. Have you ever wondered why that happened? That happened because somehow, inexplicably, at that instant you accepted the universe exactly as it was. You didn’t go around saying “That’s a beautiful rainbow, but it’s not fully symmetric or that it’s not visible in entirety. If only, it was fully visible, it would have been much better”. You didn’t say, “That’s a beautiful valley, but the tree in the foreground isn’t fitting the picture. Let me cut it and I will make it more beautiful”. You accepted them as they were. And the moment you accepted the universe exactly as it was, you didn’t have to do anything to experience the happiness that’s your innate nature.

When you consider your life with all its problems and challenges as perfect, you stop fighting and happiness descends upon you. But when you fight to change the present moment with all your power you buy into the “If-Then” model and since the model is inherently flawed, you keep yourself unhappy now and throughout.

Deepak Chopra has put it beautifully. He says, “when you accept people, situations, and events as they are — not as you wish there were — at this moment, you stop fighting. This moment is as it should be because it took the entire universe to make this moment. When you struggle against this moment, you struggle against the entire universe. You can intend for things to be different in the future, but at this moment, accept things as they are”.

We waste our energy chasing the illusion of happiness, instead of enjoying happiness at the moment. Remember, happiness isn’t waiting for you tomorrow. It is available to you right now — right at this moment — to be grabbed and cherished.

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