Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Three Keys to Happiness & Successful Relationships

A little change of pace today. I was debating some points about life, love and happiness with a good friend of mine and ended up writing out some of my thoughts and feelings. Since I had done so, I thought perhaps others might find the exploration useful. I’m not normally in the business of self-help, but here’s a summation of how I feel about creating a comfortable, peaceful and rewarding existence.

There are three keys to happiness and successful relationships:
Love, independence and take nothing personally. I believe to be truly happy, one must love ones self and become self reliant. You have to interpret the meaning of that for yourself, but what I don't mean is that someone must be self absorbed or narcissistic nor do I mean you must isolate yourself to find happiness. When we grow up, we're taught how to react to the world largely by those around us and our base reactions. This web of associations in our brains comprise not reality, but our reality; our "illusion." Many young adults in their twenties have a "start of life crisis" when they start life away from parents and college find that their illusion doesn't match reality. Even some find that reality #2 isn't actually reality either, but the illusion of society, a construct we all contribute to. A lot of young men and women turn to drugs, alcohol, sex and other unabated behavioral changes to avoid reality. This is an area of psychology almost entirely overlooked. The American illusion might be that in order to be happy, you must trust your government, get hired by a corporation, get married, buy a house with a mortgage, get a loan for an SUV and start having kids all before you're twenty-five. Interesting how that correlates exactly with when young adults have a crisis. In order for us to find a healthy way out of this crisis, and hopefully the illusion, is to find what really matters in life. In a world without war and famine right outside the door, it can be difficult to figure out what really matters. When you have the freedom to complain about cellular coverage to your friend on the cell phone, while you pick up packaged food, clothes and DVD's at Walmart, how can you ever make the connection to what really matters? Usually, it takes tragedy. Someone has to have a near-death experience, lose a loved one or has to be so utterly crushed by events that they take notice. What I believe will make that inkling last though is love. It will still take years for that person to deprogram themselves, if they ever do, but eventually, it's love that will lead them to truth. Love for everything and most especially, finally love for the self. So, what kind of love is this? Well, like the Tao says, it's impossible to explain, it just is. I can't really explain it and have someone understand it. If you're to believe it, you have to arrive at it yourself. But in trying to explain, loving yourself doesn't mean you don't love anything else, it means you finally love everything. You have to make yourself a priority and heal your wounds in order to grow which also means making yourself your first priority. Now, some would call that being self-centered and selfish, but it's not. In order to help others you must first help yourself. There are times where it's right to put your life on the line for others. There may not even be time to think about it. That means you have to make agreements with yourself on what it means to you. It might mean that you're not going to let people walk all over you simply because you're a person who likes to help out. There are always sacrifices to be made, but one must make them for the right reasons; ones that don't compromise the self. In part, to maintain happiness means one has to make sure he or she is healthy, fulfilling his or her needs, that no one is taking advantage of him/her and that he/she isn’t taking advantage of, have expectations of, impeding on or projecting on others. If one first loves ones self, the rest will come out in the wash. Part of this self-love is the realization that love comes from within. If people knew that there is an unlimited supply of love within them, they wouldn't be searching the landscape for it out there. Does this mean you have everything you need so, don't talk to anyone? No. Everyone needs companionship. At times, everyone needs people who care about them to rely on. But, if you love yourself you'll only need them at times of hardship. The rest of the time you spend with them is a bonus, you'll simply be able to enjoy their company. You won't need anything from them like a junkie needs a fix, which is really what emotional dependence is like. And, often people need the fix because they're still searching for themselves in others. You won't be dependent on them. Which brings us to independence.

What independence means to me is the ability to exist without something. I see personal independence as having two aspects: Self Reliance and Emotional Self Reliance. When we are young, we're dependent on our caregivers for our survival and companionship. When we leave the home, we have to learn how to live independent of them or we end up trying to find someone or something to replace them. The healthy way is to become self reliant. This means to establish a support network and knowledge base to serve your human needs. This doesn't mean you do everything yourself. It means that if someone is removed from the equation, you're not helpless and suddenly in crisis. If disaster hits, you have the ability to survive and maybe even help others. This could mean knowing basic first aid, keeping a stock of supplies, being friendly to your neighbors and keeping an ear on the news so you know if a storm is coming. Imagine if more people were more prepared and more self reliant before and after Hurricane Katrina hit. Being self reliant also can help build confidence, self esteem and the big one, emotional self reliance. Emotional Self Reliance is quite similar in that doesn't mean you can go without a support system of loved ones, it means that if your girlfriend or boyfriend dumps you, you don't do something drastic. If a loved one dies, it means that although it hurts, you go through all the stages of mourning until you come out safely on the other side. In other words, you don't commit suicide or immediately trade your healthy habits for unhealthy ones. You not only have an outside support system, but also an inner one with a core of infinite love. So, in this way you have to consider yourself first in as much that you don't do something to harm yourself or others. And, since you're still alive and mostly functional, you can share your strength with others, help them with their grief and allow them to help you with yours. So, you are an island, but you're also part of an archipelago.

The last component I'll include is to take nothing personally. If someone calls you a jerk, it's either because you were or she/he sees it that way because of her/his current state of mind. Either way, there is no reason to take it personally. The only thing that does is hurt you. You also can't take praise personally. The thought there is if someone says how wonderful you are and you come to rely on that praise for your happiness, if they suddenly change their mind, the rug is pulled out from under you. The easiest example is a rock singer. Many singers get addicted to the roar of the crowd and without it, they feel small and worthless. Now, taking nothing personally may sound cold and calculating, but it really isn't. It doesn't mean you no longer have emotion, just that you're not internalizing what people say and trying to rely on it to make you happy. The Tao, Buddhism, the Toltec teachings and more say that you have to rid yourself of your passions. I don't think they mean that you shouldn't ever get excited; I think they mean that you can't let your passions rule you. This means anything that blinds you in some way, makes you exclude or avoid options or positive experiences, makes you focus on something to the exclusion of other things and/or makes you act in a way a healthy person wouldn't; pretty much anything that pushes you to unhealthy habits. So, I'm not saying men shouldn't be passionate with their wives and vice versa, I mean passions that make people fight over nothing and to stop listening. Passions like this are usually taking things personally. One guy insults another guy's mom and boom, they're families are at war. Emotional associations are also very unreliable. Just because one blonde boyfriend treats his girlfriend poorly, doesn't mean that all blonde guys will do the same. Without these emotional links that connect an action or event to an emotion, we're freed from reliving past pains and treat everything as a new experience. If you take nothing personally, you can to roll with whatever comes whether it's positive or negative. Getting insulted isn't fun, but if you're not preoccupied by taking it personally, you'll not only be able to see the situation objectively, but you also won't be hurt and won't reflect the negativity; a never ending cycle. Your objectivity might even enable you to help the person or yourself even if it’s not readily apparent. In the other instance, receiving praise and rewards are great, but if you don't need them to be happy, you won't be killing yourself doggedly looking for them and complaining when you don't get them.

So, I don't see self love as being selfish, but a necessity. It's not that you should only love yourself, but love yourself so you may grow and love others truly; just like the old saying goes "You can't truly love someone until you love yourself." It's a way of unlocking your true self by stopping your search for yourself somewhere out there. It's also about forgiving yourself for your mistakes and accepting yourself for who you are. That's really what it's all about because if you can do that for yourself, you can do it towards someone else in the form of unconditional love. People must place themselves first if they're ever going to make the time to figure themselves out. Once they're free and know their love is unlimited, they can share it with everyone.

As far as personal independence goes, I don't see it as being inherently insular although there are times for introspection and for being alone. I see it as being free from needing your friends and family in unhealthy ways. Achieving independence doesn't mean you reject everyone, it means you're no longer indebted to anyone in an unhealthy way (now that I've gifted you, you owe me) and you're freed from expectation. You're free to give as much as you feel you can; including an unlimited supply of love. And, you can just love the people close to you for who they are and not be constantly pulling and pushing your unresolved issues on one and other.

And lastly, by not taking anything personally, you're no longer ruled by your positive or negative passions. You can withstand insult and don't need rewards to be happy. You can live life without drama and mood swings and function with a clear mind and spirit. And you won't go to war for emotionally-linked reasons.

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Thanks for reading. Please note that learning, understanding and integrating any life lessons can take many years. Take your time and find the ones that work for you. And be prepared to re-learn lessons in time and to be reminded of them when you forget. And above all, have fun! If you have any comments or personal experiences to share, please feel free to share.

Recommended Reading and Viewing:
The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff
Tao Te Ching, Lao-tsu
The Mastery of Love, don Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz
The Path of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman
What the *BLEEP* Do We Know?, 20th Century Fox

Perhaps also:
Without Remorse, Tom Clancy
Faith of the Fallen, Terry Goodkind (you may want to read the preceding books first)
Trainspotting, Miramax Home Entertainment
Fight Club, 20th Century Fox
300, Warner Bros. Pictures
Tao of Steve, Sony Pictures