“Happiness is really a deep harmonious inner satisfaction and approval.” ~Francis Wilshire
It is only in the last few years of my life that I have felt genuinely happy and comfortable in my own skin.
Until my early thirties the dominant feeling I carried around with me was one of extreme social awkwardness. Which is strange, because most people who knew me prior to that time would have described me as a confident guy who got on with just about everybody.
I'm aware that outwardly I was very skilful at presenting a positive and socially pleasing demeanor, while on the inside feeling anxious and exhausted from keeping up the act.
This wasn't just at work or at parties, it was rife in my closest relationships too—with my friends, my family and, most bizarrely, with my fiancée.
Perhaps the reason I was so well liked by so many is because I would agree with just about everything anyone said, so I was no bother to them. In disputes, I'd take both sides. I was always the first to offer a hand when someone needed help, but not because I felt charitable; I just wanted them to like me more.
If I got angry or frustrated, which I did often, you would never have known it. You would have seen someone who appeared unflappable, regardless of the circumstances. If I was hurt, let down or disappointed, my lightening reflex was to smile and say, “That's okay!”
Somewhere along the line I had developed the philosophy that my happiness was dependent on the approval of others.
This meant that my level of contentment was proportionate to how pleased I thought others were with me moment to moment. Of course, the problem was that I rarely thought they approved of me enough, so I was rarely happy.
Now that I think about it, some of my earliest memories involve me trying extremely hard to be a “good boy,” to do what I was told, and how lonely it felt to fall out of favor with my parents.
I never thought about what I wanted from life, only what would make others want to have me around.
The ultimate price I paid was my authenticity, which I now know is fundamental to a truly satisfying and fulfilling life. Not only is authenticity vital for your relationships with others, but more importantly for your relationship with yourself.
Isn't it funny how the strategies we use to protect ourselves from our deepest fears are often the exact same strategies that manifest our fears into reality?
One day my fiancée announced that our engagement was over. She said that she cared for me deeply but that she just didn't know who I was; there was nothing real for her to connect to. I was devastated but not surprised. It was one of the worst and best days of my life.
I walked away from our house taking nothing with me. I quit the job I hated with nothing else to go to. I was broke, lonely, and finally having to stare my exposed vulnerabilities in the face.
Shortly afterward, I found myself walking along a beach contemplating suicide. Not because of the ending of the relationship, but because of the ending of my identity. I hated the mask I had been wearing and what it had cost me, but I didn't know what to replace it with.
Obviously, I didn't take my life. Instead I moved to London. I was scared and confused but I was convinced that a new environment would be conducive to reinventing myself.
I didn't invent a new me. I found the real me.
I read countless books on personal and spiritual growth, attended dozens of workshops, got coaching and training, and even began to write about and teach what I was learning. I started to feel more alive than I had ever felt before. For the first time in my life I was truly happy and being authentically me.
I want to share with you three of the most important principles that I've learned about authentic happiness. I hope they inspired you.
1. We live the feeling of our thinking.
As William Shakespeare famously wrote, “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
Being authentically happy starts with the realization that you are both the source and the cause of your own well-being.
We never get to experience the world as it really is; we only get to experience our thoughts about the world. It wasn't actually other people's disapproval that made me unhappy; it was my mistaken belief that happiness is something that comes from outside of me in the form of approval.
Even when it looks as though your emotional state is being dictated by your circumstances, that is never true. Your thoughts are the root of your emotions. Just get curious and ask yourself, “If I weren't thinking this way, how might I feel differently?”
2. Everything good is inside.
We each walk around with two versions of ourselves. One is our unconditioned self, which is innocent, flawless, and untouched by any trauma, criticism, or injustice we may have faced in life. The other is a learned self, more commonly known as the ego.
The primary role of the ego is to separate you from the truth of who you really are—a human being who is already complete, whole, and mentally and spiritually healthy. The ego believes that happiness is attained through material success, achievement, striving, earning, and deserving. I've often heard it described as “everything good outside.”
But your unconditioned self is the much bigger, wiser you. It already knows that you are what you seek; that real happiness is what naturally happens when you dare to show up unedited.
All the happiness you have been looking for outside of you can finally be yours when you stop chasing and start choosing.
3. Our relationship with ourselves determines our relationship with everything else.
One of the standout moments on my journey of self-discovery was hearing Dr. Robert Holden say, “No amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance.”
Every time I had tried to improve the persona I was presenting to the world, I moved further away from the inner satisfaction I was seeking. As soon as I started treating myself with more kindness and compassion, everything in my life got better.
The more we are willing to love ourselves, in all our messy glory, the less we go searching for happiness in the wrong places. When we are comforted by our own self-love, we no longer need to find comfort through external fixes.
Forgiveness is key. Start by forgiving yourself for all the times you have allowed your ego block your joy. And understand that the only reason you need to forgive is to restore yourself to the authentically happy person you are here to be.
Photo by Manuela