THE FUNDAMENTAL PERCEPTUAL FLAW BEHIND MOST UNHAPPINESS
In the long run, what really matters is how we spend our time, not what we accomplish. If you have enough money to not worry about having enough money, then you can do something else with your time than make money. If you have enough stuff, then getting more will not make you happier. But what you do with this fleeting gift of time and health does matter. In fact, it’s all that matters.
Advertising and promotion make it seem like there’s something other than what’s right in front of you that will make all the difference to your happiness. That’s the fundamental error in a nutshell. Once you buy that lie, then you’re hooked on searching for different solutions to the same invented problem. So your life becomes a hustle, a chase, and the moments that might have been worthwhile seem empty and trivial. You’ve been sold a bill of goods!
When you seem to be on the winning side of that hustle, the illusion is exhilarating. You’re a winner! You’re managing your life well and reaping the just rewards of such diligence. You’re a smart shopper, a wise investor, a clever player.
On the other hand, when nothing seems to be going your way, then you’re in need of expert advice, a consultation, a series of tests, a new drug. It’s easy to see how arbitrary and foolish this dividing the present moment into “fun” and “boring” is when we look at others. Who hasn’t met a dentist in his forties who divorced the wife of his youth and took up with his much-younger dental hygienist? His wife got the house and he got a new convertible. Three years later, he’s trying to re-invent himself as a counter-culture type, attending Burning Man and writing a blog. Fifteen years later he’s living in the Philippines, sleeping with five different women younger than his youngest daughter and drinking himself to death. What happened?
He mistook the illusory hustle for life itself.
Of course, when I beat up on our hypothetical dentist, I’m really trying to throw focus away from myself. I am, of course, both the horny dentist and his complicit hygienist. Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, said “Most of our problems are linked to our inability to sit quietly alone in a room.” That is a more elegant way of positing what it took me several paragraphs to say. As a generalization, most of us would agree that the present moment is sufficient for our happiness, but try telling that to an irritable five-year-old, or someone who’s spent the last hour in a doctor’s waiting room.