Mental Health / Self-Care

Why we need to stop chasing happiness externally

. 6 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Why we need to stop chasing happiness externally

I remember this past month when my dad and I were planning a fancy gift for my mom’s birthday. Like any middle-class Indian dad, the constant undertone of all his celebration planning is a persistent reiteration of the fact that money does not grow on trees.

So when he expressed a desire to go all this birthday, I couldn’t let the opportunity to play pretend-dad slip by and said, “We obviously don’t have money.”

The response? “We never do. It all depends on how willing we are to spend.” Which made me think about how we continuously base our happiness on a series of pre-conditions.

Wish to buy an expensive gift for your parents’ anniversary? “I’ll wait until my salary gets credited.” Want to go on a fancy vacation? “I have a board meeting coming up.” I’ve been feeling mentally exhausted for a while now. “That’s okay, once I get through this promotion I’ll feel a whole lot better.

But the truth is the day your salary gets credited it’ll reach the same level that got you dissatisfied in the first place within a week of spending on rent and utilities. You’ll have a board meeting coming up now, and a week later you’ll have another important presentation that you can’t get out of and yet another week later you’ll have the appraisal week hounding you. You’ll get that promotion soon enough, and then you’ll be busy chasing your new targets and continue ignoring your mental health.

Stop basing happiness on events we can’t control

You see; the human mind is intrinsically greedy. We’re inherently trained to chase, run and pursue the next thing continuously. And this unfluctuating race makes us think that this next thing will be the key to happiness.

But happiness is a state of internal fulfilment, not external events. We thrive under the misconception that external events are within our control. By continually telling ourselves that happiness lays in the next significant achievement or the fulfilment of the next big desire, we place conditions on our state of happiness.

By ascribing a price to happiness we’re creating roadblocks in that seemingly difficult path to happiness.

We spend countless hours building our career, growing a family, and pursuing new experiences. And as worthy and significant all of these endeavours are, it is also important to take time to cultivate our internal conditions.

Just how we strengthen our bodies to be healthy, we must understand and appreciate our inner selves to be happy. Thankfully, happiness is a skill that can be learned and cultivated. Happiness is entirely within your reach.

There is no such thing as perfection

We think striving for perfection in our personal and professional lives is the key to happiness, but it’s just yet another one of those things that will be lurking right around the corner.

We chase this idea of perfection, and we’ll end up running in circles, eventually setting ourselves up for disappointment. There is beauty in flaws. Embrace it.

You may think you’re imperfect, a mess, falling apart, hopeless, or unable to cope. But, to quote a cliché, true perfection is accepting your imperfections. It is accepting yourself, complete with all the things you like as well as the things you don’t like. In this way, you’re not struggling with or rejecting yourself.

There are days when you don’t particularly feel like getting out of bed. There will be days when going into the shower would seem like the most difficult thing that there can be. And there will most certainly be days when Zomato and Swiggy feel like your only friends. And that is okay!

We put so much pressure on ourselves to seek perfection in every sphere of life that we lose sight of what perfection even entails.

My definition of perfection? Bingeing on a thin-crust pizza sprawled out on the couch scrolling through memes as “I’ll be there for you” plays in the background.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

And once you realise that perfection is just a mirage, the next step is to stop taking yourself so seriously. In this process of chasing and rooting for your happiness on things that are not even remotely in your control, it is very convenient to start dealing with everything related to yourself with an immaculate eye.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to excel. We impose various far-reaching expectations on ourselves. The result? We end up magnifying even the most minor drawbacks.

At times of hardships, it is easy to lose your humour and mull over the negativities of everything that life has dealt you with. Remembering not to take yourself too seriously brings with a sense of lightness and acceptance to the weight of obscurity around you. Remember, hardships are just phases. They’re as big as you make them out to be.

If Shah Rukh Khan can stand before a crowd of Ivy League graduates and indulge in self-deprecating humour about how he’s delivered three failed films in a row, I think we can all learn to laugh at ourselves and savour this wit that most certainly makes it easy to glide through troubles.

Failure, suffering, loss, pain – Minor stops along the way

As cheesy as it sounds, life indeed is a roller coaster. Failures and hardships are just the dips and the scary circles that a roller coaster has to cover for the ride to feel complete.

Basing your dissatisfactions and grouses with life on something that was never meant to last long is the surest way to obstruct the path of your happiness.

Failure, pain, suffering, loss, pain or hardships are minor stopovers along the journey. They are not your destiny – but just one of the many destinations.

Remember the time when you thought you were gonna flunk your board exams? Or the time when you thought you simply would never get over that ex of yours? Or when you had major breakdowns thinking about how no one’s ever gonna hire you for a job? Look at you now!

Think of it this way - whatever’s bothering you right now, will have no relevance in the next one year. So the point of fretting over things that are meant to be temporary? Zilch!

Check-in with your feelings

As someone who’s suffering, it’s easy to want to deny or repress your feelings. But if you can truly honour, respect, and engage with what you’re truly feeling upfront, then it’ll bring you closer to the inner happiness beneath all the suffering or grief.

Acknowledging and making friends with your real feelings is truly the easiest way to internal happiness.

Fall in love with yourself

Your relationship with yourself is the only one you have that lasts for the whole of your life, and you can be the greatest friend or the worst enemy to yourself. So it’s very important not to put down or beat yourself up emotionally. Just be kind.

Loving yourself liberates the heart and sets you free. You need to forgive yourself for feeling angry, for getting upset, for all things you think you’ve done wrong.

They are in the past and who you are now is not who you were then. You can take any guilt or shame by the hand, invite it in for tea, and open yourself to self-forgiveness.

Find ways that you make you fall in love with yourself. Dress up. Go shopping. Take yourself out for a fancy meal. Personally, nothing makes me feel better than buying new clothes, dressing up and watching my reflection as I pass by unaffordable store windows.

Make time for things and people you love

Time is our most valuable asset, and none of us can buy more of it. What we can do, though, is make sure that we make time for the things and people we love. Set aside time for your hobbies and personal escapes that bring you joy, and make time for those people in your life that you hold close to your heart. You will find your inner happiness after realising that your time is more valuable than any materialistic possession or amount of wealth.

Personally, I know sitting with my dad on our balcony over steaming cups of adrak waali chai arms me with all the rejuvenation I need for the month coming up.