We all have dreams and aspirations, usually with the idea that achieving them will make us happier or more fulfilled individuals. Whether professional, personal, economic or service-oriented, somehow if we could just accomplish (fill in the blank here), we would feel complete – or at least pretty darn close. But at what point are we using those goals to fill an internal void? How can we be so sure that we are not clinging to a vision of how we think things should be and blinding ourselves to other opportunities or signs from the universe that alternative and maybe even better paths are open to us?
Recently I saw a film called “Hector and the Search for Happiness” and one of Hector’s findings on a journey across the world find the key to happiness is that it’s a mistake to think that happiness is actually the goal. The movie reinforced a question that I have been struggling to answer lately: is it possible that our dreams are actually limiting us in some way? I am definitely not the cynical type who walks around thinking all dreams and goals are pointless. In fact, I believe wholeheartedly that I am the master of my own destiny and that persistence in chasing my dreams is part of living life to its fullest. I suppose the honest question is, where are our dreams generated? Are they ego-fulfilling or truly calling us because they are aligned with our core values? Is happiness the goal or just a positive side-effect of living a full life?
This seems straightforward enough until I dig a bit deeper. What if family is an important value of mine and therefore I dream of a peaceful life filled by a doting husband and 2.5 kids? I suppose the true self-inquiry is, “would I be a whole and happy person without it?” and/or “will I punish myself in the form of suffering if life does not work out according to that vision?” If the answer is no to the first and yes to the second, then the next issue is what gap deep inside am I trying to fill through these external sources of happiness? After all, it is hard to have goals and dreams about a state of happiness that do not involve other people, places and things.
As I am learning (although struggling to embrace), true happiness absolutely must come from the inside – otherwise we are just fooling ourselves. We are putting a Band-Aid on a wound that will inevitably fall off over time and leave us exposed once again. No matter what we achieve, be they professional accolades, wealth or the “perfect” family, they are all just distractions from the real struggle: loving and accepting ourselves exactly as we are, in the here and now.
I am not claiming this is easy to do. In fact, it is something I wrestle with every day. In reality we have countless forces working against us, namely the other unfulfilled egos we interact with everyday that just want someone to pray on or commiserate with in order to feel better about themselves. It sounds blunt, but how many times do you find yourself in a position doubting your own self-worth based on the judgment (real or perceived) of someone else whom you deem more powerful or worthy of your credence? Hector’s first observation in his quest was that making comparisons can spoil your happiness. Traditional and social media are masters of reinforcing our comparison culture. They pray on our insecurity and send us subliminal messages that perpetuate this mental, emotional and psychological trap. It’s easy to become a victim of these forces, but often we are not even consciously aware of them. And while it is nearly impossible to live in a bubble, it is absolutely crucial to learn to filter out the unhealthy energies and interactions in exchange for those that encourage us to be our best selves, regardless of what is printed on our resumes or the balance in our bank accounts.
After a lot of contemplation and self-exploration, my sense is that true inner happiness is a process, not a magical state that suddenly hits us one day when we wake up. I’ve always been guided by goals and aspirations, but admittedly achieving them has not made me a better or happier person (as hard as it can be to admit it!). I managed to fulfill my goal of living and working in Latin America, and while I’m incredibly proud of that accomplishment, I still find other areas of my life to lose sleep over because they are not exactly as I imagined them to be, right now. That hole or gap I am trying to fill will not magically disappear once the next goal is reached either. The challenge is to let go of any vested interest and trust that the universe has a plan. If I can surrender to it’s will, perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised by the results.
So I return to the idea of setting a vision for a desired future and working to achieve it, but let it be a compliment to an already fulfilled soul. If we start from a place of abundance rather than need, than anything gained externally is just icing on an already sweet cake. No need to mind the gap.