Some people say it’s impossible to be truly happy with everything in your life. As the first noble truth of Buddhism tells us:
If you are alive, you will suffer.
While that may be true – and may make life sound unappealing – it’s also true that the best way to get closer to true happiness is to know yourself.
Not merely by identifying your wants, needs and ultimate goals, but to really dig deeply into yourself and understand what drives you, what de-motivates you and what causes you to go running for the hills.
The Mirror Lies
To be true to ourselves – or to anything – we first have to know ourselves. Reaching a greater understanding of our personalities at the most basic level – our greatest fears and desires – is one of the most important aspects of living the life we want and loving every minute of it.
It’s also one of the hardest things to do. We’re all exceptionally good at seeing a mis-reflection staring back at us in the mirror; whether it’s a better or worse version of ourself, we rarely see the real version in all its glory.
It takes a lot of courage and concentration to truly examine your real self and understand what lies beneath the polished surface we all present to the world around us. But if you can’t dig beneath that veneer, you can never really know yourself.
Conceding Your Opportunities
Many people who style themselves as “life coaches” or motivational speakers will talk about finding your weaknesses and, yes, if you’re going to truly know yourself you need to do it, too. My problem lies in the negative way it’s framed.
What would happen if, instead of spending a few hours listing out all of the things you’re not good at, you took the time to re-frame each of them into a positive opportunity to improve yourself?
If you ask someone flat out what they aren’t good at or often fail in, you’re guiding them into a negative thought pattern around what they CANNOT do. Most of the time, they won’t even want to give you an answer. And that’s the same for picking holes in your personality.
If, on the other hand, you ask someone what they feel they can improve on or make better in their life, they are automatically directing down a positive line of thought.
The question is still serving the same goal (finding ways to improve on weaknesses), but it’s couched in a way that opens the mind to learning, growing and progressing.
Joining A Gym
A small aside here.
I’m getting married in just over 2 months (I know, exciting, right?) and I want to get fit so I feel better on my big day. If you’ve taken a look at my List of Infinite Possibilities, you’ll also know that my ultimate goal is to run a marathon and, maybe, an ultra-marathon.
The trouble is, I’m just not very good at getting into the habit of daily exercise. Frankly, I was too lazy and far too good at coming up with excuses.
“Oh, I’ll start on Monday.”
“Today is wet outside and if I start and it’s horrible I’ll get demoralised and not keep it up.”
“I’m tired today, best to wait until I feel more rested.”
Stupid, I know. What made it worse was that I knew I was conning myself and simply preventing myself from getting started and, by implication, achieving my goals.
So last week I bit the bullet and joined a gym. It’s expensive and, if I’m honest, I can’t really afford it right now with the wedding, honeymoon and other things all coming up, but I also knew that it was the only way I was going to reach my fitness goals.
Looking deep inside myself, I understood that what keeps me to my fitness regime is having somewhere to go to do it. If I have to pack a bag, leave the house and travel to a gym, somehow my brain makes it part of my routine.
Don’t ask me why I am that way, because I have no idea, but once I made that realisation it made the rest of my choices easy as pie: either I joined a gym and got fit, or I didn’t join and I stayed the same weight, size and level of fitness I’m at now (or possibly even declined).
Know What You Want
Just as important to understanding who we are as knowing our “faults” is knowing what we want.
Not in a material sense, although that may be relevant, but in the wider sense of our goals for our lives and the way we want to live.
I want to keep my temper and bad moods under control, for instance. I’ve been studying zen and Buddhist teachings for a while, striving to learn patience and introduce calmness into my life and it’s going quite well.
You’d probably have to ask K whether or not it’s really noticeable from the outisde, but I certainly feel more calm and more able to deal with stresses that come along in every day life without raising my blood pressure or feeling the need to shout about it.
Really push yourself to delve into what you really want from life, both as a person, a professional and as a spouse/partner/parent or anything else. Identify the things that will make you proud of yourself and give you a tangible sense of achievement.
Understand Real Happiness
The final key to knowing yourself is knowing what will make you truly happy.
This can be the toughest one of all, because what we think will make us happy isn’t always what we actually need to feel the same emotions of fulfilment.
I used to want to be a millionaire. I think it’s a fair enough goal, one shared by millions of people in this country and around the world. But when I started to really look inside myself, I realised that it’s not the money that mattered to me, it’s what the money stood for that was important.
What I really want is to have the freedom to live life on my own terms:
I want a nice, safe, reliable car; yes, an Aston Martin would be lovely, but I don’t need it so it’s not a priority. And I already have a car that fits the bill.
I want a roof over my head. Well, I already have that.
I want the freedom to work from anywhere, running a business or providing a service that can be done remotely from home or, if I decide to travel, from anywhere with an internet connection. Even to just allow me to get away for the weekend without fretting about what has to be done on Monday morning.
I used to think that all of this meant I needed £1 million in the bank. It doesn’t. It just means I need a business model that allows me to work remotely and provides enough income for me to pay my bills and run my car.
Take a moment to stop and think about what will bring you true happiness. If you were to wake up tomorrow living your perfect life, what would it look like? How would you feel? What would you be doing differently?
Now look at your dream and think to yourself, honestly, “What do I need to live that dream?”
I’ll bet you right now that it’s not £1 million.
None of us is perfect, but by gaining a greater understanding of our real selves we can better shape the life we want to lead.
As the wise old Polonius said as he doles out advice to his son in Act I of Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act I, Scene iii
You will only ever be true to yourself if you truly know yourself to begin with.
It’s time to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself, honestly, what do you see?
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