Towards the end of a lecture I was watching, the speaker mentions that the biggest triggers of stress for humans are:
2. Lack of information
3. Loss of control
There is a fundamental mismatch between what the human mind craves–certainty, knowledge, and control– and what the world has to offer us.
We spend so much of our lives trying to control things that are out of our control.
People simply don’t want to accept, or perhaps aren’t aware, that they don’t control external circumstances and other people.
But here is the world as we experience it:
all we control are our own actions.
The Role of Personal Choice
Which brings us to an important point about that mismatch between the mind and the world as it exists.
Behind the core of our experience, of our actions, lies personal choice.
The choices we make determine our actions.
We don’t have control over what happens in response to those choices and actions, or how others react to our choices, but the choices are our singular true possessions.
Usually we rationalize our more questionable choices and actions by pretending that our hands were forced, that we had no choice in a particular matter. We pretend we are helpless victims of circumstance.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge the choices we make.
Yet acknowledging that we have personal choices makes life inherently anxiety producing, because it means we are ultimately responsible for our own lives, our own happiness.
There is nothing else and no one else to blame for our unhappiness.
We aren’t actually victims.
Some people are terrified by this proposition.
For me this realization was liberating.
We put so much absurd pressure on ourselves to be a “success”, to be attractive, to be liked.
We are such fragile creatures.
And for what?
We think there is someone else to be, somewhere else to be, that is better than who we are or where we are at right now.
I wasted a lot of my life believing that notion.
Until I realized it’s an absurd thought.
Financial success doesn’t ensure happiness, otherwise all rich people would be happy. Be around rich people for a while, you’ll soon see the truth of the matter.
Being attractive doesn’t ensure happiness. Are all attractive people happy? Definitely not.
Being popular doesn’t ensure happiness. Fame, prestige, and popularity are all conditional based upon the approval of others, which can be quickly rescinded.
The mob is fickle.
Knowing that you control so little, knowing that life is inherently uncertain, knowing how little information you actually have, can either make or break your happiness.
The Choice You Have to Make
So you have a real and possibly life defining choice to make:
Hold on to the illusion that you have any control over external circumstances and people, while furthering your anxiety, frustration, unhappiness, and stress levels.
Let go of the illusion that you have any control over external circumstances and feel….who knows what? I surely don’t. You’ll have to take a chance.
Reality is Just What it is. Nothing more.
You have no control and neither does anyone else. That’s not a pessimistic understanding of the world.
That’s just how life is.
We are all in the same boat, in that respect. Your friends have no more control than you do. So don’t fret that it’s only you who can’t control things.
When it comes down to it, we all want to be happy.
But we are confused into thinking that the ways to attain happiness are through wealth, beauty, marriage, children, prestige, or any other number of conditions and acquisition.
There is nothing wrong with any of those things, mind you. The problem is how we think about them.
Someone is happier than you because they think differently than you, not because they have something that you don’t.
They are happier because of how they think about the reality of our lack of control.
For me it was an easy choice.
I let go of the idea that I had any control over external circumstances. I stopped swimming against the tide and started to flow with it instead.
I focused on what I could control: how I treat people and the effort I put into my endeavors. Then I let the chips fall where they may.
It also meant that all of those painful memories of difficult times that I had personalized as a reflection of my suckiness, those melted away.
As did my anxieties.
What I discovered was that happiness was always available to me.
It’s just that happiness was always obscured by my own confusion about life.
When you examine happiness, every story of finding happiness has, at its core, the process of letting go.
There are many ideas we need to let go of: our fragile egos, unproductive thoughts, negative narratives.
I’m not sure there is any particular order in which everything needs to be accomplished, but letting go of the illusion that you can eliminate uncertainty, know everything, and control external events and people is a fundamental part of the process.
P.S. If you found this post interesting or helpful, please “like”, “share”, or send to someone who needs another perspective on life. You never know what can change someone’s life for the better.