Getting what you want won’t make you happy
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Getting what I think I want will not make me happy.
How many times must I be reminded of this before it sinks in?
This morning the reminder came from the author Donald Miller as I read the description of his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which my new friend Mandy recommended to me. Reading the description instantly felt synchronistic as I realized this was the same author of the book, Blue Like Jazz, that my friend Brianna recommended to me eight or nine months ago when I was living in Guatemala and wondering how Christian inclinations could jive with a Yogic lifestyle. (Still haven’t read Blue Like Jazz, yet).
The description of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years discusses how the author, Miller, wrote a very successful book (Blue Like Jazz, I think). After writing and publishing this book to wild acclaim, Miller did not, in fact, suddenly feel happy, fulfilled, and accomplished.
Quite the opposite, actually. He felt lost, purposeless, depressed, and completely discouraged about life and the point of it all. He was sleeping all day, throwing away money, and, if I had to guess, altogether not in the place he supposed he would be after he wrote his most celebrated book. I.e.: A Happy Place.
From a not-so-happy place...
So, as I was sitting on the guest bed in my brother and his wife Jamie’s house in Aurora, Colorado this morning, holding back tears and feeling that old oh-so-hopeless feeling coming on, It hit me:
Even publishing your first book isn’t necessarily going to make you happy. Even if it’s widely acclaimed and super successful.
And, if that’s not going to make me happy, then getting the other thing I really most want right now: A perfect dream van to live in, is also not necessarily going to make me happy.
See, I was feeling deflated and directionless because I thought I‘d found the perfect vehicle for my upcoming adventure: a 1991 4x4 Toyota Odyssey camper located in Boulder. As my dad and I were literally 10 minutes away from the house where we were going to view it yesterday, I got a text from the owner explaining he’d just received a deposit on it. We went to see it anyway, I loved it, and I left feeling like I’d lost my chance at happiness.
Later in the day yesterday, we went to see the 1994 Tiger Van pro (thank you to my friend Jacey, who found both the Odyssey and the Tiger listings on Craigslist) that represented my other high hope for van life happiness.
The Tiger Van Pro is quite the little complete home on wheels and has almost everything I want … except 4 wheel drive. She’s also not as gorgeous as she looks in the Craigslist pictures … there’s some exterior paint chipping and some love needing … and of course there’s the fact that a lot more (slightly intimidating) upkeep is going to be required than I makes me feel initially comfortable. For instance, the generator, the electrical system, the pump systems ... which all have lifestyle benefits as well as maintenance concerns for a person who admittedly knows little about such systems — though is willing to learn. (Owning a house, whether stationary or on wheels, does indeed require a good deal of maintenance and upkeep, it turns out … :).
People in the van life world have brought to my attention that clearance is significantly more important than 4WD (even the Toyota Odyssey owner said in all the months he’d lived out of that thing, in all the snow and hills he’d taken on, he’d only had to lock the front wheels two or three times…).
However, I’ve become pretty attached to believing in this 4WD requirement (as I desire to be living out on public lands that require dirt roads to access) as well as being attached to a lot of other aesthetic vibe kind of stuff that with which my first viewing of the Tiger did not necessarily vibe.
And yet, honestly, all this is a little beside the point. Because the real point is, even finding the absolute perfect van (which I really don’t have the funds for at this time, and even if I DID…) will not make me happy.
What will make me happy?
Okay. So. Things don’t make us happy. Do you ever forget this? Cause I do. Like, daily.
I just wanted to remind myself, and you, since you’re reading this ... that no matter what we get that we think we want, there will be challenges and experiences that follow that getting of what we want that again seem to make us unhappy.
This might lead us to question whether it‘s things or circumstances that actually make us happy or unhappy at all. It might lead us to wonder if happiness is, in fact, point of view ... even a choice.
If happiness is a choice, I obviously haven’t completely or consistently figured out how to make it yet.
I guess the figuring out of how to be happy has a big something to do with why I have this blog, and YouTube channel, and am going on this van life adventure, and, overall, probably why I chose to be here being human and living this life.
I do believe happiness can be choice, that it has to do with presence, and acceptance, and being able to get out of my own (conscious) conditionings and beliefs and personal story, through unconscious blocks, and into a more neutral, observant, Universal state and perspective.
As in, I have a hunch that happiness has a lot to do with the way we choose to look at things, and the processes that allow us to see we have more control over that than we consciously think we do.
This is why practices like meditation, breathing, being present, walking, writing, asking yourself Byron Katie’s 4 Liberating Questions (« Is this true? Is this absolutely true? How do I feel when I believe this is true? Who would I be if I was willing to not believe this is true/let this thought go? ») are important. They help us to see, maybe, just maybe, peace and happiness are choices, are states/experiences available to us that are actually always there, regardless of the circumstances of our lives.
Could it be that circumstances are not really what make us happy or unhappy? Could it really be that what we think or believe about those circumstances are?
Here’s your sign ...
Look, I really don’t have this down yet, you guys. I’m writing through it, I’m talking through it, I’m sitting through it, I’m walking through it, I’m living through it. I just wanted to share this with you today for some support with whatever you may or may not believe you currently need to make you happy right now ...
Because, the physical world, and especially a super materialistic capitalistic society, tricks us into thinking that it’s outside things that dictate and control how we feel and experience life … and therefore into thinking that getting whatever we want right now will make us happy.
But it won’t.
Honestly, as a girl whose biggest dreams are to write books, am I paying attention to what successful authors say?
Here’s Donald Miller saying that actually, after his most successful book (the publishing of which was, no doubt, a huge goal of his that he was at least somewhat sure would make him happy when he reached it) … he was actually less happy than ever.
Here’s Elizabeth Gilbert, author of many successful books, arguably one of the most well-known, celebrated, and successful authors alive today, a huge role model of mine … saying in her On Life and Love interview on the How To Academy that her main job is figuring out how to get out of bed in the morning, how to make it through each day, because there’s so much depression and chaos and hopelessness weighs down on her, daily.
As a girl who also has a big dream to act in and direct and produce movies, am I paying attention to how many suuuuuuper successful people in the film and entertainment industry end up addicted, depressed, dead from suicide?
It’s hard to pay attention to these « here’s your signs » when we are sooooo well-trained to keep believing that getting what we want will make us happy.
And yet, role model after role model tells us ... along with our own life experiences, if we’re paying attention ... it won’t.
Somehow I find it very liberating to realize that. It feels freeing to acknowledge that the van I end up finding will not make me happy. And neither will the first, the second, even the best-selling book I publish.
This isn’t to say it’s all out the window, and I might as well not get a van or write a book, or that it doesn’t matter at all what kind of van I get or what kind of book I publish. It’s more to say that attaching too much importance to what I have or don’t have or do or don’t do rather than to who I am (who am I, anyway?! — hint, something much bigger than this seemingly tiny, separate, desperate human) … is to miss the point completely.
Happiness > winning
This desiring and obtaining (or not) of desires is a fun game that seems pretty fundamental to this thing we call life. But when we forget that it is just that in the grand scheme of things, a game, then we are blinded to what really matters. Winning the game may or may not seem to make us happy for a little bit … but, honestly, what if we didn’t even have fun playing the game (weren’t even happy) because all during the game, we were too obsessed with our desire to win, and our feeling of lack in not having won yet?
What really matters is our state of being, before, during, and after the game. And this we can practice. This we can control, unlike winning.
Again, I don’t have all the answers yet. I just know that depressedly sitting here staring out the window feeling that only obtaining the right van will make me happy, is not the answer.
Finding the right van will not make me happy. Finding the wrong van will not make me unhappy. These states of experience are based on what I believe, and honestly, there is no right or wrong van … only vans that are « right » or « wrong » in terms of what I’ve decided to believe is right or wrong for and to me.
And for me, it feels really, really, really liberating to remember that getting the right van or the wrong van is not what stands between me and happiness. Actually, nothing does, except my belief that I need anything outside of myself to experience happiness.
All the great sages have told us, peace comes from the inside, and nothing can keep us from it. God (Love, Happiness, Peace, call it what you will), is nearer than our hands and feet — nothing can keep us from the whole and holy perfection and happiness and divinity that we actually are. I’m not a sage yet, so I can’t speak from the enlightenment of knowing and living this fundamental truth all the time… and I desire to feel happy and good and LIGHTER more often and in evermore circumstances and situations, and to share the ways I figure out how to do that with others. So here I am sharing about it.
Specifically, I’d like to share that Byron Katie’s Four Liberating Questions are helping me a lot. Check them out. Those four questions led to getting me out of the depressive spiral I was sinking into, and then having the thought, « Oh my God, writing a successful book and/or finding the perfect van will NOT make me happy! »
And, thanks Mandy, I ordered A Million Miles in a Thousand Years on Audible. Because I think this dude Donald Miller can probably help me gain some more perspective on what actually brings happiness, since it’s actually not super successful books or super badass vans.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress when it comes to finding what will make me happy.
love always x,