The Short Cut to True Happiness

 Don’t tell the ego this, but there is a happiness that is different to the excited, giddy happiness that it delivers when you drive your new car home, win at Bingo, or bite into that gooey brownie. It comes from being fully engaged in what you are doing and living in the present moment. We dip into this restful feeling of contentment several times a day, perhaps without even being aware of it.

The ego tells you that you have to do something to earn happiness and love.

The Critic and the Dreamer aspects of the ego are partners in this strategy. First, the Critic tells you about all the things that are wrong with you and makes you feel terrible. It tells you that you have to lose those 10, 20, or 200 pounds first. You have to heal your food issue or get your head together before anyone one else would want you. Then the Dreamer steps in, offering salvation from the mess you are in. Sometimes we bypass the critic altogether and move straight to the Dreamer setting lofty goals like getting a promotion or a doctorate first. Once you fulfill the task, others will notice how magnificent you are, and you will get all of the trappings of a happy life—the right partner, clothes, house, possessions, bank account and admiration and respect to win the brass ring called happiness.

The Critic/Dreamer approach to finding happiness seems to make sense, particularly if you watch liquor commercials or read popular culture magazines. Our culture is acting as the mouth-piece of the ego. Their values are identical. And when we don’t follow this course, we seem out of step. We don’t fit in and that can feel a bit uncomfortable. After all everyone else is doing it. They can’t all be wrong, right?

The Pleasure Seeking Child has another approach altogether. It tells you, “The Critic and the Dreamer want you to do so much work to get your slice of happiness. Forget those guys. Why not give yourself some pleasure right now. Why not just buy that new watch or dress? Why not dig into that pint of Jamoca Almond Fudge Ice Cream? You can have happiness right now, rather than waiting for it and doing so much work. Come on. You deserve some pleasure right now!”

The ego is like the fake cop in the heist movie, who tells the real cops, “They went thata way!” pointing them in the wrong direction. Or “Hurry up and get your happiness, it’s this way!” “Just do or be x, y, or z and it’s all yours, for the rest of your life.”

The only problem with this approach is that the ego, just like the crooked cop, is leading you in the wrong direction. It is leading you away from the moment and away from yourself. This movement away will never yield the happiness that we all yearn for.

It’s not surprising that we’ve fallen for the ego’s tricks. We are programmed to pay attention to and follow our desires, taking action that will lead to their fulfillment. We get even more sucked into the ego’s approach to life because when we follow the Critic and Dreamer’s advice, for example, and get the svelte body or the promotion, we feel an excited kind of happiness. We revel in that feeling of “Wow, I’ve finally arrived. I’ve finally made it.” And we revel in that for a little while at least. Then, the ego gets bored and it’s on to the next task. It says, “Okay we did that, now what?” It takes the massive effort or accomplishment for granted. So much for life long satisfaction and happiness!

When we have suffered enough to realize that the ego’s values and strategies don’t deliver happiness after all, but bring a feeling of emptiness and misery instead, perhaps we are ready to take the short cut to happiness.

The first step to avoid falling into the ego’s trap is seeing the ego for the trickster it is. When the ego comes up with another brilliant plan, you wake up and realize that it is the ego tempting you once again. It is not the wise part of you that knows better. This time you say “thanks but no thanks.”

Instead, you take the short cut to happiness. Rather than follow the ego’s plan that leads away from happiness, you feel into what is present in the moment, that vibrant aliveness that envelops you when you move out of thought and pay attention to all of the other things that are arising in the moment: the leaf floating on the breeze, the warmth of the sun on your face, the sound of the bus as it goes by, the feeling of your breath moving in and out of your body, the smell of coffee brewing next door.

The direct experience of whatever is present right now is the short cut to happiness. When you notice yourself getting caught up in thought and worry, ask yourself, “Where is the quiet?” This simple question will bring you into the present moment and your natural state of happiness. Rather than circling around it and never landing there, you sink right into the happiness that is always available, free, and requires nothing of you.