On happiness and letting go

Please forgive the rambling nature of this post, I’m just really interested in this sort of thing these days! 🙂


Last night I found myself in an overwhelming state of hopelessness–  brought on by severely trivial things. I was failing hard at guitar hero (if anyone remembers that game) and then proceeded to move on to fail even more miserably at chess. Normally I’d just laugh my failures off but for whatever reason my failures on this particular night triggered some sort of emotional shit storm and I suddenly felt volcanically useless.

Do any of you know what I mean?

Those times where you just question everything you’re doing in your life, your purpose and direction, and you wonder how you’ll ever manage to navigate your way back to competence. If you know what I’m talking about, you know how utterly hopeless it feels. At times like these, it feels like the sweeping self doubt will never pass. For whatever reason we seem to convince ourselves that sadness and misery are here to stay forever which, of course, they aren’t. A few deep breaths and a good night’s sleep can help to clarify that.

These extreme emotions on the negative end of the feelings spectrum aren’t something we seek to achieve, they just kind of happen upon us. But for whatever reason, when it comes to the opposite– happiness — we are far more likely to look at it as some kind of epitome of emotional accomplishment and seek it out as something to achieve, rather than letting it be something we simply experience. And the consequence of this is that when happiness does come upon us, we often regard it as fleeting, something that is impossible to hold onto, and that, in turn, makes us even sadder.

We need to accept that happiness, like everything else we feel, comes in waves. It comes and goes. By trying to grasp some kind of permanent feeling of happiness we are actually doing ourselves a great disservice. People will sometimes ask one another, “are you happy with your life?” Which as an absolutely absurd and loaded question. I think it’s far better to strive for contentment, don’t you? If we strive for contentment then we can better appreciate happiness when it comes. Letting go of the idea that we should be ‘obtaining happiness’ and instead just live our lives and give ourselves permission to feel accepting of whatever emotions life throws at us will probably lead us in a more peaceful direction.

The demand for permanence in every area of our existence is the cause of human misery.

That quote comes from U.G. Krishnamurti. I guess all of these thoughts are coming from a series of audio recordings of his that I’ve been listening to of late, along with a whole lot of Alan Watts.

I’ll share one recording which has left a particularly strong impression on me…


So what do you guys think? I’d love to get some discussion going and hear some of your thoughts. Please feel free to share them if you’re so inclined. If not, then I’ll just say thanks for reading and I hope you have a great night/afternoon/morning wherever you are.

22 thoughts on “On happiness and letting go

  1. I don’t know if I can articulate my thoughts well, but I welcome the opportunity to try.
    I am not really good at defining generations, but whatever generation I am in, we were told to shoot for the stars. Everything was possible and anything that we wanted was achievable. While some of us could live up to that, it isn’t necessarily true for all of us. We watched others buy huge mansions and drive fantastic cars, telling ourselves we would be next.
    Was that unrealistic? Yes. It was nice to have that backing, but where was the support when it failed? While many people can cope with this and modify their expectations over time, there are lots of examples of people who can’t. These are the people who are hopelessly in debt and can’t cope.
    In my parents generation, one TV for the whole family was good. Now, every child needs their own TV and cable monthly satellite receiver bill.
    Most of these things are just consumerism. I think we could be happy with less. Fewer TV channels, a more basic phone, fewer distractions and fewer bills.
    They say it takes a month to break a habit. I wonder if that applies to materialism as well.
    As for psychological needs…..this is perhaps different. We all want to be successful, but I wonder if our definition of successful has changed? My jobs pays well enough that I won’t go hungry and with a little effort will allow me to take more cycling trips in the future. However, if I compare myself to my friends, I earn less than them, am probably lower on the ranking list for positions, and have few promotional prospects on the horizon. They have children and a growing family, whereas I do not. I wouldn’t say I am jealous….but they do seem to have accomplished more.
    If you are feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything, I doubt that is true. The problem is that comparing accomplishments is like comparing apples and SUVs. Additionally, if you really want to know what your accomplishments are, you should ask your friends and family. They might surprise you as to how much more positively they view your life (unless it is hardwired into their nature to belittle everything you do like some TV mother-in-laws).
    Shortly after my divorce, I told my friends that I was working on being a better person. They responded by telling me that I was already a great person.
    It would be great if I could say, I was totally comfortable with my lot in life. It certainly would take away the tide of depression that happens when I think too long on these things. Fortunately for me, it is just a tide and not a tsunami. It rises and falls. Most time I can summon up enough positive things to bring a tide of contentment to myself.
    I would recommend a book for you. It is called Being, Not Having. I will go and look up the author in a minute.
    A last thought is this. If you are worried that you haven’t done enough, or achieved enough, consider how many people like you. Consider who would show up for your funeral (a macabre thought, but when comparing material things vs. intangible things, it might serve as a good example.)
    Sorry to ramble. I hope I haven’t been too incoherent.

    1. Don’t apologise for the ramble, I love when rambles pop up in the comments!

      I’m not good with generations either, but I think my generation is (at worst) thought of as lazy/entitled/selfish… the generation that only thinks about themselves.. and (at best) compassionate/entrepreneurial dreamers… I wonder who is putting all of these characteristics on generations anyway?

      I think the definition of success is definitely changing and changing rapidly. I think being successful in the traditional sense of “job/house/kids” is on its way out. Although I certainly have friends who are still after that image. I would rather be comfortable and afford to be able to take trips (and bike trips, too!) because to me, the freedom to do what we all should be free to do anyway–explore the world and pursue our interests– is way more rewarding than devoting myself to a system or a job I don’t care for… (or is it my generation talking?) I don’t know. I do know that when my mother was my age she had me, and a husband, and a house, whereas those things seem impossible to me at this stage of my life.

      I’d also call success being a nice person who thinks outside of themselves, aims to contribute something positive to the world, and who is looking to better all of our situations. It always catches me by surprise when I run into someone who is still a corporate jerk, thinking they are better than others because of their job/lifestyle/cars/house/whatever. That kind of attitude feels like a person who is lost. I also think those people aren’t necessarily happy or contented either.

      As for me, I do have this nagging feeling like I want to do more, or that I haven’t done enough… I guess we all kind of have that. And you’re definitely right that looking to our friends can help us to see ourselves more clearly. When I think of who would come to my funeral I just start to have my mind blown that one day I will have a funeral. The last party all about me… only I won’t be there, ha! And also to think of people who will be there that maybe I haven’t even met yet….

      I’m going off track now, but this whole topic is just one big wormhole!! I will look into that book you recommended. Thank you so much for leaving such a thoughtful reply, you are awesome! 🙂

  2. Happiness is not a destination, it’s a journey. Life is full of many things including happiness; life too is a journey.

    We’re simply, figuring out who we are along the way. Trying to understand the world and things around us as they pass us by. Scary? Most definitely. Change is constant along our pilgrimage, the trick is to see that change is necessary but not detrimental to our overall well being.

    Keep an open mind and an open heart, so that all you truly need can fall into you along the way. They’re like, surprises you didn’t know you’d been preparing yourself to find. Little gifts of happiness. 🙂

    1. That is a really beautiful way to look at it 🙂 I used to feel stressed thinking about the future, but in the last few years I’ve really calmed down on that. It’s exciting to think that anything could happen in the future, and like you say, if we are open then there are so many possibilities.

      Happiness is often a surprise, isn’t it?… and that is kind of adorable! You never know when it might show up. Like sadness and other things. I suppose as I think about it more I wouldn’t even want to be happy all the time anyway cause that would be boring. Also it would feel like I’m not conscious of the world around me and the reality is there are a lot of things to feel sad about and that I want to feel sad about.

      There’s so much to say on this, really…

      I appreciate you! Thanks for your words. ❤

      1. Glad you agree. I feel the same way, the only way to be happy all the time is to turn numb to everything else, in which case…what’s the point?!

        Always happy to share my thoughts and hopefully add something to anything and any one I encounter. 🙂

  3. I have often felt what you have described, but after long years in the trenches of these feelings, I have learned that they are clouds – just transient, passing things. They mean nothing beyond what deep, hand-wringing attention I give to them. Simply live – all these things come and go. They do not merit such attention. Peace .. .

    1. You’re right and I have so often given them way more than they deserve. I’m hoping to think of them as you suggest, because it’s true they are just passing by. Not long ago I attended this meditation and the guide was saying something very similar. “Imagine a clear blue sky, thoughts that come through are just like the clouds.. imagine them dissolving back into that clear blue.” Or something to that affect.

      Of course when I’m really worked up it’s a lot harder to imagine that sky, haha.

      Thank you for the comment 🙂

      1. Oh yes – I didn’t say it was easy! 😉 Yes, the cloud analogy is perfect. Everything that occurs in our lives, be it thoughts or events, are always just passing through. Peace . . .

  4. As someone in the final chapter of life it seems to me that U.G. Krishnamurti is talking a lot of sense in the video clip. I am not impressed by either of the other two – pontificating about life for what reason I don’t know. There’s probably money involved somewhere. I don’t know the situation in Canada but children in UK are among the unhappiest in the world because they are raised to expect too much, too much of what is essentially worthless, and this carries through into adulthood causing a high, and increasing, level of mental ‘illness’. The answer proposed from all quarters? – spent more and more money on treating, even ‘curing’, the illness! That in itself will just lead to more ‘mental illness’ to be cured, which is what underlies what Krishnamurti is saying.

    1. Yes very true. Mental health is such a strange thing to navigate these days. I think in Canada they like prescribing pills to solve it. Therapy is only an option for the rich as many therapists often charge $100 or more per session and they are not covered under our health plan. The result is that sadly prescriptions are more accessible than just having someone to talk to (which is maybe all people really need sometimes). I definitely don’t know enough about this space to talk much on the subject but I know a lot of people struggling.

  5. I agree with your observations, Heather. If happiness and sadness, elation and despondency, etc. could be viewed as being equal — not in terms of enjoyability, but as emotional states — perhaps we wouldn’t try to cling so to happy moments (and by so doing, make ourselves miserable). Evenmindedness, authenticity, contentment: these can be strived for. Happiness? Not so much. ;- )

    1. You just said it way better than I did! I also used to feel like aiming for a steady mind meant somehow giving up feeling things intensely (which was always a turn off for me with meditation/yoga, “enlightenment” perhaps). Keeping an even mind while still enjoy the ride of being human makes a lot of sense to me.

      Thanks for the comment, Bill!

  6. First and foremost, thanks for calling me awesome. Such positive words really do help a lot.
    I incorrectly stated the title of the book. I should have gone to my shelf and checked it first…but I was too busy trying to articulate.
    The book is called To Have Or To Be, by Erich Fromm. A little heavy (for my commute) perhaps but nothing you can’t handle.
    Have an amazing weekend.

  7. I enjoyed your post! I have a few thoughts about what makes a good life.

    (1) Feeling that you have a place and a function.
    (2) Feeling valued for who you are and what you can do.
    (3) Problems and difficulties pop up regularly and that’s to be expected, but when daily life is too much of a struggle for whatever reason, that’s not good. We like a challenge but are happier if most of what we do is straightforward. We don’t like feeling we’re having to prove ourselves all the time, and don’t want to feel that every day is like toiling up a hill pushing a giant boulder. 🙂

    I can’t get this comment perfect, though I’ve worked on it for several minutes, so I’ll just have to ‘let it go’ now…

    1. Yes to feeling valued for who you are! and for what you can do. Plus feeling valued for who we are gives us the confidence to do the things that we can do… so somehow makes it even more important. And then that, of course, leads us to the idea of surrounding ourselves with people who elevate us and inspire us (not always easy to find).

      Sure feels like there are a whole lot of things to get “right” these days. I need to make a checklist haha.

      And your comment was great, my comment is not so great but please forgive me cause I’m also going to let it go 😉

      Thanks for reading and sharing these thoughts!

  8. Thanks for the enlightening thought starter.
    I very much enjoyed those speakers in the video. Particularly the words
    “this transient, beautifully fragile thing, that life is”

    Letting go of life – letting go of trying to hold onto something that maybe has no permanence at all – in order to be free enough to fully embrace each moment that comes.

    That is a goal for ultimate self-care.

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