No B.S Friday: most people make a big mistake when they set the trajectory of their lives.
In many ways, humans are a hot mess.
I don’t feel I really need to justify that. It’s pretty easy to find people just making a hot mess of themselves, of their countries or of the entire planet.
I don’t think it’s my case to make.
But one of the ways that I think humans are particularly hot and messy is that we have created a circular motivational system for ourselves.
So, ask most people what the point of life is, and I reckon 8 out of ten will tell you that the point of life is to be happy. To enjoy life.
That’s what we’re here to do.
The founding fathers of America enshrined it as a right – the pursuit of happiness.
We are pursuing happiness. We’re chasing it. Happiness is the goal and the target.
That’s a pretty mainstream and vanilla idea. Most people would agree with it.
Now, what is happiness? Well, it’s an emotion right? I think most people would say that. Happiness is something that you ‘feel’?
Again, nothing too controversial there.
Now, the real question here is, what are emotions?
Well, what I would say, and perhaps this is a little controversial, is that our emotions are our automatic guidance systems.
Every feeling we feel is.
If we are cold and we find something warm – like a bear-skin rug or something, that warmth is a motivational cue. It’s our bodies way of saying to us, “Hey, that warmth feels nice. Do more of that. Get closer to that.”
It automatically guides us out of the cold and into the warmth, which obviously improves the odds of survival.
That seems fairly obvious for things like physical pain, but I’d argue that all emotions are serving a similar role.
They’re there to guide us towards the things that are good for us, and away from the things that are bad for us.
So we feel a loving bond to the people around us because we’re a herd species and we survive better in packs.
Laying out an abundant spread of food at Christmas makes us happy – happiness rewards us for creating abundance and enjoying food.
Watching your lover leaves you makes you sad because you now have fewer mating opportunities… and your complex needs for intimacy and understanding have also been dashed.
Over time we have developed some fairly complex needs – social status, actualisation etc. It’s not all just rooting and eating.
But what I would argue is that happiness is what tells us we’re on the right track in life. It’s the way of helping us remember situations that are good for us, and encouraging us to repeat them.
In that way, happiness is a guidance system.
But have we gone and done?
We’ve made the guidance system itself the point.
When we pursue happiness, we pursue the signposts to the things that are good for us.
Happiness is not the thing.
And what is the thing?
Well, that’s what we have to figure out. We have to inquire into our souls, determine which drives are coming from our most elevated and inspired self, and shoot for those.
But if we’re just pursuing ‘happiness’ we’re missing the point.
Happiness guides us towards what we really want and what we are here to do.
But happiness itself is not the point.
We have set the guidance system itself as the destination. It’s like punching your GPS into your GPS.
No wonder we’re so confused.
No wonder we’re such a hot mess.