The tall shelf in our mom’s closet that we can’t quite reach

One evening at my support group, we did an exercise that annoyed me.

The guy leading the discussion posed the following question, giving each member two minutes to answer:

What is standing between you and total happiness right now?

It sounded like something pulled from the appendix of a life coaching handbook. One of those sharp, poignant questions that’s supposed to cut to the core of the client’s soul and reveal who they really are.

But to me, that question is total bullshit.

First, because it’s centered around happiness. Which is deeply importantly, but mostly in the micro. Each of us should have a list of small and simple adjustments, additions and subtractions that will have a disproportionate effect on our overall happiness.

Like keeping floss picks at our desk or waking up without an alarm on the weekends. That’s happiness.

However, when it comes to the macro level, happiness is not the target. It’s our reward for hitting the target. Fulfillment is the target. Happiness is just a pleasant aftershock.

Here’s the second fallacy of this question.

What is standing between you and total happiness right now?

Well, this assumes that happiness is this thing that’s out there somewhere, and it’s ours for the taking, but only after we satisfy certain conditions and requirements. Like getting a job, finding true love, buying a house and having children.

Once those pesky little items are checked off our to do list, then we can focus on being happy.

But until then, happiness will continue exceed our grasp, like the tall shelf in our mom’s closet that we can’t quite reach.

Most of us approach life in this way. We mistakenly believe that happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, meaning, joy, or whatever other existential reward we’re searching for, isn’t something we have access to in the moment.

When the reality is, that’s the only place we can find it. Our experience of those rewards is completely dependent on how we relate to the present moment.

Trying to imagine a more ideal version of right now is what causes us to suffer.

To use one of my favorite metaphors, we’re standing on a whale, fishing for minnows.

How many conditions need to be met before you’re happy?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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