We often seek happiness by gaining things or shedding things. We seek it in work and accomplishments, or we rid our worldly possessions in search for meaning. But neither will give you peace.
Not because there’s anything wrong with either path, but because happiness and peace have nothing to do with the tangible. And even focusing on a lack of things is still a focus on things…
Up until recently, work made up a lot of why I felt good. Work brought me confidence and things and validation. And whenever I stopped working, I felt like crap. I lived so career-focused, and when work wasn’t there, I’d feel lost and confused about what to do next with my life. But what was actually happening whenever I took a break from work was paramount. Stripping myself of the physical (titles, roles, things to do etc.), left me vulnerable and forced me to meet myself.
In our lifetime, some of us will have some kind of awakening in which we realize that hustle culture and the grind is a) tiring, b) has no impact on overall happiness, and c) can actually detract from overall wellbeing. You might realize that most of the things we put focus on don’t matter–that on our death bed, we’ll regret the time we wasted on things. So we rid, rid rid. Some of us even literally shed ourselves of our possessions in noble pursuit. But we’re still missing the mark…
By ridding ourselves of material titles or goods as a way to feel good, or forcing a perspective with less hustle, we’re still giving the power to the material world. Instead of focusing on acquiring, we’re just focusing on our lack thereof and judging ourselves and how far we’ve come via the physical signs we see and hear: time past, items let go, items acquired, things people say to us, comparison vis a vis photos of others on a similar “journey”. We’re still scratching for external validation and missing the real truth:
True happiness is being wholly aligned with yourself. It’s listening to and taking care of your inner world. And that starts with realizing that alignment has no relation to the material world at all. It’s complicated, though, because we live in a physical world of images and sound. We learn of people’s updates, emotions etc. first through visuals or audibles.
Our apps, our correspondences, our systems are built on physical signs and affirmations. And there’s nothing wrong with that in essence: we need these signs to tell us to stop at an intersection, to press the correct button on the elevator. But we rely so heavily on these external cues to tell us how we’re doing when we should be relying on ourselves.
Sometimes we come out of these realizations thinking we have to shift something in our physical world to find peace. And sometimes we need to! Sometimes big, tangible change is required. (I’m the first person to get behind that. My life looks nothing like it did two years ago!) But sometimes, like it did in my case, the discomfort came from being in this in-between state where I’d recognized that work didn’t define me and that my accomplishments didn’t make up my identity, but nothing I tried doing after made me feel any better. If anything, it confused me more. Why? Because although I was aware, I was still seeking things to do or signs from the universe to pay attention to, or opinions from others for clarity. I didn’t realize that I was still relying on things to bring me temporary peace rather than self.
When I moved across and country and quit my job, I experienced the greatest period of self-doubt I ever had in my life. After the surge of relief and liberation came a whole slew of other emotions that took me months to process. Gone was my shiny salary, my shiny title, my shiny renovated house. And further, I had none of my usual crutches outside of that. I felt confused and lost at times because following your intuition is a solitary process. But instead of distracting myself with work or people or projects like I typically would to feel better, I leaned into my funk and turned my attention inward.
Since, I’ve found a peace with myself I’ve never had before, and the usual anxieties I’d have by now about what I should do with my life are gone. By turning inward and asking myself what I feel like doing rather than what I should do, I learned how to self-validate and follow my intuition with confidence. I experienced awakenings about myself that I would not have otherwise if I just filled the space. And as a result of the unintended self-work, I grew more true to myself. Peace didn’t come because of a new project or friend or accomplishment (all great things that have also happened since), peace truly came from within for the first time in my life.