The Way to HappinessBy Dr. Margaret Paul
May 13, 2013
Are you ready to discover the way to happiness? Are you ready to discover what Epictetus knew over 2000 years ago?
"There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will." ~Epictetus, AD 55-135
It's hard for me to imagine that Epictetus, Greek sage and philosopher who was born a slave in what is currently known as Turkey, knew what many people are still trying to grasp – that "Suffering occurs from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power." (from Wikipedia, quoting Epictetus).
I guess it's true that ”there is nothing new under the sun,” and that we just keep having to learn the same lessons over and over.
I know his teaching to be completely true, because I used to worry about all kinds of things I couldn't control and I suffered with much anxiety. When I finally let go of the illusion of trying to control others and outcomes, and focused instead on what I can control – me – that's when life became so much easier and happier.
Control is such a big issue with most people. We want to convince ourselves that if only we say things right, do things right, pray right, judge ourselves enough, achieve enough, earn enough, acquire enough, say enough affirmations – then we can control how people feel about us and the outcome of things… and then we will be happy.
What is within our power? Primarily, it is within our power to determine our own intent – either to learn about loving ourselves and others, or to protect ourselves against pain with some form of controlling behavior.
Such a paradox! Our controlling behaviors, designed to protect us from pain, are actually what cause much of our pain. When we try to control - by being perfect, by judging ourselves, by getting angry, by giving ourselves up – we make ourselves miserable. When we choose the intent to learn about loving ourselves and others, then we learn to behave in ways that create happiness.
Given that this knowledge was available in AD 100, why are we still struggling with this?
There is a very good reason.
One of the hardest feelings for any of us to feel is helpless. It's a really tough feeling. Most people will do anything to avoid feeling helpless over how other people feel about them, and over the outcome of things. So they avoid the feeling with a myriad of controlling behaviors. And the controlling behaviors do seem to work – not by affecting how other people feel about them or controlling the outcome of things, but by temporarily protecting them from the intolerable feeling of helplessness. Do you feel helpless when you get angry and blame someone? Generally not. It’s likely that you convince yourself that getting angry and blaming is powerful - even though the other person may resist you, or walk away, or get angry back. While you are angry and blaming, you are successfully avoiding the feeling of helplessness, so this behavior appears to work to control a feeling that you are afraid to feel.
Other controlling behaviors also work to block out painful feelings – feelings such as loneliness, heartbreak and grief. Many people are so afraid of these painful feelings of life that they will behave in ways that create misery, rather than risk feeling these feelings. They will avoid their pain by judging themselves, turning to various addictions, and making others responsible for their feelings of worth and safety. As long as their controlling behaviors work to cover over their helplessness, heartbreak, loneliness and grief, they believe these behaviors are working for them – even though, in truth, it is causing them to feel anxious, depressed, shamed or angry. They are willing to sacrifice their happiness to avoid their pain.
As Epictetus stated, happiness lies in letting go of trying to control what we can't control, and controlling what we can. One of the things we can control is whether or not we learn to manage the core painful feelings of life. We all have this choice, and the Inner Bonding process is an amazing way of learning this. Once you are no longer afraid of these feelings, then you will be able to let go of controlling what you can't…and you will find your happiness.
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Who are you giving yourself up to in order to avoid rejection? With whom are you not fully yourself to not face a lack of caring and support if you are all you can be? Are you keeping yourself small to avoid knowing the truth of who really cares about your highest good and who will not support you in being all you can be?
By Dr. Margaret Paul