Life can be simple and happy.
In fact, I’m convinced that’s our natural state as human beings.
However many attachments we form end up causing us misery and making every day a grind that it doesn’t have to be.
This is especially true in our fast-paced modern world with its many distractions, fixations and delusions.
Let’s dive in and take a look at what you should drop if you want to be happy and fulfilled.
1) Future expectations
The future looms ahead of all of us and we dream and dread about what it might bring.
We plan and put effort in to work towards our goals, which is admirable and necessary.
However we also attach expectations and conditions to our goals:
We depend on a certain career, a certain relationship, or a certain type of life in order to envision future happiness or doing what we (or others) feel we “should” do.
“I expected to be a police officer. I ended up being a writer and working in a bookstore. And I’m so happy with where I ended up.
“You can’t force life to happen.”
2) Other people
Future expectations become especially toxic when they’re connected to other people and what we want from them.
In friendship, romantic relationships and even work colleague connections, it’s all too common to attach our well-being to others.
This goes two directions:
- We depend on somebody we love, care about or work with to make us feel good and validate us;
- We blame somebody we love, care about or work with for making us feel unworthy or frustrated.
In both cases, our attachment to somebody else makes us feel miserable and disempowered.
It also leads us further away from real love and the chance to value somebody and relate to them in a non-codependent way.
Material things matter, clearly:
Water, food and shelter are three examples of basic material items that contribute greatly to our well-being and ability to live happily.
But attaching your happiness to what you have or will have is a recipe for disaster.
The more you get, the more you want.
The less you get, the more you’re convinced it’s the reason you feel empty inside and unfulfilled.
The key is to see material things as a means, not an end:
You can get stuff, but it’s so you can do and experience more with it and use it for more endeavors, not just sit with what you have.
The idea of a perfect future or of ourselves reaching a certain level of perfection is a leading cause of unhappiness.
It leads to constant self-monitoring and over-analysis.
It leads to endless disappointment.
Plus, if you do come close to perfecting some area of life, what then?
Perfection is a mental obsession that leads to devaluing and doubting our own value and the value of what we do.
When we get stuck in our mind and in over-analysis, we self-sabotage the simple moments of life and the present.
There’s a lot of value in our mental processes and what we can discover and realize, but the pitfalls of over-intellectualizing are serious.
Life’s a crazy experience, and there remain many parts of this journey that are more about the questions than the answers.
Don’t overthink it!
Getting the adrenaline pumping can become an addiction for some.
In moderation I think it’s great.
But when it becomes a constant need and an attachment, thrill-seeking transforms into something that keeps you from being happy.
Whenever not engaging in a thrilling endeavor from bungee jumping to trying a new substance or new sexual adventure, you feel empty.
When you stop being attached to needing to feel stimulated or excited all the time, you allow yourself to sit in the simplicity or quiet of the moment.
You savor an amazing bite of food and think:
“Now this is what life’s all about.”
7) Chasing novelty
A related aspect of thrill-seeking is chasing novelty.
The need for the new.
It can consume some of us, can’t it?
I know in my case that a feeling of the need for new places, people, experiences and ideas has been a lifelong obsession.
I think there’s a balance here:
On the one hand it’s good to have that hunger inside that’s not easily satisfied and wants to find new frontiers…
On the other hand I think it’s good to know how to sit quietly and be satisfied sometimes, to sink into a routine even if it seems a bit dull at times.
There needs to be a balance between that hunger and learning to acclimatize to order and stability.
I’m working on it!
8) Ego validation
The desire to have our egos validated is a big blockage to being happy.
I believe that the ego has an important role and do not believe in ego dissolution or “overcoming” it.
But I do think that the ego and the id don’t have much space between them in the wrong context.
You as a conscious individual need to learn to tame your ego and some of its impulses.
This especially includes the desire and fixation the ego has on being flattered, stroked and adored.
The healthy desire for attention and love is one thing!
The egotistical fixation and attachment on being powerful and the center of attention is something else and can quickly sabotage happiness and the simple pleasures of life.
9) Ideological fixation
Ideologies are systems of belief formed around ideas and philosophies.
They are one of the most powerful things in the world, shaping the societies around us and almost everything we see and experience.
Believing in certain ideologies is a natural part of life, and I believe that curiosity and even enthusiasm is a natural response to philosophies we find uplifting or engaging.
However, attachment to ideology is something else and it tends to lead to misery.
Everything becomes filtered through whether it accords to agreeing with our political or philosophical framework, even people.
It’s exhausting and unnecessary…
10) The need to be right
When we need to be right, we see life through a distorted lens:
Everything is about how I can be shown to be right or know I’m right and to feel assured that I understand how the world works.
But keeping alive that sense of wonder and mystery is crucial.
Furthermore, allowing other people the benefit of the doubt at times is a heartening experience.
You’ll find that you actually feel more confident as you let go of the need to be right.
Being right is fine. Sometimes you do need to insist on a fact being a fact!
But that attachment to needing to be right and needing to be seen to be right is something else.
If you let go of it you won’t miss it!
Simple as can be
Life has so many layers, but many of our deepest experiences go beyond words and beyond expectations.
To have a simple and happy life, there are three main ingredients I have found:
- Find your mission and commit to it
- Help yourself and other people
- Be active and present through life’s ups and downs
The spiritual or religious aspect and deeper meaning also figure into these three pieces of advice.
Being happy happens when you least expect it, when you’re fully engaged in what you’re doing and focused on the present moment.