Does Thinking Interfere with Happiness?

by | Oct 28, 2017 | General

I was working on the computer at home today and I decided to put some music on. Although it may sound mundane to some people, I must say that one of the things I am grateful for in my life is the ability to shuffle my playlist. I can shuffle all my music all day long. When I was young I used to make compilation tapes to hear a variety of my favorite songs. It was a painstaking process of gathering albums, tapes, and later CDs, trying to get them in the right order for my “Mare’s Mix” tape. But these were not truly random — they were contrived by me. Shuffle is out of my control and most always delightful. It’s so interesting how the perfect song follows the one before, way better than I would have chosen. Hearing my shuffled playlist today, really brought me to a happy state of mind and I enjoyed the task I was doing throughout the afternoon on the computer.

Shuffle is a lot like life when you let it flow. When you let go of the struggle and the need to fix things, control things, battle things and make them your way, you might find happiness creeps into your life unexpectedly. I have noticed when working with many of my clients, it is not their depression or anxiety that they suffer from the most. It is their desire to stop the depression or anxiety that causes the most suffering. It’s the same for those who endure chronic pain. Not wanting to feel the pain creates more of a problem than the pain itself. One of the most fundamental techniques to cultivate happiness is dropping the struggle.

Why would dropping the struggle increase the potential for happiness? Aren’t we taught to keep trying, keep fighting, to gain the self satisfaction of winning? If playing a sport or fighting in a war, yes! But somehow society has taken this idea and spread it to all goals, activities and experiences in everyday life. We are told to fight everything. This is not natural and depletes our happiness.

What does it take to drop the struggle? Being in the now. Experiencing the present moment instead of focusing on thoughts about the present moment. The mind has a tendency to take what is going on now and compare it to what it knows from the past. Nine out of ten times this creates a struggle, or at the very least a judgment. Mind is memory. Every thought is from the past. Even the future is based on our knowledge of what we think will happen, and that knowledge comes from the past. If a person is truly in the present moment, they are not thinking about it. Presence is an experience. And with the experience of the now, going with the flow is natural and spontaneous – there is no struggle.

Alanis Morissette, in her 1995 song “All I Really Want,” sings “Why are you so petrified of silence, Here can you handle this?” The music stops dead into silence for a few seconds. She continues “Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines, or when you think you’re gonna die, or did you long for the next distraction.” I have noticed in my interactions with both clients and personal relationships in my life, people are addicted to thinking. If a person is not thinking they feel anxious, like a security blanket was taken away. It is the human condition to get lost in the storyline of thinking and create a false reality to increase comfort and familiarity, only to find that life takes over and messes with your vision. The more detailed the storyline the more you will struggle and the less happy you will feel. As one of my favorite Woody Allen quotes says, “Want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

Changing this tendency to be addicted to thinking will take some time. As the famous medieval French phrase states “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. If you can become aware of when you let a thought go and when you hold onto the thought, you will gain an amazing awareness of your mind and its mechanics. If you find there are certain thoughts you hold onto and think about a lot, start to explore why. Awareness alone is your greatest asset and can cultivate change purely through the process of becoming more aware.

The truth is, for many people their thoughts are more interesting than their experience of the moment, and that is why they get lost in thinking. The secret is to find something interesting about each experience that unfolds throughout the day. Now that’s a challenge worthy of fighting for!

Here are 7 main ground rules for increasing awareness of how the mind works — thought vs thinking:

  1. Trying to control your thoughts is impossible. Controlling thinking is very possible. You can choose which thought to think about, or not, with practice.
  2. Trying to clear your mind is impossible to sustain. Thoughts will always return. Don’t try and struggle with this process.
  3. Thoughts are simple – they come and they go. Thinking is complicated.
  4. The more complicated a person is, the more they are attached to thinking.
  5. The more you excessively think, the more you are missing the reality of the present moment.
  6. The details of thinking are not as important as the reality of the present moment, because thoughts are based entirely on past impressions and experiences. Not noticing the present leads to a lack of fulfillment.
  7. Too much thinking causes a disconnect with the experience of now, interfering with the potential for real happiness. Happiness from thinking is often superficial, contrived and fleeting.

All of the best times in my life are the unexpected ones. The times when I am in the moment, enjoying the person, the place or the activity I am doing, without my mind interfering with what it thinks it wants, are my happiest times. This is agenda-free living. It is like living in a shuffle playlist of experiences, whenever possible. With this ability to go with the flow, happiness is definitely attainable.