Do you ever find yourself burning the candle at both ends, unable to answer the question “Why am I doing this?” Do you feel alone or disconnected even though you are “living it up”? Do you people look at your life and think you have it all but you never feel satisfied that things are good enough? Are you looking for happiness? If the answer is yes, you are not alone!
The good news is, there is a simple (but not easy) way to solve life’s biggest problems. Here’s the catch: it may require boatloads of courage. What most people are looking for is happiness, and I don’t just mean any kind of happiness. I mean Eudaemonia, as Aristotle called it. That is the kind of happiness that comes from the satisfaction of a job well done, from reaping the rewards of tough choices and seeing the long-term fruit of your labor. It is human flourishing when people fully develop their abilities and use them to do good. It is the glorious feeling of accomplishment. And, it takes courage to be happy.
The reason why each of you find yourself here and now is the sum total of all the decisions you have ever made in your life. Life brought you circumstances and you made choices about how to respond to them. Sometimes you made courageous choices and sometimes you played it safe. Our life is made up of choices, so if we want to change our lives we must look at our choices. Most people make choices unconsciously, without thinking. In order to start heading in the direction you want, toward Eudaemonia, the first step is to be conscious of the decisions you make every day.
Each of us has an internal compass to help us know which decisions will bring us in the right direction but we do not all know how to use it. This compass hinges on two axes; one is knowing your own values and honoring them and the other is taking responsibility for your actions. This creates four quadrants which I call Spoiled Brat, Victim, Picket Fence and Eudaemonia.
I, just like everyone of you, spend time in each of the four quadrants. It is totally normal. The question is, are we aware of which quadrant we are in and do we know how to move toward the quadrant of Eudaemonia?
The lower left quadrant is the Victim mode. This is when we are not honoring our values and we’re not taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions. It is a place of helplessness, of feeling lost and unable to resolve. We feel that we have absolutely no way to get out of our current situation and/or we don’t have the energy to make a change. It is a place of a draining fear of the unknown. We’ve all been there at one point or another and some of us stay there for longer time. In fact, some of us make this a lifestyle.
The lower right quadrant is where the Picket Fence syndrome is. I call it Picket Fence because in America, where I grew up, the Picket Fence is a symbol of achievement. This quadrant is the one where you “have it all”; the family, the job, the house. Your life looks perfect from the outside, but inside you feel empty. You work hard and are not sure why. You have been aiming for goals that are not yours but goals that society has told you are worthy. You are probably over-worked, stressed out and wondering where your youth has disappeared to. All while telling yourself “I SHOULD be happy”. When we are in this quadrant we have lost sight of what is important to us…or perhaps we never knew, and the action needed is to understand what are your values and begin to pursue them. Not everyone in your life will be happy you are suddenly looking after yourself, but it is worth it.
The upper left position is the Spoiled Brat quadrant. Picture the guy zooming around the city in the sports car that his Daddy paid for. Here we do not want to look outside of our own blinders and see how others are impacted by our behavior. We are in denial about what we may be doing those around us. This is where we are eating too much, drinking too much, gaming too much – the land of self-indulgence. It may seem like some kind of happiness and fun but it’s hollow and it thwarts our ability to build connection with others. This is also the home of the Rebel Child. – it is where we catapult when we are over-compensating for spending too much time in Victim or Picket Fence.
The upper right hand is where Eudaemonia lives. We can only experience this reality by making decisions that honor our values while at the same time taking full responsibility for the consequences of those decisions on the people around us. To experience Eudaemonia, we have to take time to understand what our own values are – and how they may differ from the values we inherited from family and society while growing up. We have to live those values and take care of ourselves and be aware of how that impacts the people around us. That is, we have to be willing to face the consequences of the choices we make. If we live our lives for other people who won’t be happy and if we live our lives only for ourselves, we won’t be happy either. We will be in an endless loop that is disconnected from ourself and from others. True connection is only possible if we are feeling whole, energised, with passion and purpose. Do you dare to be happy?
Which quadrant do you currently live in? Do you need to start discovering and paying attention to your own values more or do you need to start looking in the mirror and take responsibility for your life? Or both??
This is an opportunity to ask yourself what you truly want.
So many people stay in the same job for decades not because they love it, but because it is stable. But of course the reality is that stability is just an illusion. It is a concept more than a possibility. If your job were gone tomorrow, what direction would you even take? Would you know where to go? If your relationship disappeared, would you still feel happy about the rest of your life? Or have you been making choices to please your partner?
You do not have to make drastic changes in your life in order to be happy. Even the smallest decisions you make every day are adding up to the reality you live in. So start small and easy, take steps to find out what you love and make more room for those things in your life. Work your way up to the courageous decisions when you are ready. You know exactly what you need to change first.