“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
– Albus Dumbledore
When I was a child reading Harry Potter, I never understood this quote. I somehow knew that it was going to be an important one, but I could never make sense of why any person in their right mind would ever “turn off the light”. It took some growing up for me to finally start to turn it off myself. And then a whole lot more growing up to come to the same conclusion as I did when I first read this, that turning off this light is not the smartest thing to do. So why do we still keep doing it?
As we grow up, we get confronted with a multitude of things that are difficult for us to achieve. Studying, working low paid jobs, taking on more and more responsibilities to take care of ourselves and maybe at some point, even a whole family. During that process, we inevitably get to that point where we can’t find a way around doing something we really don’t want to do. Sometimes it is hard for us to execute something we suffer from in the present to profit from it in the future. What we need at that point is what we call motivation, basically a reason for us to do something every fiber inside of us resists against doing. And since that situation occurs so incredibly often and sometimes, our whole future is at stake, we unknowingly take some extreme measures to make sure we are motivated.
This is our ultimate solution, the collective effort of generations and generations of people trying to get work done, the product of a whole society trying to work to each other’s profit. It ain’t pretty, but it get’s the job done. What do I mean by that? In Germany, we have a saying that each and every one of us probably has been told at some point in our lives: “Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen” which roughly translates to “First, you have to get your work done, then you can do what pleases you.”, and that is exactly what we do. We take something we really want and link it to whatever needs to be done that we need motivation for, suddenly making the impossible easy. If you only allow yourself to spend time with your friends if you have gotten some work done, you will most certainly work as hard as you can. If you only allow yourself to have dinner if your work is completed, you will do everything you can to end that hunger creeping up on you. But let’s look at that in a greater context.
Doesn’t that mean we take the things we like and want to do and that are always available for us, and make ourselves deserve them? Those things are what we want, what makes us happy and we misuse our passion for them to utilize them as a treat after having accomplished our work? We all know those children who were not allowed to eat candy. As soon as they got their first allowance, it was absolutely certain what they were going to spend it all on. We denaturalize our relationship to things that essentially make us happy, from the pleasures in life to effectively drugs we need to crave to reward ourselves for having done something we didn’t want to do. And much worse, we take our personal happiness and turn it into a carrot we can always run towards, but never reach. Ironically, we then forget what was obvious to us as children, that we can simply stop chasing our happiness, take the stick off our back and enjoy it, unconditionally. Happiness doesn’t need to be deserved or obtained, we carry it around with us all the time. We just can’t see it because we are misusing it and in the process denaturalizing our relationship to it. Happiness is to drop out of this race we are pushed into. It’s taking a stroll through a beautiful park instead of trying to match your record lap time. It’s enjoying life as it is instead of trying to change the things you made your happiness depend on in order to obtain it again. It’s letting go and accepting that your life is exactly the way it’s supposed to be like.
Another way of motivating ourselves is the mechanism of procrastination, as I described in a separate article. We more or less intentionally wait for us to be afraid enough to avoid the consequences of not doing what we are supposed to do, utilizing fear as a very powerful motivation. From this perspective, everybody in their right minds would realize that this is not the healthiest way of intrinsic motivation.
In consequence, our whole idea of motivation is incredibly paradox. The more we think we push ourselves, the more we go to our limits and force ourselves to work, the less effective we become. The thing that is hard to imagine for us as people who are used to this mechanism is, that you don’t need any artificial motivation when you let go of the concept of forcing yourself to do something. Imagine how easy it would be to write a paper if you actually had fun doing it; if you actually wanted to do it. There is a door to this state of mind, we are just blocking it with all the “I have to get this done by Monday”, the “I’m going to fail this class if this isn’t perfect” and the “I’m not going to go out with my friends or go to sleep unless I haven’t finished this”. Our perception of anything is relative. The simplest task is neutral to us until we regard it to be either a pleasure or a pain to do. But with this motivation mechanism, we regard anything that is not in our “pleasure” category of things to motivate us by as work and everything else as “chores” that we need to force ourselves to do. This mechanism requires us to think in these categories and that is the real reason why we struggle so much. If you were to have fun with your chores, this whole system would fail. So in order to open our perception to finding fun and pleasure in anything, we need to let go of this concept of deserving happiness and instrumentalizing our fears. This will enable you to regain your relationship to your happiness, to what your heart wants. To find your way in life, this step is crucial. And if you follow that way, do what you love with whom you love, there will be no need to motivate yourself ever again. Suddenly, you won’t have to study anymore. There will be no lectures or classes you will have to go to. There will be no chores you will have to do. You will be privileged to have the chance to learn something new, expand your horizon and your knowledge base. You will be glad that you get a chance to do the kind of work you want to do. You will accept your life the exact way it is and start to enjoy everything that happens because it is your choice to make how you perceive it. And that, my friend, is happiness 🙂