For many years I misguidedly sought happiness where it didn’t exist. I didn’t understand the principles upon which it flowed. I did things that most people say are important or will make you happy (traveling the world, striving toward achievement, or taking on big and interesting projects), only to discover that happiness did not flow from these things as I had expected.
The experiences of my life have been spectacular, inspirational, fun, and enlightening, but in the end I was left feeling hollow inside. With that empty feeling following close behind, I moved from achievement to achievement and experience to experience—until one day I had a realization.
Something was missing in my life—something deeper than those experiences and achievements could ever provide.
I was only peaceful on the move—when I was traveling or doing something I could forget myself in. When I finally stopped running and was left alone, I discovered I was not peaceful at all. When I stopped moving, I recreated the problems and anxieties of my life again and again. There was a problem with how I sought peace. I had never solved my problems; I only ran from them for a short time.
It is what I discovered as I ran—investing my time in distraction and achievement—that I wish to share with you today:
There were a couple of things missing from my life (at least in their true forms). I’d sought these things through the channels commonly touted as the roadways to success and happiness, and discovered nothing close to what was promised in the end.
I was not at peace with who I was. I felt lost and alone. I didn’t honestly know what I really stood for. Who was I? Where had I gone wrong? I was deeply troubled by these questions as I continued to move from one thing to another. But the answer came slowly. And when it did, it was simple.
First, I was missing true serenity—peace of mind, body, soul, and self.
Additionally I felt that my life wasn’t significant to anyone but me. I felt that my life itself didn’t truly matter. What had I accomplished or contributed in the world? What could I possibly contribute? Without the achievements of my life to give it meaning, who was I? I was overwhelmed by the enormity of what I felt was expected of me by society at large. How could I ever measure up to what society said I had to be in order to be happy?
I didn’t feel that my life held any true significance other than what I had created through the hollow, albeit interesting, achievements of my life up to that point.
These are the two things we seek in life as we mature and grow: significance and serenity. These are the key ingredients of a happy life
We seek these things through many avenues. No matter which avenue we choose in pursuing them, we must beware that we don’t simply replace significance and serenity with the hollow substitutes of the world (materialism, achievement for achievement’s sake, running away from anxiety, an addiction to the new, alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, etc).
I invite you to reevaluate the definitions that you have for these things in your own life, and see if a different perspective can help you to discover them in greater abundance as it did for me.
Serenity is the experience of peace in mind, body, soul, and self. It is knowing who I am and what I stand for as an individual. It is a sense of self-worth that no longer seeks its meaning through the acceptance of others. It is the literal experience of happiness in daily life—no matter what misfortunes might come.
Significance is the ability to be in positive relationships with those around us. Being serene and at peace with ourselves is a necessary step in the right direction toward significance. Once we are comfortable with who we are and what we stand for, we can begin to be of service to others—those of our families, homes, and communities. As we serve others we will discover true significance in our lives. It is the people in our lives that make us significant—not the achievements that the world praises.
In my travels, I met a man who, before I met him, had achieved success as the world defines it. He had 5 homes around the world, and spent several months each year sailing, fishing, and scuba diving wherever he wanted. However, as he reflected upon his own life, he referred to himself as a jerk who yelled all the time. He had heart problems and a failing marriage. He had all the money he could ever want, but he wasn’t happy or peaceful. Not even close.
Finally, this man had a talk with his wife. The two decided that something big had to change if they were going to save their marriage. The man sold his all of his businesses and retired, committing to spend more time with his wife.
I met him over 10 years after that decision. He said it had changed his life. Before that, he’d been looking for happiness the wrong way, thinking that his money and position could give him everything he wanted. He discovered that he’d been wrong.
Now he is at peace with himself and in a loving, significant relationship with his wife, whom he has affectionately given the title of ‘Egyptian Love Goddess’.
This man acquired significance and serenity in his own life after he discovered the true sources from which they flow.
Will you do the same?