Happiness is not something that results from external circumstances – rather it is a choice from within our mind. Yet awareness of this isn’t enough to be happy. In fact, many people who intellectually know this secret to happiness still choose otherwise.
We do it because we’ve habituated the experience of searching for joy in the world and other people. And, in the words of Chip Health, “when we act on auto-pilot, our behavior goes unexamined.” We think this relationship (or the next one) will be the one. Or if such-and-such a thing happens, then I’ll be happy.
From this perspective, we are continually seeking fulfillment out there, completely forgetting that we are searching for happiness where it will never be found.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way we could be reminded whenever we’ve fallen into this trap?
Turns out, there is.
In the 1980s, one of the most popular rock bands was Van Halen. They were noted for massively elaborate concerts and musical innovations which earned them a huge following. Van Halen was also infamous for their riotous, oftentimes unusual behavior – including the time they caused thousands of dollars in damage to a concert hall because they were served brown M&Ms.
Van Halen had a contract with the venues specifying many technical requirements such as how much weight the girders must be able to support and the amount of electrical current that must be provided for each amplifier. And the contract did in fact include a provision requiring a bowl of M&Ms be placed backstage with all the brown M&Ms removed.
Many people thought this was a capricious request from an egomaniacal band. But the truth is far different. Van Halen included that provision to ensure that the promotional staff was sufficiently attentive to detail. If there was an error with the simple M&Ms request, then it stood to reason that there’d be a high likelihood of a technical error in some part of the stage lighting or power circuitry. In other words, the band used the M&Ms as a tripwire.
Besides helping ensure safe concert performances for Van Halen, tripwires can be extremely useful frameworks for making desired changes in life.
A quick and extremely effective tripwire for recognizing that we’ve bought into the belief that happiness is out there in the world is to ask this simple question: How am I feeling?
By genuinely asking that question of ourselves, we are stepping out of the experiencing self and temporarily becoming the observing self. And from this perspective, there is only one of two answers: blissfully at peace, or not.
And if the answer is “not at peace”, then we know we’ve made the wrong choice in our mind – and now can make a different one. By using that question and our emotions as the tripwire, we can easily recognize the trap and quickly extricate ourselves from the pain. Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore how to practice this. I look forward to seeing you then.