What if happiness was your natural state?
What if we are seeking something on the outside that is found on the inside?
How do you recognize and lock out the five thieves that want to steal your happiness?
That’s what John Izzo teaches. He believes that happiness is being stolen by mental patterns. Five thieves are working to destroy your happiness.
All of us can recognize these thieves and learn to lock them out of our lives.
John Izzo, PhD, is a speaker and author of six books. I read his latest, The Five Thieves of Happiness and enjoyed its thoughtful approach. I recently asked him about his latest work.
The Science of Happiness
Why is the study of happiness and the pursuit of happiness such a rage today?
Well, I think some of the things that used to make us happy such as a sense of community and connection have been lost. So, a loss of place and being more urban is now a contributor. Also, a rising middle class focuses more on happiness. They say there is also something bigger when things in the larger society seem out of control—things like climate change, terrorism, the pace of change. We realize we cannot control these things so we often focus in where we can change—which, by the way, is a good instinct because it is where all societal change begins anyway. Finally, I think the fact that science has started to study happiness in a serious way helps because maybe people feel that you can actually hardwire happiness rather than thinking that some people are simply happy.
“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” -Shakespeare
“Attention without attachment” immediately pulled me in. How do we best make this a daily practice?
It is a critical concept for happiness. Attention is about the actions we take, the intention we have moment to moment. Attachment is a focus on a goal or what is called in yoga a “sticky desire.” Here is a simple example: I play a great deal of tennis. Attention is about being in the present moment at every point in a match. Being aware of my body, how I want to hit the ball and seeing what is happening around me. There is great happiness in playing and even the artistry of the moment-to-moment intention to improve. Winning the match is attachment and is something I cannot control. The more I focus on my attachment to winning, the less happiness I will have and, ironically, the less likely I am to win. The way we cultivate this is to first recognize the difference when it shows up. When we feel that happiness is in the outcome we must stop that thought and instead have this mantra: “I choose to be in the present moment accepting whatever is. The outcome is not in my control.” This takes training of the mind which we have trained to focus on attachment to what we cannot control: the future. When our intentions don’t lead to our desired outcome, we must then simply re-choose how to be in the present moment again. So, you lost the match, the relationship, the promotion, or even playing golf this afternoon when the rainstorm ruined it. Once you see that unhappiness is resistance to whatever is at any moment. Happiness is being present in each moment and open to what might arrive. Never confuse this with some resigned passivity. I am still going to practice hard for the next match, but it is attention without attachment.
1: Control 2: Conceit 3: Coveting 4: Consumption 5: Comfort
5 Thieves of Happiness
Practice Accepting What Is
Surrender is the opposite force from control. But it’s so far from easy for many of us. How do we build up a reservoir of surrender energy to be used just when we need it?
Surrendering is very hard for most people. It begins with the realization that all emotional and spiritual suffering is resistance to whatever is happening at any given moment. This may seem like hyperbole, but it isn’t. All the great teachers taught surrender in one form or another. I think you start by practicing with the little things. You had a busy day and can’t wait to get home; suddenly there is an accident, and you’re stuck in traffic for an hour. Practice accepting what is with no resistance, surrendering to the outcome and asking, “How can I find joy or meaning right now?” If you practice surrendering to the small detours in life, you will be ready for the big ones like the death of someone you love or your eventual loss of health. We are a society of doers, so we don’t like surrender, but my idea of surrender is not simply giving up. It is embracing whatever is while trying to influence it as best I can. But surrender comes before action. Acting from what I call “surrender energy” is more powerful because you aren’t taking on the misery of attachment. You begin with the little stuff because if you can’t surrender to that, you have no chance when the big stuff shows up.