One of the most important things that I can teach you is the difference between real and fake happiness. Most people don’t understand that there is a difference, and will endlessly consume the fake stuff, because that is what the mass media tends to sell them. And they live worse lives for their diet of false happiness.
Real happiness is something that you create for yourself. It is part gratitude for the things you have, and part living in the now, rather than worrying about the future or ruminating in the past. It is part having the right priorities, and choosing to spend your time and energy on your friends and loved ones rather than things. It is part challenging yourself to keep growing and improving in life, and it is part having clear goals and a sense of purpose in your life. It is also part having a good relationship with your inner world.
When you have a good mix of these things, happiness is an emotion that comes pretty easily. It is an emotion that fills you with a sense of peace and wellness. It fills in the empty places in your life, and keeps you from getting sucked into dangerous and negative cycles.
Fake happiness is something that comes from without. It makes you feel good for a short while, and distracts you from the empty places in your life, but doesn’t do anything to fill it in the long term. Fake happiness is usually expensive, either requiring a lot of time or a lot of money to enjoy as well. Here are some examples of common forms of fake happiness:
- Shopping for high fashion items or knicknacks.
- Getting drunk
- Smoking cannabis
- Taking opiates like heroin
- Watching hours of TV sitcoms
- Masturbating to pornography
- Going to strip clubs
- Playing a lot of video games
- Eating sugary or fatty junk food
- Drinking lots of sugary soda
- Street racing
- Ordering things online
- Flamewars and Internet trolling
- Spending hours checking your social media.
Each one of these things causes your brain to release a hit of dopamine, a natural neuro-chemical that makes you feel pleasure and relaxation. It is your brain telling your body that what you did was good, and you should do it again a lot more.
A little dopamine is a very good thing. You can get dopamine from walking on a sunny day, petting a purring cat, laughing with your friends, eating a healthy meal… but these things release monster doses that the human brain really isn’t meant to cope with. There were no chocolate bars, televisions, or shopping malls when we evolved this system, after all. The massive level of dopamine you get from these modern stimuli can be overwhelming. They can numb your brain to everything except good feelings for awhile.
Unfortunately dopamine is the way we form both habits and addictions. A person who spends too much energy on any of these things can become hooked on them. When they are doing them, they feel great, and when they are not doing them, then life floods back in with all of its imperfections, challenges, and difficulties, and they feel rotten. It is easy for these people to conclude that happiness comes from whatever activity they are hooked on, and so they use it over and over again whenever they start feeling down.
Of course when someone does that, they aren’t fixing their problems – they are just avoiding them. And after awhile, they can start to feel like they simply can’t or don’t need to take care of those problems. And so real happiness becomes harder and harder for them to reach, even as they dose themselves up on time-wasting or money-sucking fake happiness.
Knowing that there is a difference means that you can choose between being really happy, and filling in the empty spaces in your life, or wasting time, energy and money running away from them with fake happiness. I want you to have the power to make that choice in a world where so few people do.