The Secret to Happiness? Enough with The Striving (You’re Good Enough Already)

Who doesn’t love to win? But shouldn’t it be about doing the thing you love just because you enjoy it and that makes you feel good? If you only exercise incessantly because you think it will change who you are and how you look, it might be time to start thinking from the inside out instead. Losing weight (if you need to), getting fitter/stronger/more flexible – even healthier – these should all be amazing side effects from simply enjoying “the thing” you do and so doing it anyway – with no particular “end game” in mind.

I can’t stop thinking about this because it’s the essence of so many modern-day psychological and emotional issues. And I was reminded again because of something I read it on an online Yoga page the other day. Words to the effect that we should all be “striving” to be better because that is what being a yogi/good person is about. Actually, I would argue no. Not really. “Striving” for something – indeed anything – suggests we have some misapprehension about Right Now. Where we are; who we are; what we have (or not). So actually, friends and yogis, it is time to stop “striving”, because right now, essentially, YOU are already Ok. As You Are.

To strive is to constantly feel there is something we haven’t quite got yet, but when/if we do get it, we will feel better. If we keep striving, we (believe we) will get “there“. “Here” is obviously no good. Eventually, one day, we will fill the empty space that gnaws at us. All will be well and we will finally be happy and content. Unfortunately, once we are “there“, “there” is suddenly here again, but, hey, look over there , because once again, over there seems better…Mmm…

Discontent humans have many ways of trying to fill that empty space instead of actually being with it because that’s one “there” that we don’t want to go! So, this avoidance has the potential to manifest as some kind of addiction such as sex, gambling, shopping for “stuff”, eating disorders, drugs and alcohol; Competitiveness, such as unrealistic exercise goals, workplace ambition, so-called perfect parenting, and even studying to the point that it leads to social isolation. And then there’s control issues; being a clean-freak (for example) and forgetting our house is a home, rigid dietary ideals, perhaps an unwillingness to accept how other people – even (or especially) our children, shock horror – think and do things. Sound familiar?

I would argue that all of the above behaviours and conditions as well as things like dysmorphia and self-esteem issues have, at their source, an inability to accept life As It Is and ourselves As We Are – right now. What is so bad about us and our lives that we feel everything needs constant improvement? We are perfectly fine but cannot help but believe we should be better. It’s insidious. We are bombarded by images of seemingly perfect people with seemingly better lives. Our mind buys into it. We end up doing things we don’t really enjoy or things that don’t necessarily sit well with us because “everyone else seems to be doing it”.  We are spruiked continually by advertisers. The majority of marketing campaigns have been designed specifically to instil some feeling of insecurity in us and then chip away at this until it becomes a way of being.  This “not quite good enough yet” mindset has also been embedded into our children’s DNA, but we wonder why so many suffer from anxiety. It should be pretty clear why it’s happening though when we hear of soccer or netball parents yelling at their child and/or the coach/other parents from the sidelines; When we see little girls dressed like adults wearing makeup for talent quests and “beauty” pageants. When we hear about preschools being judged on how well its attendant children have learnt to read and write BEFORE they have even started school. These days, it seems that instead of letting our under-fives be naturally active, have fun together, create imaginative, outdoor games, get dirty and sort out their own ‘playground’ problems (important enough when it comes to living in the world yes?), we  have been lead to believe it’s more important to sit their little bodies down for far longer than is healthy so as to achieve unrealistic and age-inappropriate academic and technological goals. Then, we take them somewhere else to be exercised like puppies in case they get fat.

Sure, it’s a competitive world so does this mean you should never have a goal? Absolutely not. Certainly it does not mean we should stop, give up and simply “wait” or “hope” for something good to happen – this is the opposite end of the over-achieving spectrum where there is a tendency towards playing the victim or a lack of self worth has lead to feelings of hopelessness. Humans can only create positive, organic change by taking action and being responsible. From a yoga philosophy perspective, each and every yama and niyama comes into play here, but “striving” on the mat in yoga rooms is also ridiculously prevalent (although certainly not encouraged by me!) and suggests we still do not quite understand what it is we are actually doing in that yoga room or why we are there!

Quoting from the Gita, Ghandi explained:

The Gita says: ‘Do your alloted work, but renounce its fruit. Be detached and work – have no desire for reward and work..’…By detachment I mean that you must not worry about whether the desired result follows from your action or not, so long as your motive is pure, your means correct..”

In other words, Just Do Your Best because the outcome, essentially, is neither here nor there. It Just Is.

Life is crap, life is good, life is crap again… Yep, for most people, that’s the way things roll. It’s neither here nor there though because it is what it is. And by accepting what is, by sitting with and observing any uncomfortable feelings/thoughts or life events from a detached viewpoint – rather than buying in to them emotionally and defining ourselves by them (or avoiding them altogether which usually manifests in behaviours such as those detailed above), we become free to honour our true self and to understand who we are. It’s likely to be gloriously imperfect but who cares?  Once we make a decision to no longer give negative thoughts about ourselves, others or the world any energy, our mind struggles start to diminish. It’s a little like starving the beast! And then, as freedom prevails, contentment emerges and all those positive changes we eagerly sought now seem to have become part of who we are. Contentment was the “thing” we were “striving” for right?

Now if you are familiar with the lovely Dawn French, you might be aware that she is coming to Australia next year and so I have to ask; if you went to see her, would it bother you if she was her usual plump self or would it make you feel better if she was thinner? Would you care if she seemed older or would you prefer that she had had work? If she looked younger and seemed thinner but somehow didn’t seem warm, funny or happy anymore, would you feel ripped off? Or would you be glad that at least she looked thinner/younger? Chances are, that Dawn French is a perfect example of an amazing person/personality who is way more than just a body. How she looks is irrelevant – she shines from the inside so it’s neither here nor there. As it is with all of us when we stop struggling and allow things to simply be.

The following is an excerpt from Enough Rope a few years ago when Dawn told Andrew Denton the about the time in her life when she was preparing to marry comedian Lenny Henry. Things started to go pear shaped – pardon the pun – when thoughts about striving-to-be-better began to hijack her mind. I’ve popped in the link to the whole transcript below as well as a link to a recent story in the SMH magazine by Olympic Swimmer Leisel Jones where she described her descent into depression post Olympic victory. It would seem from her account that winning gold didn’t end up being the everything “over there” that it promised to be…


DAWN FRENCH: …. we’ve all had blips of confidence and I think I had one just before I got married where I thought you just can’t be a fat bride. Why can’t you? And certainly Lenny wasn’t asking me to do this, but I thought no I’ve got to be, I must get down to a size 12, for my wedding because that’s what brides look like. And I must have been about a size 20 then. And so I went on a diet that was recommended by one of the painfully thin friends of mine, should’ve known then that was clue, and in those days which again early ‘80’s, you could go to Harley Street and some charleton would give you injections that were called vitamins.

…. And I remember Len saying to me, “please don’t be doing this for me, please don’t do this…who are you? I want to marry Dawn.”

…I was so unhappy.

…I was perfectly happy before I started the diet.

…Um and you know yes the weight was coming off, yes the wedding dress was being taken in and this was the plan. But I couldn’t really find any joy in it; I couldn’t wait to get to the Reception to eat. All I could think about was food. I don’t normally think about food at all.


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