“It came to me as kind of a revelation that my own freedom lie in not wanting, or needing, anything of which could be deprived from me.”
-Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with Pokemon cards. Remember Pokemon? It was that Japanese craze that enslaved an entire generation of 10 year old’s back in the late 90’s. I was also obsessed with my Nintendo 64.
Man, I sure do miss that Nintendo 64.
Anyways, whenever I used to get trouble as a kid, the first things my parents would do is take away my Pokemon cards and my Nintendo 64. That would instantly lead me into a childish rage of swirling anger, followed by a long, dark period (Usually a day or so) of a deeply depressive state where I thought the world would end because I couldn’t stare at my Charizard card or play Super Mario 64.
I start getting older.
I finally get my license at 17 years old. My dad bought me my first car, which was a rickety old 1992 Toyota Paseo. As long as I was doing good in school and not being an irresponsible moron, I could use my car and all was right with the world.
But, if my grades slipped or I got into trouble, away went the car. And, much like when I was 10, I would get pissed and feel like Satan had it out for me.
“I HATE MY LIFE!”
I continue getting older.
I get to my mid-20s. Internet is now common place, and I have a mini-computer in the form of a cellphone at my finger tips, always in my pockets. I have a job, I’m earning my own money, and I’m living independently for the first time. I buy a Playstation 3, a new flat-screen TV, a laptop, and a variety of other cool modern possessions. I have a nice, custom built PC. I have a car that was actually made in the modern era.
And, the best part? I’m free! No more meddling and evil parents to steal my shit! Yes!
I keep getting older.
One of my favorite books ever is a book written by Rubin “Hurricane” Carter called “The Sixteenth Round”. It was written while he was in prison serving 3 consecutive life sentences for murders he didn’t commit. They even made a movie based on his story called “The Hurricane” that starred Denzel Washington, which is one of my all-time favorite movies (Seriously, go check it out).
In his book, he talks about a moment in prison where he had a revelation that his ability to feel free didn’t actually come from things that could be taken away from him, but rather from himself and his own mind. He concluded that, if punishment consisted of him being locked in his cell, then by simply choosing to never leave his cell, he deprived them of the ability to make him feel punished. He refused to work in the prison shops, or eat their food. He learned to harness and control his ability to make the determination, on his own, the ability to feel free and happy whenever he wanted by choice.
Honestly, that was fucking mindblowing for me, and served as my own kind of revelation. I started thinking about myself and my own ability to feel free and happy.
“Where does my happiness come from?”
I thought about that question. I wanted an answer.
So, I started writing down some answers. Everything I wrote down was a material possession:
Not good. Not good at all.
Doing this simple happiness exercise, I realized that my own happiness came from things that could be deprived from me at any moment. They were tangible things that would vanish in a fire, or a power outage, or a by someone stealing them from me.
I realized that this had to change. I didn’t want my own happiness to come from places where it could be deprived or taken away from me at any given moment, just like when my parents used to take my cards, my video games, and my car.
When happiness can be taken away from you, it’s not really happiness.
So, I did another exercise.
“Where do I WANT my happiness to come from?”
I started writing down some answers. This time, I thought of all the things that made me extremely happy, but that weren’t things that could easily be taken away from me. They weren’t things that I possessed.
Fruit & Vegetable Smoothies
Walking/Playing With My Dogs
In the first list, my happiness came from possessions. Things. In the second one, my happiness came from performances: Things I could DO instead of things I could have.
From there on out, I made a pledge that my own happiness would never primarily lie with things that could be easily taken away from me.
I turn 30 in November. I’ve become very much a minimalist. I don’t have very many possessions. I have a computer to do work, a phone to communicate with other humans, clothes to put on my back and around my privates, and a roof over my head. I don’t even own a TV. And oh, I do have a lot of books, but those are more for personal development/knowledge-increasing purposes.
Does having internet, a cell phone, a car, and an iPod make me happy? Definitely. But, I make sure to never allow my happiness to become dependent on them. I make sure that my happiness comes from places that are intangible. My work is my absolute number one source of happiness. I absolutely love running on Sanibel Island. I spend 5-10 minutes a day just staring at the clouds and day dreaming. I have wonderful friends I spend time with on the weekends. I feel amazingly fulfilled when I coach my U9 soccer team. I feel incredible when I exercise or go for a walk. When I give a talk to a team or at a university, I get this natural high that feels like pure ecstasy.
Where are the places your happiness comes from? Is your happiness dependent on things that can be taken away from you? Are they dependent on possessions, or how much money you have in the bank?
Personally, I think that kind of happiness is an artificial happiness. It’s like a high you get off a drug that lasts as long as the drug is available. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that, once I shifted my happiness away from things I possessed and into things I could perform, my happiness felt like it was on tap and a could poor myself a pint of happiness anytime I wanted.
Happiness should come from things you can perform, not from things you can possess.
This kind of happiness brings fulfillment and a sense of purpose. It’s a happiness that is always available because it comes from places of more permanence and substance that have actual, real value to them.
It’s 5:45am. The sun comes up in about half an hour. When it does, I’m going to go for a walk with my dogs to start my day.
That will definitely make them, and me, very happy. Very happy indeed.