Seeking happiness outside of ourselves is like waiting for sunshine in a cave facing north. -- Tibetan proverb
There are about seven billion of us on this planet. Each of us views life through our personal filters and no single person sees the world in the same way.
The world that you see is actually completely of your own making. It seems very real because it's the only world that you know, but in fact, it is just a representation of your many, many thoughts and feelings about your many, many experiences.
Your little world is like a solar system, in which you are the sun. The other planets (people, experiences, events) revolve around you. You see everything from your own unique place as the sun, the center of the universe. No one will ever have the same thoughts, experiences or feelings that you have had or will have.
The interesting twist is that everyone else is the sun in their own solar system, too.
We can sometimes see this reality with heartbreaking clarity: our inability to understand another person's point of view, our different reactions to the exact same event, and our sadness when someone just doesn't seem to understand us. They're in their world. And you are in yours.
How are worlds created?
We are individuals, living in a world with thousands of little events happening on any given day. Sometimes these events are personal -- I get a new job. Sometimes these events are within our network -- my sister gets married. Sometimes these events are global -- a natural disaster strikes.
For every single event, we stand at a crossroads and decide what meaning will be imposed upon it. I like to picture every moment as a piece of paper. At the top, the event's name is inscribed: "January 1, 12:01 p.m.: Stephanie has lunch with her brother." The rest of the page is blank, just waiting for me to fill it in with meaning. That lunch could go many ways. We could fight, be playful, connect emotionally, share stories or simply enjoy the food and company. As I attach a meaning to that event, I mentally file it away as a part of my world, adding yet another sheet of paper to the millions that already exist.
We never know what sheet of paper will be handed to us next. While it's possible to improve the chances of a better sheet of paper by structuring your life around positive relationships, events and activities, you still cannot control the actual events of your life. Really, all that we control is the 95-percent of the page that is still blank: the meaning that we attach to each event. This meaning is constantly being created and updated, but it is always within our control.
Why do we create these worlds?
We all want happiness and are constantly pursuing that goal - sometimes clumsily, sometimes gracefully, always in our own way. No one among us wants to suffer.
However, the majority of us labor under a serious misconception that happiness comes from external events. We're working so hard, just waiting for the world to hand us that sheet of paper with the magic words on top. Maybe for you the magic words are "You fall in love!" Maybe for someone else the magic words are "You are appointed CEO!" Then, and only then, will you be able to fill up the rest of the paper with the meaning of happiness.
But that paper is just going to be replaced by a new page, and another page, and another...
Happiness is a state of internal fulfillment. Happiness is not the result of external events. We labor under the misconception that external events are within our control. We tell ourselves that when we achieve what we want or acquire what we desire, happiness will be ours. We attach meaning to events in a desperate attempt to address the longing of our hearts to understand our own internal selves. And we build internal worlds that are imbued with meaning in an attempt to navigate an unpredictable external world.
What does this mean for me?
Think about the world you have created. What do your pieces of paper look like? What statements have you imposed upon yourself? What thoughts, feelings and emotions create the narrative of your life?
The moment that we realize that our "world" is entirely of our own making can be incredibly shocking. Our first instinct is to cling to our world, because it's safe. When we build structures ourselves, even if they are limiting, we are hesitant to break them down; they have become the only things that we know. At the very least, we understand these worlds as some kind of boundary. We're groomed to be comfortable with boundaries. The modern day recipe for success is all about those boundaries: go to school, do well, write a standardized test, go to college, do well, apply for a job, get a job, work until you retire.
We haven't been taught to look inside of ourselves. Our world is not set up to help us break down our personal boundaries in pursuit of growth, and it is easier to cling to boundaries & external events in hopes that they will be balm for our troubled hearts and minds.
Fortunately, that balm exists, within you.
We spend countless hours building our career, growing a family, and pursuing new experiences. These are all worthy endeavors if they are important to you. However, we must also make the time to cultivate our internal conditions. Just as we must strengthen our bodies to be healthy, we must understand and love our inner selves to be happy.
Thankfully, happiness is a skill that can be learned and cultivated; Happiness is entirely within your reach.
Is today the day that you look around, notice the world you have created for yourself, and ask if you are ready to go within?