In my more than 40 years of working with people in seminars, practical solutions to problems have always been close to my heart.
When I made my first experiences with NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), a methodical approach was very plausible to me: If you do not achieve your goals, it is because the feared disadvantages for you outweigh the longed-for advantages. Usually you only see the goal you dreamed of and ignore the fears of possible downsides. But secretly you already know about it all. The risk is too high for you; the price you might have to pay is too expensive for you. That's why you don't achieve a goal. I have found that this is true for most problems. Should this principle also apply to happiness??
Does happiness has a price, which is simply very expensive? Should there perhaps also be practical solutions for happiness?
These questions were the starting point for this little book with my thoughts about happiness and unhappiness.
Chapter 2 Happiness lets your flaws and weaknesses stay with you
Is anyone who is imperfect even allowed to be happy? A slacker? A freak? A slob? Maybe even a sinner?
Virtues and vices are unevenly distributed among people. There are extremes at both poles. On the side of virtue a Mother Teresa stands as a model of charity and sacrifice. At the opposite pole of vice there is someone like Adolf Hitler. But even the most virtuous have small faults and weaknesses - I hope I am not offending Mother Teresa! - just as sinners and criminals have a few good qualities. Even Hitler liked his German shepherd dog and took care of his relatives.
Between these extreme opposites stretches the broad middle field in which we normal mortals cavort. Neither a pattern of excellence nor a frightening example of vice. A motley crew of virtues and vices.
When we judge ourselves, we tend to focus more on the good aspects. We are prone to perceive the negative traits in others, in our partner, children, neighbors and co-workers. If we finally notice an unpleasant quality in ourselves, we fend it off and try to suppress - or overlook - it as best we can.
Are you allowed to be happy as the flawed person that you are? Or do you have to eradicate all your weaknesses first? So that your happiness is really earned?!
To make a long story short: Do you have to be a good person for happiness?
Do not only the deeds that are completely selfless make you happy? Isn't the nurse who sacrifices herself for her patients happier than the successful, unscrupulous stock market speculator? Unselfish deeds should get their punishment!
But we don't know, we can't judge it from the outside. We prefer the nurse, of course. For moral reasons. If she picks the winning ticket, it's politically correct.
But the decisive factor is what lies behind the respective façade. The inner compulsions, tensions, impulses and demons hidden there decide on the personal level of happiness - not the judgements of others about the outer deeds.
Conversely, it is rather insightful: Happiness leads to virtue. The one who is happy rejoices in life. He wants to share this joy. How can he want - intentionally or unintentionally - others to suffer because of his actions? Man is a social being. He helps his children, friends and strangers who are in need. It warms his heart when others are doing well. For this he can make many sacrifices and put his own needs far behind.
This is like interplay of giving and taking. If you like to give, it nourishes your happiness. The happiness of others is reflected back in you.
At the same time, when you are happy, the world is good enough for you as it is. You stop with the claim to want to make the world a better place. Of course the world is imperfect - and it will remain imperfect.
You do your best, just like everyone else does. The happiness that comes from this is a natural part of your being, the fragrance that plays around it when you are relaxed and completely satisfied with yourself just as you are.
Do you notice how something in you resists such statements? Should many of your previous efforts and exercises have been pointless? A mere self-torture?!
No - you resist such undermining of your work on yourself. You don't let your standards be turned upside down so easily.
For it has become second nature to us that only ideal and virtuous people have the right to be happy.
There's a long personal history in the background. "Put your clothes on!" "Don't be so selfish. Share your toys." "Do your homework first!" "Stop being mad!" We have been taught such rules for many years. If we followed them and were good, we were liked and praised as a child. Then we felt safe and happy.
The sobering message for the adult today, however, is that as long as you continue to follow the old mission to become a better person, you will not be truly happy.
For the happiness that is meant here exists only for the faulty ones who have ended the campaign against their faultiness. They don't have to love their mistakes, but come in peace with them.
Happiness wants to take possession of you as a whole person - with the good and the bad. Beyond all judgments.
But is it possible for an intelligent person to accept his errors, do nothing about them and be happy? Doesn't it need self-education and cultivation? The half hour of gymnastics or meditation? The jogging? The self-discipline in the face of chocolate? The self-control in front of your own attacks of rage?
Can someone be happy who lies fat and lazy all day eating chips and drinking beer in front of the TV? And who, on top of that, is picking on those who interrupt him. That's impossible!!
We need effort and struggle. Against all the errors and vices that are spreading everywhere! Am I trying to plead self-indulgence and immorality?
But this is a misconception. No matter how much you get used to the idea of constant self-improvement, no cat lies fat and lazy all day in the sun, unless it has been spoiled by humans. Laziness, recklessness or debauchery are not natural states of happiness, but only the sad attempt of a substitute.
Everyone actually knows what satisfying action looks like. As a smart person you try to make situations good and better. You try not to get worked up in arguments and appreciate good relationships with your fellow human beings. In your everyday life you do not want to be too greedy or - as another extreme - too ascetic. You know about the value of your health and you take care of yourself. And in the course of your life you learn more and more. This learning is natural, a kind of growth. It happens by itself. You don't have to make an effort.
But if you are constantly tensing and tormenting yourself because you are in a merciless, incessant struggle with yourself, you cannot be happy at the same time.
Happiness as a state is natural and relaxed. If you make an effort, however, you are the opposite of relaxed and free. Imagine the would-be saint who spasmodically tries to be exemplary and virtuous. Is such a person happy?
But relaxation does not happen in an easy way for you. Are you brought up religiously? Then you are familiar with a powerful concept of error: sin. Sin goes far beyond mere weaknesses and defects. It is about bigger things. Sinners are damned! For all eternity! And therefore you m u s t stand up against sin with all your efforts.
I, myself raised a Catholic, experienced as a child through the "confessional mirror" how irredeemably infallible I am. For there are listed as sin: the angry thoughts, the envious thoughts, the unchaste thoughts (especially important from puberty on) and much more. So even the small child starts as a sinner.
The whole struggle of this young - and yet already corrupt or at least severely endangered - being is to live sinless. And because this is not possible (anyone who has ever tried it knows this), failure and the corresponding feelings of guilt are pre-programmed.
There is a saying about learning: "Learning is like rowing against the stream. If you stop, you get pushed back." This also fits, slightly modified, for the fear of fighting sin: "The fight against sin is like rowing against the stream. Whoever slackens, falls into it (even more)."
The fear is: Without the constant struggle man would become bad and evil, would turn out to be a little monster. For he is already slightly spoiled in his core! Only the incessant fight is a bulwark, which hopefully is strong enough.
Today the Christian concept of sin has withdrawn from the broad society. Reason to give the all-clear? Unfortunately not. The classic sins are being replaced by the modern ones. Although these sins are not the kind to make you burn in hell for all eternity. The devil, who picks on the sinner with the trident after his death in boiling hot pots, has diminished in size. But in return he has smuggled himself into everyday life. Here, he then pesters with pleasure - as always. A continuous purgatory!
Sins today are the small offences against the modern virtue. For some, the bar of chocolate during a diet, for others (vegetarians!) the secretly enjoyed steak, for others the furtive search for porn on the internet. Whether it's overdrawing the bank account, spontaneously buying something useless or not keeping the intention to do sport after work - the bad conscience lies over the everyday life like a paralyzing poisonous cloud.
The deliberate complete killing of the flesh is a thing of the past. Today it is a matter of fine, permanent surveillance and vigilance. The flesh may remain alive, but - please! - highly controlled!
The word "self-control" used so freely is actually quite mysterious. Who controls whom or what? Let us study an example! "I control myself (too little/not enough/permanently etc.)" So after that, the "I" controls my "self".
What is this "self"? Obviously not a good core deep inside you, but rather something unpredictable or even dangerous. For this "self" must be controlled, that is, probably also suppressed, and not friendly instructed or lovingly admonished.
Who should have control over it? Obviously someone who knows better than the (stupid? evil?) self, someone who is more experienced and wiser. According to the above sentence it is the "I". How did you acquire this better knowing "I"? Why is it so smart?
Who do you actually feel closer to personally - the "I" or the "Self"? Does Freud perhaps mean something similar with the "superego" that controls the "it"? Questions upon questions ...
Norbert Elias, in his fundamental work "On the Process of Civilization", describes how people from the Middle Ages onwards increasingly controlled themselves. A good "courtly" behavior of the nobility initially prevailed over external control. At some point the behavior no longer needed external pressure, it became self-constraint, self-control. An inner authority had taken over.
We all know this authority well. To be civilized is to be self-possessed. Only when you control yourself, you become a member of society, a part of human culture.
Is that all culture is? Is this the peak of human development, so to speak? That someone permanently embodies the role of his own eternal supervisor and educator? Can you get happy that way? Or maybe just adapted?
It's good to widen the view. The self-control learnt as a child is only the base of a foundation that has become a more or less natural foundation in adults. The socially necessary is now internalized. You don't go to the front door without clothes, you eat in a restaurant with a knife and fork and when in flowing traffic the traffic light switches to "red", your foot automatically steps on the brake. So far so good!
But you don't feel any freedom on this foundation. Because you do not unfold in blooming liveliness, but stand there tense, even petrified at times. Your self-compulsion has become independent and continues to drive you. As if it were a value in itself!
The current word "self-optimization" sums it up. It is the search for perfection and excellence. Whatever stands in the way of this is to be eliminated. Flaws and weaknesses? These are to be fought strictly and unrelentingly.
You will not achieve happiness this way. Yes, short-term satisfaction when you have once again successfully stifled yourself, but the setbacks are already looming on the horizon. You remain tense.
You will experience happiness if you have the courage to follow your weaknesses. Or more precisely: to get involved in what you call your weaknesses.
In a kind of brainwashing you have been taught: If you behave in one way (e.g. fast, ambitious etc.) you are right and if you are different (e.g. slow, listless) you are wrong. There are social values, how to become successful, respected and popular, how to find your place in life and in society.
You have internalized these values and therefore you strive for what you have been taught as positive and try to eradicate the other. The more radical you become here, the more spontaneity, joy, vitality and love are lost.
Yet you are so much more than the streamlined automaton that your self-compulsion is trying to make you into today. A large part of your vitality blossoms in the sides of your being that you reject. Your vitality dwells in your "faults" and "weaknesses" and can only unfold again from them.
It is not difficult to spark this vital energy. Every now and then, have the courage to act against the inner educator by curiously following a spontaneous wish or impulse. Not as a defiant, dogged rebellion, but as inquisitive experimentation and exploring new territory.
Time and again, brake yourself from doing something you feel reluctant to do - even if it is only mild. Disgust is an indication that your joy of life wants to lead you somewhere else.
You learn from the experiences that you make with yourself in this way. Of course sometimes something goes wrong. The hackneyed "no risk - no fun" actually fits quite well here.
Inside you are relaxing. The fight with yourself gradually stops. You can trust your spontaneity and your impulses more and more. Happiness then enters your life as an almost unnoticed companion all by itself.
However, this happiness is subversive. For it undermines your efforts and the efforts of society to control you. If you make peace with your flaws and weaknesses, you will leave this game.
And it has other consequences. Imagine saying "yes" to your faults. How could you then still criticize other people severely and fight their deficiencies? Of course, you still don't like it when someone forgets his date with you. You still prefer other people to be polite and considerate. But when the opposite happens, you remain more or less relaxed. Flaws are part of everybody. You do not forget that we are all human. So you don't give your weaknesses and the weaknesses of other people a decisive weight anymore.
You want to give up your fight against your faults and weaknesses? That seems to be risky for you. You are afraid you will throw bombs or go to pieces in the gutter with a bottle in your hand. Your mind stands there like the angel with the flaming sword and keeps you from doing it.
I tell you: This is not the truth. Stop trying to become a better and more successful person! You believed that you can only be happy when you have achieved that? That was a mistake! You can only become happy if you take the risk of trusting yourself and your impulses more. Start today!
Become happy and pay the price for it!
Don’t follow these seven reasons why you should remain unhappy
About happiness and moments of happiness
1. Happiness goes beyond your actual frame
2. Happiness lets you keep your faults and weaknesses
3. Happiness needs you vulnerable
4. Happiness takes away your old anger and connects you with your power
5. Happiness makes you humble
6. Happiness causes you a bad conscience
7. Happiness dissolves your personality