How to Move Out of The Way of Happiness

Or at least how I did…

Ah, happiness. That evasive mysterious element. Often in pretty high demand amongst us humans. Not many after all will easily refuse it if offered. Whatever it may be for each of us. Presenting itself in various ways over the course of our lives…

I most recently had a life changing encounter with happiness in the mountains of Peru of all places. I didn’t quite go out there looking for happiness though. I was looking for some fresh air and perhaps a little adventure too… But looking back, I guess moving myself out of happiness’ way did the trick without me even realising it. And then, when I cared to pay attention one day, well suddenly there it just was. In all its simple, modest, breezy and wise all knowingly smiling self. And make no mistake. When you encounter happiness, even if you’re just momentarily in a state of clarity gazing into its eyes, you are happy and you know for sure that you are. 

This thing I’m telling you about took place a few years back. I weirdly found myself in a place in my life, that on its face seemed a pretty good place to be. And in most ways it was too. The goals I had as a younger man in my mid 20’s were pretty much bagged. Goals that back then seemed like the biggest deals possible. Here’s a few of them:

  • Having grown up in a little village in the Nordic countryside all I wanted was to live in a big metropolis. So I fixed this little challenge by moving to London, UK. End of.
  • Having had my first ever money making job in the village gas station as a boy, I moved on to dreaming of working internationally, at the most cutting edge hot bed of the world’s high-tech scene. And so I homed on the target again and joined some of the most famous world leading technology companies pushing software, AI and Cloud.
  • Having earned pennies as a teenager I was now eyeing big bonus checks. And so closing big multi-million dollar deals with strategic clients became the obvious tool of choice.
  • As a teenager I dreamt of flying around the world and staying at the best 5 star hotels like those high flying businessman in the movies.(check!)
  • Wearing expensive suits for fancy business dinners in the best restaurants in town where I’d drink the most expensive fine French wine and close those big juicy deals.(check!)
  • That whole la vida loca of what I perceived as a roaring success in the international business world and all that magnificent jazz and Wolf of Wall Street like madness. (Check check check!!!)

…And so when by my mid 30’s I reached all these goals – and frankly even much more than I originally dared ask for – I couldn’t fathom why I felt so strangely kind of… Empty’ish… It was like the minute I bagged a dream, and already it seemed to lose its shoeshine… And suddenly didn’t quite seem so appealing to keep after all. And so I had everything I asked for twice over ‘but’… There was a ‘but’…

And so I started asking myself new questions. Like why was there a ‘but’ in that previous sentence in the first place. Didn’t I play my cards right? I sure as hell thought that I did. Perhaps I should have asked for even more… Could it be that I didn’t dream big enough? (but how much is ‘enough’?) Or maybe I dreamed the wrong dream and should have dreamt it differently even if just ever so slightly…? Or was it just human nature, to like Tantalus, forever remain hungry and thirsty? Perhaps then it was time to re-think dreaming life goals altogether, shuffle the cards thoroughly and dream a new dream 2.0??

These questions seemed to have the right sound to them but no clear answer was coming forth. I couldn’t quite figure out what this whole thing meant, and if a new dream was long due, then what it should be like. And since the previous dream was achieved, and I couldn’t figure out the next one, I felt like I’m somewhat trapped in this lucrative deal, which on one hand is everything I ever asked for, but on the other hand left me in a state of continuous frustration and dissatisfaction. 

Slowly, as time passed by, and as I still wasn’t coming up with new dreams, this state of frustration started expanding into my daily routine. And so I knew ever more clearly that the old dreams had run their course and what I needed now was to change. I started looking for an opportunity to step aside from the corporate hamster wheel to allow some space for new thoughts to emerge. I figured I would take a year off work and spend it backpacking in South America. Perhaps a good old backpacking journey would clear my head! And so when my boss asked me what I would do if he gave me a big no to this wonderful idea of mine, and I answered that ‘I will be going regardless’, he quickly smiled and approved. “Well, that was easy…” I thought to myself… And so already a couple of months later, I hung my suit and tie, packed some clothes and trekking gear in an old backpack, rented out my flat and boarded a flight to Lima, Peru. 

It didn’t take much more than that for the ‘walkabout’ to start working its magic on me. And perhaps the magic – at least in my case – couldn’t have taken place in any other way. For knowing that happiness is best reached by removing obstacles from its way – as I now have come to realise – is one thing. The trickiness however – and there is always some trickiness in life – starts with the obstacles to our happiness not always being necessarily so very obvious to us nor do we realise there is anything that needs removing…

Here is where we just might need some time and space to figure things out. They can be very obvious sometimes of course, when clearly there is something that is making you very unhappy, like say an addiction to alcohol or gambling or a crippling debt. This however wasn’t my situation. I was a happy bunny and had it all but “something was missing”… And so my obstacles seemed elusive and with no obvious cause… I felt that I was missing out on crucial bits of information that could in turn explain the properties which made my reality what it was, and therefore not receiving the necessary clues as to how and what I should be changing … I was so focused perhaps on making my dreams come true, and then in fighting tooth and nail to maintain them, that I unintendedly somewhat blocked my own vision (…) and without realising perhaps reduced my capacity for originality, creativity, natural curiosity, and perhaps most importantly, in the midst of all that perceived success, I somewhat lost my risk taking appetite – an element absolutely essential for choosing a worthy path to tread… 

But then, the moment I stepped out of this reality – in my case to the freedom of the Andes, to living a very simple and modest life, close to nature, with just a backpack and a truckload of unplanned adventure – Something happened inside of me and that worked on me like some sort of shock therapy, forcing me to dust off and kick start my brain back into action… And in between adventures, and without my normal day to day lifestyle to block my vision, I could suddenly see through the meaningless and right through to what actually did have meaning… Happiness, as I found out, didn’t need much more than a 15 years old 70L North Face backpack to hide itself in. That, and a plane ticket to Lima, was all that was needed for me to regain my vision and once again see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. 

To be frank, those obstacles to happiness that I discovered during my walkabout, felt actually so damn obvious when I realised them, that I was mind blown as to why I couldn’t see them beforehand. They were the simplest rules of thumb that any teenager should’ve known after all…

Here’s just a few examples:

  • I discovered that “stuff” which literally didn’t fit in my backpack was an unnecessary obstacle to my happiness. Just a waste of space and nothing more. For if I don’t need more than a backpack with some trekking gear to be happy, then why should I own all that I do? Nothing ever felt so crystal clear like realising what is “enough”! If it wasn’t an asset or absolutely necessary – it was gone!
  • Meaningful experiences however…This was the stuff dreams were made of…!! The focus from Peru onwards was turned to the acquiring of these… (Travel, adventure, studying, the list was endless!!)
  • Meaningless and often toxic office politics, that so often plagued my days at the office, I decided were out for good. This is where financial independence and the freedom it enables fits so perfectly in. It was there and then that my plans were solidiFIed.
  • True friendships were in. Of course. For after all the secret sauce to happiness is more often than not in meaningful relationships…
  • Status symbols and titles had to go. What a waste of space and energy these now seemed like.
  • Wisdom was in. Having reached FI ca 3 years after Peru, I went back to University to complete my MA, but more importantly: to retrain my brain back to its original position that I felt was lost during the years of chasing deals and pushing the envelope. By God studying philosophy again after all those years was exactly what the doctor prescribed!
  • Freedom was now to become my number one priority. A freedom of thought. Freedom from unnecessary obstacles to happiness. But first of all freedom from dependencies. Such as the monthly salary trap! I decided that I would fire my boss the very moment I could as a first step. And indeed, when the time came 3 years later, I did just that.

And so the obstacles to my happiness started flying out of my life one at a time… And new space was made for the carefully cherry picked and truly meaningful… The lesson then from all this encounter with happiness in the Peruvian Andes and which I’d also like for you to consider taking with you as well is that…

Happiness is. Always. Right there. By your side.

But to let it emerge you must move out of its way…

Do that, and you won’t need to search for happiness… as it would already have found you by then…

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