One evening after hearing me give a talk on real happiness, a student approached me. “I have something to show you,” he said, opening a slick magazine to a two-page advertisement. There, in shimmering glory, was a beautiful woman draped in gold jewelry, looking satisfied and happy. Across the pages in bold lettering were the words: “The Gold Shivers.” I felt both amused and appalled as I read the pitch:From the First Small Shiverwhen a Shimmering Necklace of Gold Beads Catches a Woman’s Eye.To the Great Shivers of Delight when the Coveted Object Actually Becomes Hers . . .Among Life’s Pleasures, Count this Deeply Held Euphoria as Unique.The Only Way to Get the Gold Shivers is by Getting the Gold.Because we’re bombarded with thousands of marketing messages like this every day, it’s easy to think that gratifying our desires is the way to find happiness. We might even know, as one bumper sticker says, “The best things in life are not things,” but we can still believe that something else out there will make us happy. When I find my soul mate, or when I write the great American novel, or when I retir . . .There’s no denying the hit of pleasure we feel when we fulfill a desire for a particular experience or object or goal. But how long does the satisfaction last once we receive the “coveted object”? Perhaps until we notice there’s something else we want. When we equate true happiness with getting something (or someone), we can end up like hamsters in an exercise wheelÑrunning but never arriving.If genuine happiness is not based on objects or experience, where can it be found? And how? Like following a road map, once you know where you’re going, it’s easier to figure out how to get there.TAKING THE FIRST STEP The journey of awakening joy begins with setting a clear intention. Although we all want to be happy, most of us don’t place an explicit wish for that at the center of our lives. We think if we are successful, rich, or liked by others, happiness will come. We tend to hope that achieving certain goals in the future will make us happy. But these are roundabout ways to get to happiness, and they don’t necessarily work. What does get you there is starting where you are and discovering what you are looking for in the midst of your current life.You might think that the circumstances of your life will have to change a lot before you can find happiness in the midst of them. While it’s true that our well-being is affected by how we live, we also know that even in the best of circumstances we can be unhappy.
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