Several years ago, I wrote an extended series of articles in Meridian about the “Three Deceivers” of Control, Ownership, and Independence; and about how the pursuit of these three things which we think will give us happiness actually robs us of joy.
Partly because of how well that series was received, it has now been refined and expanded into a new book called “The Happiness Paradox” with the paradox being that “CO&I reduce rather than increase our happiness.
But there is another side to the book—literally. It does not have a back cover, just another front cover when the book is flipped over to the title “The Happiness Paradigm.” The “other side” puts forth the theory that there are three alternative attitudes (essentially the opposites of Control Ownership and Independence) that can bring us peace and harmony, and yes, real happiness.
This idea of a two-sided book is not entirely new to me. In fact the first book I ever published, some 45 years ago, was a book called on one side “I Challenge You” and on the other side “I Promise You.” Readers had the option to read a challenge and then turn the book over to read the promise it led to. Or, they could read the promise first and flip the book over to find out what challenge could get them to that promise. That book became a best seller and ultimately led me to become a full-time writer.
But this new book, The Happiness Paradox/The Happiness Paradigm was an even more natural candidate for a two-sided book, because it essentially asks readers to turn their whole approach to life upside down by going after very different things than the common pursuits of Control, Ownership and Independence.
The book begins with this frontal page:
The distorted lens of OWNERSHIP
causes us to perceive the world as a competition,
to constantly compare and judge,
and to develop the habits of selfishness.
The mistaken notion of INDEPENDENCE
puts us alone against the world
and develops a brittle facade of pride
which hides the vulnerability that could help us
to better love and be loved.
The presumptuous perspective of CONTROL
makes us swim against the flow of opportunities
and become less sensitive to others
even as it deprives us of both faith and spontaneity.
The irony is this: We started with joy. We all began life with our default switches set to happiness. As babies, except when something (hunger, thirst, a little tummy ache or a wet diaper) distracted us, our natural state was joy. We were easy to delight. We smiled often and laughed—even giggled—a lot. People around us liked to make us happy, and our happiness made them happy. We were not self-conscious about our happiness. We waived our arms, we squealed.
But as we gradually grew older, that happiness began to ebb.
We started growing away from joy as we tacked on the years. By the time we were in kindergarten, while happiness was still our modus operandi, there were more and more things that pulled us away from it. As we went through elementary school we began to learn the concept of ownership, and with it came selfishness and competition. We began to learn the notion of control, and with it came pride and frustration. We began to learn the concept of independence, and with it came loneliness and isolation.
These concepts were taught to us by adults, who were also the examples of them.
Ownership, Control, and Independence are essentially economic terms and that, when they are applied too broadly, and adopted too comprehensively, they become our deceivers, they become the three thieves of our joy.
But remember that happiness is our natural state. We don’t have to discover happiness; we merely need to recover it.
And we can recover it by grasping, exposing, and discarding the three things that have sucked happiness away from us. We can come to understand the limitations and illusions and deceptions of Control, Ownership and Independence (COI) which combine, intertwine, and cocoon us into a place where we are confined and walled off from our natural state of joy.
The frustration and stress and imbalance we so often feel are not based as much on the details of how we live each day as they are on the fact that we are seeking the wrong things–that we have the wrong goals. That is a bold statement, and most people are quite determined to defend the goals they have chosen to pursue. Nevertheless, it is a fact that most of us spend a substantial amount of time and mental effort seeking three goals that end up working against us and against our happiness and joy. They are goals that we have been programmed to think are good things, right things, things that will bring us happiness. It is our obsession with these three goals that destroys the balance and the quality of our lives.
Ponder for a moment how very, very much we desire each of them and how much effort we put into the pursuit of CO&I:
Oh, how we long for Control. We try to control the events of our day by making lists and checking them off. We try to control our children by disciplining and rewarding them. We try to control our destiny by deciding who and where and what we will become. And when things go a different direction than our plans and our lists and our goals, we feel frustration and stress.
And Ownership is the American way! Life seems to present itself as a giant scoreboard where we are measured by what we own. We work longer and harder than any other people in the history of the world because we want more wealth, more possessions, more ownership. And when we compare what we own to what others own (a kind of comparing we seem to find irresistible) the outcome is either envy and jealousy or pride and condescension–-both of which lead to unhappiness.
The third one, Independence, is such a revered concept that we have a holiday named for it. We revere independence. To need no one but ourselves, to stand alone, these are the mottos of today. Yet we continually find out in spite of ourselves, how interdependent and dependent we are, how much we need other people and how much we need God.
We not only want and wish for Control, Ownership, and Independence, we worship the very concepts. They are our idols. They the gauges by which we measure success. They are what our podcasts and our social media and our casual conversations are about. They are the assumed, accepted goals that cause us to change careers, or to get a second job, or to move to a new place. They give us the motivation to avoid having more children, to go further into debt, to buy better planners and time-management tools, and they prompt us to try to get through things on our own rather than ask for help.
There are two big problems with the concepts of Control, Ownership and Independence. One is that they cause stress, frustration, and unhappiness. The other is that they represent false values and are, in fact, false concepts! They are lies!
Think about it. What do you really control? You are one tiny individual in a world full of forces and circumstances that operate completely apart from your will. What do you really own? With the one possible exception of your agency or power of choice, you own nothing. You are a “user” of things that pass through your hands. Finally, from what are you really independent? You are interdependent so many other people, especially those you love, and completely dependent on God or whatever Nature or higher power you perceive for the very air you breathe and the light that lets you live.
Think about the folly of trying to control everything. Life is essentially unpredictable. It happens; little of it is within our control. The measure of our success and happiness lies not in controlling what happens, but in how we handle and respond to what happens. Constantly trying to control what can’t be controlled is a recipe for stress and frustration.
Think about the fallacy of our obsession with ownership. What do we really own? We may obtain deeds and titles and bank accounts, but they pass through us as we pass through life, so does anything really belong to us? And doesn’t the illusion of ownership cause jealousy and envy and condescension and lots of other emotions that connect to unhappiness?
Think about the misplaced desire for independence. We are all interconnected and interdependent in so many ways. We need each other and it is these needs that make us human, that allow us to love, and that encourage us to make commitments. Too much emphasis on independence leads to isolation.
The bottom line is that we can’t really have much of any of the Three Deceivers, and wouldn’t want them even if we could. Too much control would take the adventure and spontaneity out of life. Too much ownership becomes bondage. And too much independence equals loneliness.
The new book claims that there is a specific alternative attitude that can replace each of the Three Deceivers, and one of the reasons you have to flip the book over to find those alternatives is that I want to keep them hidden until I have had time to convince readers that they do NOT want more Control, Ownership and Independence.
In future Meridian articles, I will elaborate more on both the Three Deceivers and the Three Alternatives, but until then, the book is now on sale at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/164170053X?pf_rd_p=c2945051-950f-485c-b4df-15aac5223b10&pf_rd_r=PZ9174NKFTVT0BMGAM5J, and it provides a framework for a very comprehensive New Year’s Resolution for 2019.
The Happiness Paradox is Richard Eyre’s 52nd book. Richard and Linda Eyre’s books and speaking on marriage and parenting and their website valuesparenting.com have become a template for two generations of families and continue to be best sellers throughout the world. Follow the Eyres on Instagram @richardlindaeyre.