The World's Biggest Lie

08/08/2012 11:15 am ET | Updated Oct 08, 2012

We all tell little white lies from time to time. When asked how long we spent working out, we say 45 minutes on the treadmill when we only spent 20. We swear that our hair naturally has these Jennifer Aniston-like highlights. We confirm we walked the dog even when we didn't (a True Blood marathon was on and we forgot). Telling these little white lies does not affect us or cause us suffering, simply because we know we're lying.

But what about the lies we tell ourselves, or others, that we do believe? "I'll never meet a man, I'm not good enough for that job, there's nothing special about me, I'm too fat," and so forth. Most of us have had moments of truly believing these kinds of statements. And it doesn't feel good when we do. We don't realize that the only reason we are suffering is because we're believing lies masquerading as truths.

So much of our unhappiness is caused by believing a lie that umbrellas all the other lies we believe about ourselves: "If ____ happened, I would be happier." We fill in the blank with everything from a change in the weather to paying our taxes to getting back together with an ex.

Although immediate pleasure or displeasure may be in response to circumstance, our deeper sense of happiness and fulfillment actually has nothing to do with circumstance at all. We notice that even when we get the thing we thought we really needed to start being happy (the new job, the better car, the weight loss, the boyfriend/girlfriend, that new dress) we're still unhappy. While we may experience temporary satisfaction, before we know it we return to the same level of unhappiness we came from. How is that possible? If we got what we thought we needed to be happy... shouldn't we be happy?

Ironically enough, believing that something on the outside needs to change in order for us to be happy is exactly what makes us unhappy. The belief that happiness depends on circumstance is a lie. If it was true, we'd be happy!

Why is it a lie? Because happiness is not something you get, its something you are. Happiness is a mindset. It is the lens with which we view the world... it has nothing to do with the world itself.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "We are as happy as we make up our minds to be." Happiness is a choice that we can make independently of what is happening or not happening. It is a choice that we can make independently of our mom, dad, sister, brother, friend or partner. Its a choice that we can make at any time of the day or night -- even if we've been unhappy for 30 years or 30 minutes; we can choose again now. No one is keeping score.

If we are waiting for a future moment when everything is ready and settled to begin being happy -- we will never begin. And we will never be happy. That doesn't mean that the present circumstance won't change or improve in time -- it might. However, if we don't cultivate a sense of sustainable happiness, independent of circumstance, our mind will find the next thing to fill in the blank.

Sometimes I catch myself being unhappy simply because I don't think its okay to be happy while life is imperfect. I tell myself: How could I possibly be happy or at peace if he's upset at me, or if I made that big mistake at work. I withhold my own happiness until "life sorts itself out." But life is perpetually messy, unresolved, in transition, and full of more questions than answers. I can remind myself that life does and will always include both smooth and rough days. The true spiritual exercise is to learn how to be happy when life is happening, in all its forms. Conflict, endings, change, and discomfort are part of life happening. Believing the lie that things need to change before we allow ourselves to be happy is the same as asking life to stop before we allow ourselves to be happy. Can we learn to be happy in spite of life happening -- or rather, because life is happening? In this moment, life is reason enough to be happy. And any moment we believe we have to wait for our happiness, we're believing a lie.

When you slowly start to realize that your happiness isn't about anyone or anything outside of yourself, it really becomes yours.

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