As humans, we have a tendency to try and shape the outcome of events. We try to influence people’s opinions and behaviours in our favour. We have been trying to do this for centuries.
In reality, though, It’s improbable that we have any real power to influence or direct people’s behaviours and we certainly don’t have any power to control the outcome of events.
The keyword here is control.
We think control leads to certainty. And certainty, we think, leads to happiness. Therefore, we think there is a direct correlation between having control and being happy.
This is the great myth of our time.
The Myth: Control More Stuff and Be Happier
We think having more or total control of our lives will make us happier.
Let me give you a real-world example of my 3-year-old daughter.
She has virtually no control over her life and decision making. Yes she can choose whether to have a strawberry or chocolate ice cream but having or not having the said ice cream is totally dictated by us — the grownups, the parents.
Let me explain:
She, like all other 3-year-olds, pretty much does what the grown-ups tell her to do. Like; what to eat, when to eat, when to have a bath, what to watch, when to sleep, where to sleep (as much as she wants to sleep in our bed, she must sleep in her own).
She does what we tell her to (most of the time) and does it happily (mostly). She actually has very little choice and sovereignty in her day to day life.
So considering the statement “We think having more or total control of our lives will make us happier”, with that logic my daughter must be a very miserable person? Actually, quite the contrary, she is, like most 3-year-olds, with a total lack of control on her own life, the most delightful, happy and energetic being — Ask anyone who has been around an average toddler — they are a joy to be around (again, mostly) and are full of life and energy. They make the best of every situation.
Yet at the same time, I see people (grown-ups) who have their entire lives to their own makings (or so they think); they work in jobs they picked, eat what they want, wear what they want, meet who they want, watch what they want, sleep when, where and who with they want yet they are unhappy with their lives. With almost a total control of their lives and total sovereignty, they are miserable beings.
So what is the disconnect here? Does having control not bring us more happiness? (loud gasp). If not control then what does bring happiness?
Well, control can bring about happiness but we have been focusing on the wrong kind of control.
The Two Types of Control: Internal and External
Going back to my daughter’s example, when she wants to do something that we do not let her, she isn’t always understanding and cheerful about it and says; “Yes sure daddy, you know best” (Wouldnt that be nice though).
But no, she has all the emotions of a grown person but hers aren’t tamed, they are raw and easily expressable. Sometimes she rebels, cries, throws a tantrum or two but eventually, she accepts. Not in defeat but in understanding and compromise — by controlling herself and her feelings.
Being a toddler, she cannot always regulate her emotions, although she is getting really good at it, but after expressing them in an age-appropriate fashion and with the vocabulary of a toddler she accepts what we are suggesting and brings control to her herself, her feelings and emotions. And when she does, she makes the best of the offered opportunity being her cheerful self again. She is happy again — sometimes in a matter of seconds.
As much as we want to teach children the ways of this world, something we should all learn from them is to make the best of every situation. Happiness is not attained by external control yet people try so hard because they don’t understand this simple fact; literally, the only thing we have control over in life and perhaps the universe is our own self. We may not always have control over our bodies due to disease and old age but we almost always have control over our feelings, emotions, thoughts and responses.
External control is an illusion and does not lead to happiness. Internal control, on the other hand, is the only form of control that can improve our life and wellbeing. This is the one control we must try and expand at all times.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
- We cannot control the environment around us but we can control ourselves.
- We cannot control people but we can control how we relate to them.
- We cannot control situations and events but we can control how we internalise and respond to them.
- We cannot control outcomes but we can control our efforts.
- We cannot control what the other persons hears and understands but we can control our words.
- We cannot control calamity and pain but we can control how much we let ourselves suffer over it
All efforts must be made to expand and grow control of ourselves, our emotions, feelings and efforts. Shift your focus from external control to internal. Instead of trying to control the outcomes of events and the behaviours of others, try to control your own emotions, feelings, reactions and relations.
Nothing will bring you greater joy, confidence, stillness and ease in life than being in control of your own self.
“If you conquer yourself, then you conquer the world” ― Paulo Coelho, Alep