solving the “i won’t be happy, unless” problem

words & photo  by Brian Thompson, model & photo edit by Jennifer Picard Photography.

there are sudden realizations we all experience in life where everything can change — if we allow them to.

within the blink of an eye, our entire life perspective can flip upside down. in a moment of clarity, truth can emerge from darkness and we're able to see things in a brave, new light. it’s a spark of awakening, one that reveals the true nature of how something really is, without the cloudy haze of our confused thoughts and opinions obstructing its otherwise obvious view.

these a-ha moments are fleeting and rare, but if you pay close attention and don’t ignore the clarity of their realization, then their lessons can be awe-inspiring and life-altering, regardless of how uncomfortable they are to admit.

the underlying simplicity that our realizations point towards can be almost laughable at times, meanwhile others can be extremely painful because of how deep-rooted our attachments are to the mistruths they uncover.

everything we once knew can change in an instant, leaving us with nothing but the intangible remains of a flimsy mental concept which no longer holds firm.

after thirty years of being an avid connoisseur and obsessive collector of music, i had one of these sudden realizations, regarding the futility of my endless quest and desire to constantly acquire new music. not only was it a fruitless search of perpetual consumption, but it was actually the cause of much pain and suffering in my life.

my entire self-identity was turned upside down.

the reality was, i could never listen to all of the music in the world, no matter how fervently i tried. there would always be millions of artists i would never hear, let alone be aware of, regardless of how much they deserved to be heard. there would always be a constant stream of new artists releasing new albums every single day, something which was absolutely impossible to keep up with.

i had a severe case of the "fear of missing out", and it was distracting me from all of the beautiful things that truly mattered in life.

inside my head, i was an anxious and scattered mess — my fear of missing out had gotten the better of me. i wasn't happy until i heard the new artist who i'd read a great review about. i wasn't happy unless i heard the new unreleased song that just leaked online. i wasn't happy until i got the new album from that band who did that really cool thing. i wasn't happy unless i went to that sold-out concert the "entire town" was buzzing about.

i wasn't happy, unless — i wasn’t happy, until — i just wasn’t happy.

i had placed so many restrictions onto my happiness that it was impossible for it to shine through.

i had created endless factors for my happiness to rely upon, all of which were impossible to meet. i had manufactured a world within my mind where my happiness relied on the world around me, and not within my self, which is the only place it can ever be.

this realization shook the foundation of my entire way of being. what else in my life might i be treating in a similar way? what else was i attaching my happiness onto?

i realized that my wanting never ended. i had created a self who was in a state of constant lack. i was always needing something else, always needing one more thing.

i had created a world where happiness was impossible to be found.

i constantly had to be on top of all the latest artist news, interviews, new releases, videos, and record label announcements. i had become something similar to a Wall Street trader always watching the stock ticker, non-stop, waiting for the latest tidbit of information to bank on — but for me, there was no pay off.

all i had in life were brief moments of sensory pleasure, with each soon being cut short by the arising of new desires. it was a vicious cycle of constant craving, with there being no true satisfaction whatsoever.

i had wore myself out. i was precariously on edge at all times, forever grasping at the latest music news, concert schedules or business trends. i was unhappy and depressed. i was living in a tiny bubble of my own making — i had completely distracted and separated myself from truly experiencing the rest of what life had to offer.

i created a system of living for myself in which i could never possibly be satisfied in.

i had always prided myself on my massive music collection, it was a central piece in my core identity. it was the physical manifestation of all the work i had done to create the person who i was. but, i wasn’t happy with who i was.

after three decades of chasing a happiness that never arrived, the self-realization of my struggle finally dawned on me.

the bubble i had created for my identity to live within was impossible to maintain — my endless craving was too exhausting too continue with — the bubble was about to burst.

and so, i stopped — there was no weening off. there was no warning. i let go of my attachment without any hesitation, as if i was dropping a hot potato that had just been tossed to me.

that’s the thing with sudden realizations, they pierce your normal way of thinking so deeply that you simply cannot ignore them — there’s no turning back once you become awakened. by ignoring them, you only condemn yourself to repeating all of the painful mistakes that led to your realization in the first place.

i turned my realization into a symbolic gesture by giving my entire music collection away; including all of the thousands of albums, box sets, CDs and DVDs i had aquired throughout my entire life. i kept nothing. i donated the entire thing to the burn unit at a local hospital, so they could use it as a library in their music therapy program, thanks to the assistance from my friends over at the Music Heals charitable foundation.

i had become an unaware prisoner of my own obsessive addiction to consumption.

i had become a slave to all of the things i had attached my sense of self and identity onto. i had defined myself by my music collection and knowledge, and my sense of happiness relied upon its constant up-keep. i had let my possessions own me. i had lost control.

i realized that underneath the charade i struggled to maintain, true happiness was waiting for me. true happiness doesn’t need things or stuff in order for it to be realized, it’s found in their absence.

happiness is found in the pure simplicity of our being, not in the convoluted and tangled mess we make it into.

what game are you unknowingly playing? is there something in your life you have placed your definition of happiness onto, that’s completely outside of your control?

do you ever find yourself saying, “i won't be happy unless…”?

don’t let your attachments get the better of you.

this isn’t to say one needs to git rid of everything in the same way i did. you can still have and enjoy all of the beautiful things life has to offer, but don’t let allow your happiness be absolutely reliant upon them. don’t let your sense of self be defined by the things you own, or by the knowledge you’ve collected and have come to be known by.

the real you is beyond all of your attachments.

the things you hold on to the tightest are the very things you should let go of. it’s the clinging that causes us pain, not the things themselves.

a clenched fist soon aches and becomes sore — relax your grip and let go.