The Day I Purchased Happiness

When I was eight years old, I played two sports: baseball and football. The first position I was assigned to on the little league team was 3rd base. But after the coach realized I couldn’t throw the ball all the way from 3rd to first base, I was “demoted” to second base. In football, I started out as a wide receiver, but the coaches quickly realized I was too short to be effective in that position, so I got moved to running back.

No matter what team I was on, we lost. Not just one game, but every game.

In those days, only the winning teams got trophies – and the smiles on the rival kids’ faces was something I desperately coveted.

What would winning be like? What would holding a trophy feel like?

I could only dream of such lofty ambitions.

And then an idea so simple, so obvious occurred to me. A way to instantly become a winner.

I walked to the local sporting goods store, and with my entire savings I purchased a trophy.

My eight-year-old brain correlated possessing a trophy with being a winner. And I was now a winner.

On that day, I purchased happiness.

Of course, I hadn’t.

I don’t know how long it took me to realize the folly of my thinking, but I suspect it wasn’t more than a few hours – perhaps a day or two at most.

The trophy didn’t change anything about who I was. It didn’t “make” me a winner. And it certainly didn’t “make” me happy.

And while I was too young to appreciate the realm of self-awareness, there was no purchase or acquisition – no matter how grand or coveted – that could make me happy.

In fact, nothing can make us happy.

That verb, make, implies that someone or something can cause a condition to come about. And that’s the deceptive nature of our ego with regard to happiness. We believe that if certain things happen, then we’ll be happy.

Thus happiness is always “out there” – awaiting circumstances to be properly aligned that we might possess it. Being on the winning team with trophies for each player. The outcome of a certain vote going a particular way. Our bank account hitting a certain number. Our bodies looking a certain way.

And on it goes.

Until we realize that we’re searching for happiness in all the wrong places.

Happiness isn’t “out there” anywhere to be found. Happiness is not the result of circumstances.

Happiness is an inner-state that is completely independent of anything going on in the world or our bodies. And once we realize that truth, consistently getting in touch with that inner-state is simply a matter of practice.

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Anthony Gold presenting the commencement address at
Penn State University - School of Graduate Studies.

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