"You can neither give happiness, nor receive it." -Naval
What does Naval mean here?
We have this flawed idea that if other people do the things we want them to do, we will be happy. This kind of tit-for-tat agreement is an illusion, and it has nothing to do with happiness.
We think we want an enteral state of blissful happiness, but that's not physically achievable by the human animal.
What we want is peace of mind, which is within our grasp. Peace of mind comes from accepting responsibility and understanding that nothing external has anything to do with it. It's up to us and us alone.
How you respond is all that matters. It is the only thing.
Taoism explains the duality of nature—night and day, positive and negative, good and evil. All things determined by their opposing side—you can't have one without the other.
When it comes to happiness, the only way to be happy is to also have suffering since happiness is defined as the opposite of suffering (if you don’t have suffering, you can’t have happiness). So really, if you wanted to be happy 100% of the time, you are stating an impossibility since you must have suffering to have happiness.
Peace is another matter entirely. You can have peace all the time since you can control how you respond to everything external.
If you create peace of mind as your baseline to build on top of, you chase desires and pursuits from a place of self-aware detachment. In this case, things that don't work out exactly how you wanted will not string as much, and you'll be far more likely to find the benefit in everything.
Let's look at a few examples:
You lose all your money
Ok, sure, that sucks, but now you can start over, and you most definitely learned something that will make you better at managing your finances in the future. You can also use this loss as motivation to work harder and to avoid making the same mistakes again.
You lose a loved one
This may be the hardest thing you ever deal with. I know it has been for me.
You must go through the grieving process, so accept that and don't try to force it or ignore it. As you come out the other end, you can use this loss as fuel to appreciate what matters in your life, like spending more time with friends and family.
Maybe it becomes a wake-up call that helps you break some dangerous habits or destructive behaviors. Perhaps it becomes a much-needed kick in the ass to get your health in check. Maybe it helps break negative thought patterns that have been holding you back.
Someone lies, cheats, steals or hurts you
You may need to grieve a bit, depending on the situation. You might need to look at forgiveness. Maybe you get valuable information now that prevents you from a HUGE disappointment later—like not marrying this person or not going into a business partnership with him or her, and so on.
Our most difficult trials are usually blessings in disguise. I've seen this happen over and over in life. Things that look terrible all around end up being huge for personal growth and development.
I could go on and on with examples, but here are the facts of human life:
Things will always happen since change is the only constant in the universe. This means that the more you cling to the status quo, the more you choose to suffer.
Everything is choice
You are happy, sad, angry, resentful, fearful, anxious, etc., because you choose to be. You choose to feel this way because it feels good to be the victim (victim mindset), or you are choosing to do the work necessary to get yourself out of a funk.
(One of the greatest dangers and most damaging perspectives of our current times is the idea of victimhood that has so enveloped so much of culture and politics.)
There is no morality or justice in nature… there is only cause and effect.
Humans don't like hearing this. We want to believe that life is fair and that we should get what we deserve, and others get what they deserve. But this is just an outcropping of the victim narrative, and it ends up keeping people stuck in bad thought patterns.
Look at nature to find out just how unjust and unfair and cruel nature really is. You'll see young species being eaten alive by predators. You'll see a fraction of the young of any species surviving in the harsh wild.
Human beings have it only slightly better, with millions dying each year from one of the many ways we can go. Babies die before they ever get a chance at this amazing thing called life. Young children die. Teenagers die. 21-year-olds die. You will die. I will die.
This is life. It is nature. And by ignoring it, we do ourselves a great disservice.
Death is one of our best tools for living more fulfilled lives. The more we understand and accept death, the better we are attuned to the things that matter, most of which are right in front of us, yet we are often too blind to see.
When we appreciate life and its shortness, we can easier say no to the trivial. We can avoid getting wrapped up in pointless drama. We can stop making ourselves suffer because of flawed ideas about fairness or justice or cultural indoctrination.
I sometimes wonder if it takes experiencing loss first hand to understand death and life truly. I don't know. One thing is for sure: you and I are going to lose people in the future, and ourselves.
I have two sons and a loving partner. We plan to have more kids.
With my firstborn, Darrow, I've had frequent thoughts of terrible things happening to him, usually in harrowing detail inside my mind. In one such case, I felt the urge to throw up.
Even now, as I write this and consider this, I'm reminding/urging myself to make sure I spend more time with him and to make sure I'm no on my phone or otherwise thinking about work or something else.
This reminds me to do the same with all my friends and family. Am I spending enough time with them? Am I letting work consume me? Etc.
There's an excellent quote from The Almanack of Naval from his trainer that goes like this: Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.
Make hard choices now to get the long term benefits later.
Eating a healthy diet and living a long and healthy life without drugs or doctors or sickness.
Go outside for a workout and feel better and look better later.
Save and invest more now rather than spending and reap the many benefits later.
Make the hard choice to save and invest more and reap the benefits later.
Make the hard choice to confront your mortality now and come to terms with it, and you'll forever live a better life moving forward.
Ask yourself then hard questions and work through the answers and benefit every day into the future.
On and on the examples go.