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Happiness is in the journey

Published: 
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Reflections of the Water

The goal, the goal, the gold! It’s so easy to get carried away, especially for athletes in an Olympic year. Every four years there is a mass neurosis in elite sport as the looming Olympics Games are approached with an insane level of intensity and all consuming zeal. 

In many ways ambition is a curse; it dictates that one never be satisfied with the present, but instead always looking towards the future in search of happiness. Our societal conditioning manifests as a single-minded focus on the goal, that blinds us as to why we fell in love with the sport in the first place as children. 

Sport is no longer pursued for its own sake and enjoyment, but instead for the secondary notion of attaining a goal. Constant repetition brings the false conviction that its achievement will bring happiness. This is simply not true.

I remember taking off my Olympic medal for the first time, feeling its substantial weight and struggling to come to terms with the fact that there was no true happiness to be found in it. 

It was simply a trinket, just another thing. We are conditioned by society to externalise happiness, and to always be looking for it in the future. 

We are led to believe that we will find happiness when we win that medal, get that material possession, or when we graduate, when we go to University, or when we get that great job, when we get promoted, when we retire or when we get to heaven. Many never realise what they were looking for.

This belief leads many aspiring Olympians to forget the truth that sport should be enjoyed and used to enhance vitality. Instead they sacrifice the present for the future. 

However, this extremely miserable way of living brings with it a form of desperation. The constant sacrifice provokes an intense desire for the end to justify the means, for the goal to be accomplished so that the process would have been worthwhile. 

It also carries the fear that if the goal is not achieved, then one of the best years of life would have been wasted. We suffer when life becomes solely about becoming, and no longer about being.

This delusion starts to become clear when we approach the situation like this. 

How great can you be if you aren’t actually focused on what you are doing, but are instead distracted by a desired future outcome that you are simultaneously wanting and afraid of not getting? Imagine that it is time for the big race and instead of paying attention to what you are actually doing, you are daydreaming in your mind about the secondary notion of a time, or a position, or a medal. 

To be truly great and surpass all expectations you must be completely focused on the unfolding process, without even a thought directed towards the outcome;  a distraction. You can only think about what you already know, so therefore thinking about the outcome will lead to the known, to mediocrity and not to your best.

You don’t find happiness in the goal, it happens in the process as a byproduct of reveling in the enjoyment of what's happening. When you are actually focused more on what you’re doing and not on the outcome, the irony is that the result will be significantly better. 

We hear a lot about “post Olympic depression”. Sadly, this is a result of not having pre-Olympic vitality; and the realisation that there was no happiness to be found in the future.

Goals in life are very important, don’t get me wrong. Set the goal, commit to the process, but approach its attainment with easy equanimity. The goal gives you the journey, and while you may think that you are doing it, it’s doing you; the journey gives you experiences and therefore life. 

The funny thing about goals is that they are all based on our current perspective on life that is a result of conditioning. However, as time goes on, we become conditioned in different ways as new experiences influence us, essentially changing who we are. We become very different people from when we set our goals. 

Often by the time we have struggled to attain our goal, we have changed so much that it’s no longer important to us, leading to the hollow realisation that we may have wasted our time. So set goals, but don’t set them because they are objectives that you want to accomplish. 

Do it because it gives you a way of life that you as your authentic self would relish, and a journey that you would enjoy taking regardless of how your perspective on life changes. If you can do that, then you will realise the profound truth that the Olympics are not every four years, but every day. 

In which case, it won’t be about the time that you went, but rather the time that you had. Whoever has the most fun wins; literally.

Find George on Twitter: @georgebovell

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