A takeaway from Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat:
Control is what it seems most ambitious young man and woman suffer from. We want to control our time to be more efficient and more productive. We mostly want to control our career, our success, and achievement of our goals. I have always been into having full control over my life. But it became an acute need when I started my first two companies and quite possibly peaked when I moved to New York. Here, I was at the peak of my control mania. Control for me was the ONLY way. I controlled my commute, I controlled my meals, my breaks, the time I would dedicate to work, to sleep and to myself. My week was planned by the minute.
I am not saying that being organized or even being quite rigid in a routine will make you unhappy. The root of the issue was deeper than that. Much deeper.
Lets start with control…
When control dictates:
The notion that you need control to get through that to-do list is wrong. The problem is not the control you exercise over going through that list. After listening to Mo, it took me some time to realize that the problem was the to-do list itself. That I relentlessly assign tasks to myself. Tasks that won’t be accomplished. Tasks that require the sacrifice of anything and everything that does not make the list. However, I still felt obligated to complete the list. And if I didn’t? I have it in the back of my head all day long, seven days a week. And when the list is not done by the deadline? Remorse and guilt become my companions.
I never was able to finish that list and I don’t think I ever will. My unrealistic expectations were coming from the illusion of control.
1. Localize where control comes from
The origin of my controlling tendency comes from two things: my association of hard work with success and the tendency to self-assign tasks that sometimes are not needed.
2. Acknowledging our limited control
“Acknowledging our limited control shouldn’t cause us to despair. It all starts with understanding the true nature of our control. We think we are in control of everything—our money, friends, and career. But, honestly, how much control do you really have over those things you’re hanging on to?” Mo writes.
So, I started writing down all the things that I don’t have a full control over only to realize that almost nothing is entirely under my control, in fact the only thing I could reasonably conclude was that my reaction to the things I CAN’T control is about the only thing I CAN control.
3. Reflect on your understanding of time and how it contributes to the illusion of control
“Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?”
“No other illusion is as immersive as time. We constantly deal with it and take it for granted. We learn how to function within its rules but never truly understand its nature. This lack of understanding makes us suffer, and our struggle to make sense of the past and the future blocks our happiness. Busting this illusion will go a long way toward helping you interrupt the Suffering Cycle at its inception, which will enable you to solve the Happiness Equation correctly. To do that we need to ask not “What time is it?” but rather “What is time itself?”
“The Science of Time”
“Imagine space-time as a loaf of bread, where every slice represents everything that is happening anywhere in the universe in a specific instant. We humans can move in different directions in space, but we experience the dimension of time only slice by slice as we move through it. If we had the ability to perceive time as we do space, we would be able to hop back and forth through time as if we were getting on and off a train at any station we please. You hop onto the train in 2015 and go visit the Jurassic period—not that I recommend it—which is there for you to enjoy in that epic real-life movie called space-time. Man, that stuff still makes my head hurt after all those years of studying it.”
“Does this sound hard to believe? It should be. It is hard to believe. But the math speaks clearly. And if time really is this strange and exotic, then why do we feel we know it so instinctively? The space-time bread loaf feels nothing like the time we know day to day, the kind that gives us so much stress. In fact, time gets even weirder and less familiar the more we look into it.
The reason we’re usually limited to our own particular slice of space-time is due to a phenomenon in physics called “the arrow of time.” It’s the reason we have the freedom to move anywhere in the three dimensions of space but can exist only in the “now” slice of space-time. This is a tricky concept. It will be easier to understand if we move from loaves to trains.
Imagine that the whole universe is squeezed into one train: every galaxy, star, and planet and every grain of sand and living being. This train sets off on a journey, not from one city to the next but rather on a journey through time. As a passenger on that train, you can move anywhere you choose, but you can’t change the train’s direction or speed, which is restricted to a track that is the arrow of time. You just go for the ride with no control over its position or orientation, hopping from a slice of “now” to the next along the time dimension.
Time isn’t moving; you’re the one who is moving through time.
So we are always positioned to experience the current slice of now, but even that is relative. According to Einstein, the speed at which you move affects your experience of time. On his journey back to Earth, that astronaut I mentioned earlier would be moving at astronomical speeds that would lead him to slice the space-time loaf at an angle. As a result he would have a very different perception of “now” than his wife back home on Earth. Like the rest of us she might experience a time slice that included events in different parts of the world, all of which were occurring at the same time. She could be feeding her child while watching a TV newscast showing images of war in Syria, while listening to a friend cheer in the other room as the New England Patriots win their fifth Super Bowl. These events are happening simultaneously as perceived here on Earth inside her time slice. But her husband’s astronomical speed would lead him to see the different points in space at very different times. As his speed warps space-time, his perception of closer points on his travel path reach him quicker than the farthest points, so he ends up slicing the loaf at an angle. As a result, his time slice might include the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989, his mother’s death from cancer in 2016 in the United States, and the discovery of a cure for that cancer ten years later in Japan! All those events will seem to him as if they’re happening at the same time because they’re happening in a different “place” on his slice of space-time. Ouch, my head hurts again.
The reason I’m going on about the complex scientific aspects of time is because the more you know about time, the more you’ll appreciate that in reality it’s nothing like we think it is. Time as we generally accept it is an immersive illusion that has very little to do with what it really is or how it behaves. The time we think we know doesn’t exist (as you saw in the capsule experiment). Nothing about the way we individually experience time is absolute.
Time changes for everyone.
As time changes and morphs from one person to another and from one situation to the next, one can’t help but conclude that it isn’t real. Time completely fails the test of permanence. Time is an illusion because, in an interesting way:
Time completely fails the test of time!
So, if the goal truly is to choose Happy and you can solve for Happy using this simple equation:
Happiness ≥ Your perception of the events – Your expectations of how life should behave
Then, one must understand how their perceptions and expectations are formed and the false premises and misguided truths that create the very foundation they rest on.
Solve for Happy.