I work with guys who struggle with happiness. They aren’t fundamentally “happy”. For them a good day is when nothing bad happens. They deal with anxiety, and feel ashamed that it can be so debilitating. Some days it literally saps their physical strength. I’m talking about strong, able-bodied guys who just want to stay in bed or lie on the couch all day, hiding from life. When they DO finally get moving in the direction of accomplishing a task, it feels like they’re wearing a 100-pound rucksack on their back.
These are dudes who have been raised to hide their weaknesses, suck it up and get the job done, bite down on their mouthguard and grind, never let ’em see you sweat…. basically all the macho shit we’ve heard from our fathers, and their fathers before them. I’m not saying it isn’t admirable to have the testicular fortitude to grind through some super shitty task; of course it is. We are performance-driven from the moment of conception. Every single one of us is the sperm that got through, having beat out a million or so other sperm. We abhor the idea of a participation trophy; we fought for this opportunity to be alive, to be a human being combusting oxygen and doing stuff here on planet Earth. Yay, we won.
And yet look around at this planet full of “winners”. What percentage of us is truly happy? I mean sure, lots of us seem happy, because we don’t go around publicly whining about our discontentment. But behind closed doors, a Life Coach for Men learns something he probably always suspected: true male happiness is quite rare. At the very best, guys have moments of contentment. That is to say, moments of peace. And more often than not, it isn’t because they just had up-against-the-wall sex with some supermodel, made their first million, received some noble award recognizing their human awesomeness, or whatever other competency fantasy you might entertain as a member of the y-chromosome club.
Instead, these moments of peace are exactly that — moments — mental snapshots taken in the middle of the chaos that is life. A particularly sweet pineapple. Your wife taking ahold of your hand in the car when you weren’t expecting it, and saying something genuinely loving. Waking up with the family cat purring next to you on the bed. Your child saying something that makes you chuckle. The smell of freshly cut grass. A cold glass of water on a balls-hot day.
These are the moments when, just for a second, the 800-pound gorilla on your back — the one who judges you harshly all day long for your shortcomings — takes a break. In the near decade that I’ve been coaching guys, I’ve learned that no matter how seemingly successful they are, they all have in common that the shit-scripting never stops. These are bright guys who criticize themselves for not using their intellectual gifts better. High-earners who worry that they aren’t making enough. Guys in decent shape who hold themselves to unreasonably harsh fitness and performance standards. And I always tell them same thing:
“The greatest demonstration of a man’s strength isn’t the weight he can carry, but the weight he can put down.”
It’s all about letting go. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have goals; but rather that we should pace ourselves, be reasonable about our expectations, and be okay with whatever outcomes life serves us. It isn’t pass-fail. Our goals don’t define us…. our presence of mind does. Be present. Or should I say, DARE to be present. Remove “happiness” as a goal, and instead practice being present with whatever is happening, with no judgment. Try as hard as you can to accomplish a goal, or don’t. Either way. And accept outcomes accordingly. But in all cases put the heavy weight of self-judgment down, and allow yourself to be present with whatever this world is showing you. Acceptance and peace always trend together, and are a sane antidote for envy and self-attack.