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The Happiness Track: Naming Your Hauntings

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Quite simply, the hauntings of our mind stand between us and everything else.

Hauntings, entities, ghosts … Call them what you may—some people believe in them, others don’t. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions. We give so much importance to strange and paranormal things, while giving too little importance to the undeniable hauntings of our own mind. Memories, worries, concepts, judgments, opinions, calculations—we exist and drown in a swirling sea of thoughts. In many ways, we are the haunted ones.

Emotions have an impact on our cognition, behavior, decision-making, and emotional intelligence. Fears from our past fill us with apprehension, even though the situation may be new. They stand between us and a new romance, job, or house purchase. Beautiful memories of times gone by fill us with regret and nostalgia, pinching at our hearts and taking away from the present moment. Anxiety over the future stands in the way of our being grateful for what we already have. After all, many of the things we once wanted we now have. Anger overshadows our minds, making us act toward others in ways we never would do in our right minds. The expression “to be beside oneself with anger” is accurate: We are not ourselves in those moments.

Thoughts are also filled with myriad calculations. The moment we meet someone, for example, we are making assessments. Are they trustworthy, or not? Friendly, or not? Should I approach or avoid them? And once we are in conversation with them, we are engaging with the person on the outside and simultaneously filled with judgments and thoughts on the inside. While we’re talking away, we are deciding whether we agree or disagree. We ask ourselves questions, judging ourselves and the other person: Should I have said that? Oops—I spoke too much. I wonder if they like me. Do I have food stuck between my teeth? That’s a crazy shirt. They’ve got a hair wisp stuck in their ear. I hope I’m not late for my next appointment. I still have to put gas in the car.

What’s more, we take the con-versation with us when we leave. We may feel good afterward, or not. We remember what we said and saw. Further emotions are generated.

In addition, random information we read or hear further clouds our view of reality. (We ingest 34 GB of information daily, according to one study.) News items may fill us with grief or suck us into the desire to learn more, to dive into the gore or the gossip. Social media feeds assault our senses with dozens of videos, articles, and images coming at us in a few downward swipes. They lead us to more sites, filled with advertisements reminding us of what we want to purchase. Recreationally, at any given moment, we’re online, reading, watching TV, or listening to music or podcasts. We willingly fill our minds more and more—the images, concepts, and ideas flood us, standing squarely between us and our work, our family time, or simply an attempt to go to sleep. We can’t focus on what is in front of us. Our dreams are peopled with the information we take in. We wake up still thinking, remembering, and processing this information. We take in so much more than we can digest. We take in so much more information than our ancestors ever dreamed of.

Quite simply, the hauntings of our mind stand between us and everything else. This is not a novel idea. Buddhist, Hindu, and the contemplative branches of most religions have been teaching us this all along: If we could only empty our mind, we could see things more clearly. We could live in the present. We could live with full awareness. We would stop grasping at desires like straws. We would live more fearlessly, with the exuberance of a child, the mind fully merged with each moment. This, they teach, is the secret to happiness.

When you clear the clutter of entities filling your own mind—what remains? Who is there? Who were we before the thoughts, the concepts, the words and conversations? What was the state of your heart? Gazing into a baby’s face—as I am now doing after the birth of my second child—I whisper this daily: “Hold on, my dear, to these moments before the words come flooding your mind. Remember these moments in which your heart is full of nothing but love.” Perhaps the journey of every adult is to regain this loving, childlike mind—to couple it with the wisdom borne of age. And to finally, truly be alive.

Quite simply, the hauntings of our mind stand between us and everything else.