The Formula for Happiness

IHeart Carvingn my “Zero Attachment, Zero Anxiety” post, I commented on a contradiction between some of my earlier writing and what I have come to see as a constructive approach to creating your best life. The contradiction was about the concept of yearning. In the book The Joy Diet, I wrote that yearning is the internal map of the course your life was meant to follow. I believe I wrote something like, “Your destiny pulls you through life by the heart.” Last month I wrote that intense yearning is a form of attachment that can actually stop the thing you desire from reaching you. In the past month, I’ve realized that each of these ideas is accurate in its own way. Yearning is, indeed, a valuable indication of our best future, but it contains an energy that can push away our dreams even as it tries to pull them towards us.

Here’s the key to understanding how you can use the positive aspects of yearning while avoiding the negative: Recognize that yearning is loving something before you believe in it. The same may be said of jealousy, envy, disappointment and even despair. To love something deeply without believing it can be true is enormously painful.

The problem here is that we often fight our desire rather than our disbelief. Being firmly convinced that what we want could never happen, we fight to extinguish the enjoyment and delight of the experience for which we long. But every great spiritual teacher, from Jesus to Forrest Gump, has tried to explain to the world that love is indestructible. Therefore, the part of the yearning equation we must eliminate is not the love of the unseen thing, but our fear that it can never be ours.

Let’s write this as an equation. Here is what happens when we fight our desire rather than our disbelief:

Love + Disbelief = Yearning

To eliminate the distaste of this yearning, most of us try to solve the equation this way:

Yearning – Love = Happiness

This does not work because, as stated earlier, love cannot be subtracted. It’s the one permanent thing in the universe. In addition, subtracting love from anything makes it more painful, not less.

So this month, try the following equation:

Yearning – Disbelief = Happiness

If you have trouble simply subtracting disbelief, please realize you cannot force belief to exist, so you can’t simply add belief to something you don’t believe. The way to balance the equation is to allow your heart to trust that what it loves is real. If you can do this, trust automatically causes disbelief to relax and disappear. Then your equation looks like this:

Yearning + Trust = Happiness

Right now, make a list of everything you yearn for. Make sure that you realize that your yearning is for the emotional sensation that the experience would bring you rather than the form itself. (For example, you don’t just wish for the perfect lover, but for the sensation of knowing you are deeply loved. The perfect lover without that feeling would do nothing for you.) Make another list of things you feel you deserve, but don’t believe you’ll ever get — things like good luck, a soul mate, a really great haircut. Again, focus on the essence of the experience, not the physical form.

Now try a small thought experiment. Go through this list item by item and allow yourself to trust that the thing you love not only will come, but has already connected with you through the barrier of time. Notice any fear that arises to tell you that the thing for which you yearn will never come to you. Notice the choking, tensing or other form of contraction in your body when you focus on your disbelief. This is the body’s response to a lie. Give yourself a short space of time, say one minute, to take your attention off your disbelief and focus instead on the love of this thing that has not yet happened. Feel the warmth and openness of your life when you believe that your connection with this thing is real, solid, and inevitable. As the poet Rilke said, “You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born. Fear not the strangeness you feel. The future must enter you long before it happens.”

Psychologists who study rats sometimes hook up the poor little creatures to harnesses that measure their pulling strength. Then they measure how hard the rats run away from an electric shock, or toward a pellet of food. If they put the shock and the food in the same place, the rats run toward it to exactly the point where their fear of the shock is as strong as their lust for the food. At that point, they develop what is called an “approach avoidance” response. They run back and forth, back and forth, toward the food and away from the shock and end up basically stuck in no man’s land.

When we yearn for something and focus on our fear that it may not happen, we create an approach avoidance response in everything our hearts desire. The love makes us magnetic to the outcomes we desire; the fear of loss or failure repels what we are trying to create just before it reaches us.

If we can change the way we solve the yearning equation so that more of our time is spent focusing on love and enjoyment than on our fear of failure or disappointment, the approach avoidance pattern begins to break down.

The future our hearts have already mapped for us gains the energy and momentum to break through the shell of fear and into our material lives. To live without fear or doubt is perhaps too much to ask of a small, frightened, human animal, but to practice the discipline of focusing on love rather than fear is something we can all achieve. Start with the things you want just a little. As trust begins drawing these things into your life, you’ll gain the confidence to escape approach avoidance responses and more impressive results will follow.

Fear not the strangeness you feel. The future has already entered you. It is pulling you through life by your heart.

27 replies
  1. jocelyn
    jocelyn says:

    Amazing how the exact right information comes at the right time. This is the most articulate expression of what I have been confronting for 2 years, and just (JUST) began to realize and understand 2 days ago…and then I read this. Thank you Martha, thank you so much. This makes so much sense.

  2. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    same here. this confirmed a realization I came to this morning. thank you for this wisdom and insight, Martha. you have helped me more than you know.

  3. ileana Grams-Moog
    ileana Grams-Moog says:

    Thank you! This did much more for me than clarify your post about non-attachment. It succinctly explained the anguish I felt for years about my desire to write popular books of serious philosophy. I castigated myself for feeling so paralyzed that I couldn’t make headway, and you pointed out exactly why I was paralyzed. Thanks in large part to reading and practicing your advice, I am on my way.

  4. Billie
    Billie says:

    I read this today, one day after hearing I will be needing imminent heart surgery. How comforting in a very real way. Thank you Martha.

  5. Michele Ries
    Michele Ries says:

    Your words are so beautiful – and what they point to is breathtaking. Thank you for sharing them with so many people.

  6. Paul
    Paul says:

    Right on time, right on point, day in and day out, like sunlight washing through the window of a darkened room. Thank you.

  7. William
    William says:

    This is a breathtaking beautiful article. thank you. i’ve been experiencing the ying yang of approach avoidance forever and it’s excruciating. As I was about to enter the very pinnacle of my career, I choked and have been nursing a dreadful wound for two solid years. If i had money, I would hire a life coach in a snap. you are amazing. your work is a gift.

  8. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Dear Martha,
    I also like to write and have yearned to do it and successfully procrastinated away all those years when I had so much more time than I do now with children, full time job and grown up stuff that needs to get done. Lately, as in the last few years, I have been coming undone, unraveling and I’ve been fighting it stoically like I always do. The last few weeks have been particularly stormy seas and I have been putting down the things I think I have no choice but to do and doing the things that I want to do. I saw my very first bird migration in person because my tv stopped working,I had originally wanted to go for a walk on our seawall and just sat on the couch until, of course the tv stopped working, so I went out and was stunned by the sight, birds out into the water in a formation for as long as the eye could see! Last night I couldn’t close my bottom oven pan door all the way and kept pushing until I decided I should have a better look around in the dark and found a Maya Angelou card from a collection I had given out with my Christmas cards at least 8 years before. Her words were exactly what I needed to hear. I am really trying to let things happen rather than being assured that the outcome will be one way or another. I am doing my very best to suspend my disbelief. To find my way. Thank you for your wisdom, your humour and your words,which have been more like lifeboats for me in the last little while! I ordered two of your books (I wanted them all but my husband-kindly- keeps me in check – have you read those other books you just bought?) and so his ‘can we start with two’ was well received. I am looking so forward to reading them!

  9. Katie
    Katie says:

    I love you, Martha Beck! I do not know what it is but everything you write is just spot on. I totally needed to read this now! My situation is tricky and scary but you give me hope! Thank you so much!

    I love you <3 <3 <3

  10. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    Thanks Martha I so much agree. Thanks for these thoughts.

    I wrote and built a video titled “Why “The Secret” may not be working for you”. It’s on YouTube. The core concept was the need for inner alignment. Just because you wish, yearn, for something and imagine it to be true it will not magically make it happen.

    The law of attraction does have its effect, and the yearnings/desires do send out frequencies. BUT deep down your heart knows what it REALLY wants.

    Often what we wish for is not really what we deeply want… is mismatched. Out of alignment. So there is this discord. Canceling effect. Just like you will not do something while hypnotized that you deeply disagree with, so it is with our “yearnings” which are often programed to us from the outside. Do we really want that huge home….really? Or do we really want a place that IS home, a place to be our true self with the people we love.

    I am sure you spend a lot of time in coaching helping people see/feel/and get in touch with this true self and true desires. to get more in Alignment… xoxo

  11. Denise Meissner
    Denise Meissner says:

    This is perfect! I read in Law of Attraction books that we must stop needing something because nature hates vacuums and needing is a vacuum.

  12. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Thank you. This is something I know but do not practice nearly enough. It helps to read this and be reminded of it.

  13. Johanna Lim
    Johanna Lim says:

    I so love this. In a way always known it intuitively but kind of lost sight of it during the last couple of years.

    Thanks for explaining it so clearly and elegantly.

    Much love from Sweden

  14. Ann
    Ann says:

    When i read this, I know this is true. I so wish I could look beyond the doubt that reality has created & learn how to allow my heart to trust what I believe. I at a loss with how to build trust in what I yearn for?

  15. Susa Strauss
    Susa Strauss says:

    This article has been saved to my iPad desktop for at least two years. Everytime I read it, I get something new but right on target to whatever I am learning. Thank you, Martha

  16. margrita colabuno
    margrita colabuno says:

    Love this–it feels like a ray of sunshine into a dark period. Martha always articulates the struggles of us “small, frightened human animals” so perfectly, it’s like she’s got x-ray vision into our hearts and souls!

  17. T
    T says:

    Martha, you are one of the loves of my life!!!

    You write: “Make another list of things you feel you deserve, but don’t believe you’ll ever get — things like good luck, a soul mate, …..”

    What do you do when the pervasive feeling is that you want it, but think you don’t deserve it…what then?


  18. teeanne
    teeanne says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article. Just what I needed to read! Much love and gratitude to you for sharing your wisdom 🙂 XO

  19. Marsha
    Marsha says:

    This was also a good article for me. I should stop YEARNING for so many things. Either accept and be totally satisfied with “WHAT IS” or go for what motivational speaker Brian Tracy autographed for me many years ago: “JUST DO IT!”
    THANK YOU Martha. You are one of those precious Earth Angels. Wishing for you and your Family endless blessings.
    Marsha xo

  20. Fran Bennett
    Fran Bennett says:

    You just did it again Martha! Lifted my spirits when they were down because ‘fear’ was casting its cloud.
    I had a go at the exercise and now feel excited and curious instead of fearful. Thanks a million!!

Comments are closed.