"Stop trying to avoid pain by constantly seeking pleasure."
We spend our lives chasing "these things" and running away from "those things."
Generally speaking, we are trying to increase pleasure (happiness, joy) and decrease pain (suffering, anguish).
Chasing pleasure and running away from pain is like being caught on a wheel, constantly spinning around in circles. It applies to all aspects of our experience, from what we would label mundane to major life events. For example:
So we spin on the wheel, and if affects everything we do: jobs we take or leave, relationships we start or end, purchases we make, cravings we acquiesce to...and on and on. What keeps us stuck is the desire to avoid discomfort.
We don't like to be uncomfortable - as a result, we tend to see our current reality as something that needs to be fixed. My job is hard and I don't like my boss, so I'll find a new one. The new job is good for a while, but I start to feel unappreciated, have issues with my coworkers, and decide to leave. The next job isn't anything like what was represented in the interview...you get the picture.
It's the same with "unhealthy" habits - I have a craving, I feel uncomfortable, I eat that junk food, smoke that cigarette, or take that drink. It satisfies me in the short-term, then the craving comes back so I eat more junk food, smoke more cigarettes, take more drinks.
It even applies to some medical conditions (physical and mental) that, while uncomfortable, don't necessarily require pharmaceutical intervention. But it's easier to take a pill than to experience less than optimal feelings, which means you need to continuously take pills to keep them at bay.
We spend much of our lives trying to escape discomfort, which means we don't really settle into the present moment and live. This isn't to say there aren't situations you need to change - sometimes the right thing to do is end a relationship, take a new job, move to another city, or go on medication.
If, however, you do these things because you are chasing the perfect situation - one where you'll never experience discomfort - you will spend your life on an endless quest searching for something that doesn't exist.
Instead, accept that it's ok to be uncomfortable.
Be mindful of your thoughts and emotions, and don't get caught in a story about "the grass being greener on the other side of the fence." Those thoughts and emotions will always be there, and they'll keep you trapped on the aforementioned wheel. Unless you cultivate awareness of them.
Through awareness, you realize you don't have to believe what your mind tells you. You don't have to succumb to conditioned behavior that drives you to try and avoid pain by constantly seeking pleasure. You can move your attention to the present moment, settle in, realize the transitory nature of experience, and treat everything that comes and goes with equanimity.
note - read part 2 of this post.
Understand your mind, live better.
Life seems to be a roller coaster of ups and downs. All of us are endlessly searching for happiness as we stumble from one problem to the next, trying to cope as best we can.
Are you ready to do something different?
If so, we wrote "An owner's guide to the mind" for you. Click here to read more.