– by Eric Falcon
I came across a story in the news recently about Ray Williams, a former NBA player and captain of the New York Knicks, who is now homeless in Florida and sleeps in his car each night. The recent Boston Globe interview done with Ray revealed a man filled with deflated hopes, resignation, and discontentment. I began to wonder what factors could lead someone from a realm of wealth, opportunities, and the adulation of NBA fans to a place of such chronic unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.
When I was younger one of my aspirations was to be a professional athlete – most of all I dreamed of playing in the NFL. I had the belief that if I made it as a pro ballplayer I would gain the ultimate things in life which I strove for – lasting happiness, peace of mind, and self-esteem. I believed that these inner states were the natural byproducts of things like great athletic talent, fame, and affluence. The time came when I realized that being a professional athlete was not in my future – as you might imagine, I felt like my self-worth took a hit at that point.
Although the news story about Ray Williams didn’t appear to isolate any one single factor that keyed his downfall and led to his present discontented state, nonetheless the article reminds me of an important life lesson I’ve learned the hard way over the years, which is this – we err whenever we associate true happiness, self-esteem, or fulfillment with external factors and outward circumstances – such as physical characteristics, social status, possessions, or achievements.
Most of us are familiar with the long list of celebrities who suffered from chronic unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their lives – examples include John Belushi, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Heath Ledger, just to name a few. These stars possessed good looks, talent, riches, fame, and massive success in their chosen fields – however their self-destruction tells us that neither their status nor their achievements necessarily provided them with lasting fulfillment.
So, if true happiness in life is not found in external factors then where should we look for it? I recommend we seek it in the one place which is often the easiest to overlook – within ourselves. The ‘inner path’ is where both science and spirituality tell us true fulfillment and contentment exist.
Abraham Maslow was a pioneer in the field of transpersonal psychology who scientifically studied people with high levels of happiness and self-esteem in their lives – he termed them “self-actualizing people.” Maslow found that one of the defining characteristics of these self-actualizers is that they are “independent of the good opinion of others.” In other words, they don’t allow their inner contentment or sense of self-worth to be dependent upon the acceptance or attention of others, but rather they seek fulfillment and validation from within, by practices such as cultivating self-acceptance and personal integrity.
What I refer to as the ‘inner path’ encompasses any practice that provides a means for inner growth and renewal, as well as contribution to others. For many people, personal growth and renewal are cultivated by spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, affirmations, attending religious services, or the reading of Scriptures or other inspirational books.
Many people also can find a sense of personal renewal and fulfillment in more physically-based practices which take the form of pursuits like, for example, long-distance biking or running, Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga, gardening, or spending time in nature through hiking, camping, or boating.
Additionally, practices that focus on service and contribution to others are also a vital component of the ‘inner path’ for everyone, I believe, and not only make our world a better place to live but instill self-worth in the giver, as well. Such practices include volunteering time to help those in need, tithing, and supporting charitable causes.
Making your ‘inner path’ a central feature in your life doesn’t mean necessarily forsaking or changing your current dreams, goals, or career aspirations. Actually, when you tend to your inner needs properly you’ll be empowered more than ever to strive for excellence in all you do. The spiritual sages and teachers of the past have always taught what modern psychologists and scientists now have verified: the primal importance of the ‘inner path’ – finding happiness and fulfillment apart from achievements or external circumstances. Essentially what it boils down to is conducting a healthy ordering of your priorities and seeing life from its proper perspective. Remember, success is not the key to cultivating happiness; cultivating happiness is the key to success.
© Eric Falcon 2010