The #1 Thing Regarding Happiness, From A Monk

The #1 Thing Regarding Happiness, From A Monk

Like many people, Jeffrey Marsh believed that you can be happy, successful, and accepted if you are in perfect control of your life. Marsh tried living out this belief for years, but didn’t find happiness.

“I spent a lot of time escaping to an imaginary world where I controlled everything, including what other people thought of me,” Marsh wrote in an article for CNBC’s Make It. “I constantly chased this idea that if I could just get that boyfriend, that job, or that money and acclaim, I could finally relax and be happy.”

But, Marsh could not relax nor find happiness, no matter how much they/them tried to be in control of things. Marsh isn’t alone.

Studies show that people who have gone through disappointments, or suffered emotional, physical, or psychological pain from a traumatic event, want to feel in control of their lives to avoid experiencing these issues again. People can also repeat patterns of controlling behavior that they learned from their parents. However, trying to control everything does not lead to happiness, which is what Marsh discovered.

To break what Marsh called a “toxic mental habit,” Marsh took the drastic step of moving to the woods to live in a community of Buddhists. Marsh spent 20 years living as a monk and studying Zen Buddhism.

While at the monastery, Marsh learned a valuable life-changing lesson about happiness that most people often overlook. “We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we treat ourselves,” Marsh wrote. “Allowing ourselves to feel happy, no matter what our life looks like, is the key to real happiness.”

Why Doesn’t Control Bring Happiness?

By holding on to your need to control, you start feeling responsible for all the outcomes of your life, Marsh wrote. And, these unrealistic responsibilities cannot bring happiness because it actually shows how much control you don’t have in your life. For instance, Marsh asks if you can really control:

  • What people think of you?
  • Who does or doesn’t give you a chance?
  • Who you’ll date?
  • Who’ll hire you for a job?

Even though you may have a say in some things, you cannot control everything because so much of life is unpredictable, Marsh explained. However, “that’s part of what makes it beautiful. Unpredictability connects us all.”

Marsh further pointed out that the desire to be in control “makes you constantly chase after a life you aren’t living, making it hard to appreciate the one you already have. For example, right now, you might be worried about finding the perfect partner. In a few years, it might be finding the perfect job.”

How to let go of control

Marsh now believes you can experience more happiness and gratitude if you free yourself from the need to control everything. Since letting go of the need to control, Marsh has become a foremost commentator, a viral TikTok and Instagram star, and a noted keynote speaker. Marsh is also the author of How to Be You..

Marsh offers some tips on how to let go of control:

1. Stop and reflect.

Consider the times you think about the future rather than focus on the here and now. Now, ask yourself:


  • Do you let your desire to have control over the future stop you from living in the present? If so, what triggers you to do it and why?
  • Dreaming about your future is important, but how can you channel some of that energy into the priorities of your present life?
  • What do you have to be thankful for today?


2. Let go of the unrealistic expectations you set for yourself.

Locate the voice in your head that continues pointing out the necessity of exercising control. Tell that voice—in no uncertain terms—that you do not live to please it. Now, ask yourself:


  • Can you picture having a life without that inner voice?
  • Can you instead focus that energy on something that will make you happy or peaceful?


3. Allow yourself to be happy in the present moment.

Close your eyes, take three slow breaths, and give yourself permission to feel happy. If you’re having trouble doing this, ask yourself why.

Marsh discovered that people become afraid when they think about letting go of control and allowing life to lead them. Everyone will face stressful situations that require their time and attention, like taking care of loved ones. But, Marsh said people can still let happiness in if they stop worrying about the future and focus on the present.

“You deserve to roll with the life you’ve got,” Marsh wrote. “You deserve to flow with the unexpected and not have it all together.”

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