Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively. —Eleanor Roosevelt
The concept of happiness as a by-product is the foundation upon which The Seven Habits book stands. The paradox, then, is the sentiment of the second habit, Begin with the End in Mind.
To begin with the end in mind means to view your life in terms of the literal end: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? What kind of person do you want to be? Every decision you make should be considered in terms of this end. Will x help you achieve your goals? If not, should you really invest time in x?
When I think of my own end, I realize it won’t matter that I had a bunch of nice things. What will matter is the quality of my life and the time I spent with people, the lives I touched. I can’t help but want things. Society has programmed me to be a consumer. But it helps to stop and think, well, possessions really won’t matter in the long run.
The biggest way I have practiced the second habit in this sense is my goal to get out of debt. I want to be debt free, which means have my student loans and car paid off, by my 30th birthday. Every time I want to buy something, I think, “Will this help me reach my goal? No? Then why bother buying this.”
What I have found, and what the second habit truly embodies, is that when you center your life on principles instead of possessions or people, you achieve true happiness.
This is where the paradox comes in. If you center your life on your self and make your main priority your own happiness, it will backfire. Similarly, when you center your life on possessions or your boyfriend, friend, enemy, you make yourself miserable. Your sense of self-worth and your guiding principle rests on external circumstances beyond your control. You become powerless to the outside forces that act upon you.
I am guilty of this in my own life. I have previously centered on pleasure, which I quickly learned leaves you unfulfilled and stagnant. I have centered my life on my enemy, which is the worst of all. My sense of worth deflated, and all of my decisions revolved around a person I could not stand. I gave this person all of my power, because I let them rule my thoughts, especially about myself.
I still center my life on people. I not only care what people think, but I largely base my opinion of myself on whether or not I gain people’s approval.
With principles at your life’s center, though, you are anchored to a set of values that give you the power over your own life. You’re empowered. You have a sense of worth based on an unshakable foundation that doesn’t fluctuate with external circumstances.
This is the end I begin with in mind.