The 10 REAL Reasons You're Not Happy & Your Business Isn't Successful: Diamonds and Raw Sewage
One little exercise I do with nearly every counseling/coaching client, or send home as an assignment, I call “Diamonds and Raw Sewage.” It’s predicated on the simple notion that the single biggest mistake most people make in trying to get happy is that they do more things that make them happy and buy more things that make them happy.
See, the problem with that course of action is that it’s only half the equation. The other half – the bigger half – is far more difficult than mere acquiring and doing. Granted, there’s still a bit of doing involved, but it’s of a different nature and it cuts to the very core of why happiness and success can be so difficult to achieve.
A Little Story First
The exercise begins with a small story that is common to several religions, in one form or another. Whether you believe the story factually happened or not, or even whether you consider yourself a spiritual person or a full-blown atheist, or both, is quite irrelevant. The story is a terrific metaphor – a highly useful snippet for helping people become their fullest self.
And it’s that very first story in a handful of religious traditions. The god forms the clay into a man. But that is not enough to give the man life. So, next, the god breathes the very breath of life into the nostrils of the clay pile. And the two-legged beast is given breath, animated….finally and fully alive!
There’s a similar story, so to speak, that is specific to the Christian tradition about when Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room after his resurrection. Again, whether you believe in the factuality of the story is not relevant, at this moment. This story simply points to a larger theme. Jesus comes to his most intimate group of followers, states his piece, then breathes on his disciples and says, Receive my Holy Spirit. And with that act his intimates were given the inspiration to go and change the world.
It is that breath of life that inspires us. The way to know your path in life (or, for those who are religious types, the way to know God’s will for your life) is simply to follow the energy. Though we are so taught to distrust our own inner vibe and inner feeeeel, it is in fact your energy level that tells you most clearly what truly is you and isn’t you. The gods speak through energy.
In that vein, it’s interesting to note that even the words ‘inspired’ and ‘enthused’ are originally god-related words: inspired is ‘spirit-inside’ and enthused is similar -- ‘-thused’ means ‘theos’ or ‘god’, so the whole word is ‘god inside’. When someone was inspired or enthused, they were said to have God (or the gods) inside them. In other words, it was visible or tangible. An external source could visibly see that something was different about this person! There was a categorical shift in energy.
The things, people, situations, beliefs and activities that the gods have designed specifically to make YOU happy are those things, people, situations, beliefs, and activities that breathe life into you – i.e. that energize you!
And, by logical extension, those things that bleed the life out of you, that suck your energy, that bore you, numb you, and repulse you are not from the gods, not the universe’s path for your life, not emblematic of your most authentic self and are thus to be avoided, minimized, or full-on deleted from your life.
It is your energy that determines your authenticity. The depressed, agitated, angry, down, or anxiety-ridden person is not living their authentic self. Something is either blocking their path or is wrong about the path itself. It’s a wonderfully odd twist of creation that encoded in our very energy level is the path we are to take, not because we must, per se, but because we can. The gods are forever leading us to higher, happier, and more abundant ground. And the best path to that ground is always the energized one. Your very energy is your beacon showing you the way to new life.
But we get so caught up in tuning into the beacons and beckoning of others. It is so ingrained in the child’s subconscious to listen to and do the bidding of the parent, or simply the bidding of those outside of the child. Yet, we never teach the child, teen, or adult to unlearn that primary orientation point. And so, the average unhappy adult is so because he or she has no concept of trusting and following his or her own internal energy source. And it is that energy source that is the sole keeper of your happiness. Follow it and joy and peace will follow you. Neglect it, or allow non-energizing agents to occlude your path, and lasting peace, purpose, and happiness will forever elude you. I guarantee you that.
And so, the task of life, really, becomes the identifying of and then the pursuing or deleting those activities, values, persons, places, things, tasks, plans, and so forth that invigorate or pull down your spirit, respectively.
And this is why the work of becoming happy and/or successful is fundamentally not a psychological one or even a behavioral one, per se, but is in fact a spiritual exercise, dopey as that may sound. The path to both happiness and life success, however you may define it, demands first going to the very pulse of life deep inside your soul. It demands reading, feeeeeling, sensing, tuning into that which breathes life into YOU!
Yet, that’s not quite so easy as it may sound. Simple, yes; easy, no.
Diamonds and Raw Sewage
So now, imagine that every single thing that breathes life into you; everything that gives you energy; everything that at the end of which you feel more alive, not drained or worn out, even if you’ve done it for twelve hours, ten days straight; everything that gets you excited, enthused, or inspired, even when you miss your lunch or forget to take coffee for; everything you like to do, have, be, become; every person, situation, climate, circumstance, activity, mindset, value/belief, career, etc. that just jacks you up; imagine that all of these things are like diamonds you are holding in your two hands cupped together in front of you.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the single biggest mistake people make, then, in trying to get happy/happier is that they add more and more diamonds to the pile in their cupped hands. They try to grab more and more of life. But again, that’s only half of the equation.
See, it really doesn’t matter how many diamonds you have in your hands or how brilliantly sparkly they are if you have large pipes of raw sewage dumping onto your head. For, it’s only a matter of the briefest time before that sewage gets into your tightly squinted eyes, such that the only thing you see is fat guy pubic hairs, coffee grounds, and cigarette butts. It’s only a matter of time before that raw sewage gets up into your nose, such that the only thing you smell is half-eaten cans of cat food, rotting eggs, and fecal matter. It’s only a matter of time before you have to catch a breath, thereby allowing into your mouth the taste of sour milk mixed with urine and god knows what else. The diamonds in your hand become quite irrelevant when you are soon bathed in raw sewage, which gets into your crack and completely drenches your entire body. Diamonds – the things that make you happy – are all but meaningless when all you can taste, touch, smell, or see are the things, people, places, situations, and beliefs that drag you down, bleed you, and suck the very life out of you.
Further, the crazy thing about raw sewage is that it really doesn’t take a large amount of it to completely soil your life and your experience of said diamonds. You could turn off the giant pipes of foul sludge, such that all you have left is one garden hose drip-drip-dripping sewage onto your head, and that would be all it would take to mire your entire body, spirit, and life in the stench of negativity. It would be merely a matter of time before, once again, all you taste, touch, and see is sewage all around you. You may still feel those diamonds in your hands, but you’d be far from truly appreciating them.
That raw sewage, whether it’s flowing in abundance or just drip-dripping on your head, is basically everything in your life that is a negative energy source. The raw sewage is all of those things, people, paths, and beliefs that bring you down and fundamentally deplete your energy. The raw sewage that is your own raw sewage from your own life, past and present (as opposed to making a life out of cleaning raw sewage out of others’ lives), is, if I may mix metaphors, the path that is not god-ordained. It is the path that the gods are calling you away from. If God speaks to us through our energy, which I absolutely and unequivocally believe, even know, and if the energized path is the path you are called to, then the path that is not the universe’s path for your life is the one that bleeds you, sucks the life out of you, drains you (and not in the good kind of way, like a great workout does), depresses you, bores you, numbs you, eats away at you inside.
Your energy is your call. It’s that simple. All prayer, meditation, scripture, and external counsel is, in the end, mediated through ‘what feels right inside’ – that is, your energy.
The spiritual journey – the path to more happiness, more fulfillment, more peace, power, hope, and real purpose – is, in the end and at all points in-between, mediated by energy, your energy. To know yourself, your path, and ultimately your joy is to commit to reading and heeding your energy. It truly is and always has been that simple.
The List and the Power of ‘No!’
So the exercise goes like this:
First, get a cocktail. Or a coffee. Or something that makes you feel good. Find a comfortable spot, too.
Second, take a piece of paper and draw one line down the center, from top to bottom. At the top, to the left of that line write the words “Diamonds: Positive Energy Sources”; to the right write “Raw Sewage: Negative Energy Sources.”
Third, just start listing on the left all the things in this life that give you energy, that are your diamonds. Every big, little, medium, gigantic, teensy thing, place, climate, person, job, career, sport, activity, inactivity, idea, plan, belief, value, time of day, drink, food that breathes life into you, makes you excited and happy, makes you energized, and gives you the feeling of ALIVENESS!!!
List ‘em. All of ‘em. Big and small. Whether you’re doing them presently or simply know you would enjoy doing, having, or being them (or perhaps you remember them from your past), list ‘em.
Now, go to the other side of the paper – and this is where it gets really interesting! – and start listing every action, place, person, internal belief, value, or what have you that just sucks the life out of you. Heck, no sooner do you read these words and you already know what those raw sewage sources are in your life, or at least the biggies. List everyone and everything that bleeds the life out of your soul. List the tasks, the climates, the persons, the memories, the everything that drag you down and that you know are killing you, bit by bit, on the inside.
Maybe it’s 10 things. Maybe it’s 20. Maybe more.
List the raw sewage. Identify it. As mom used to say, Naming the beast is half the problem.
Name it. Get it all out there. You can burn this piece of paper later, if you need to for some reason. But just this once in your life, name the sewage. Get it out of you.
Once you have done that, once you have fully filled in your diamonds list and your raw sewage list, then the task becomes simple: Make the list on the left longer and the list on the right shorter. It’s that simple. THAT is the key to happiness. Yet, that is where those who are serious about happiness are separated from those who want it to come easily.
See, what really occludes the path of peace and happiness is sewage – the negative energy sources in your life. And you are only keeping them in your life because somewhere you were taught that you had to. Somewhere along the line, someone told you that their values must be your values. And so, to fully come alive means having the courage to dropkick someone else’s values out of your life.
As I regularly tell clients, the single scariest word in the English language, when we’re children, is hearing the word ‘no’. No, you can’t have that sucker on the rack in the grocery store line. No, you can’t go to band camp. No, you can’t do that thing, just because all your friends are doing it. No, no, no. We hate that word, as kids.
But, the single scariest word in the English language, when we’re adults, is saying the word ‘No!’ No, I won’t serve on PTA. No, I am not interested in coming to family Thanksgiving anymore. No, I won’t work overtime without pay, anymore. No, you can’t have that sucker on the rack in the grocery store line. No, son, you can’t go to band camp. No, you can’t treat me like garbage and still expect me to be nice to you. NO!
What makes the word ‘No!’ so scary is that it quickly tells someone who we are, or who we aren’t. The word ‘No!’ is an act of self-definition. It creates a boundary. And a boundary identifies a place or a person, in this case. And once you identify yourself, once you show another person who you really are, you run the grand risk – and this is the really scary stuff of life, the stuff that motivates most action or inaction – of being rejected, of not being liked. The grand fear of life is that if I show you who I really am, you may not like me. And that is terrifying! The scary part of the word ‘No!’ is that if I say it, I might lose you or you might criticize or dislike me.
And that is just too much for some people.
And that is why so many people have so much raw sewage in their lives, so many negative energy sources. They are terrified of standing up to life and shouting from the depths of their aching soul that life-giving word, “No!” For, to stand up and speak your ‘No!’ is to say to the world, “I matter!” And far too many people had it cemented in their soul as children that, in fact, they don’t matter and what they want, value, and feel good about doesn’t matter.
And so you see, the grand task of getting happy and finding your true success is intimately tied to your ability to weed out of your life those things, people, paths, and beliefs that you need to say ‘No!’ to. And until you speak your ‘No!’ to life and to the universe, until you stand up and proclaim that you truly matter (and do so through your choices and actions), you will simply never be happy. Fact!
Until you turn off or extremely diminish all sources of raw sewage in your life, until the negative energy sources that bleed you are eliminated, you are both living someone else’s life and destined to be nothing more than dripping in unhappiness. Fact!
The 10 or 20 real reasons you’re unhappy are the 10 or 20 things on your list of raw sewage, all of which need to be eliminated, or radically reduced, before you will ever be happy, ever have real success, or ever have true and lasting peace in your soul.
So, you see, the task of happiness is quite simple, though hardly easy.
A Little Hiccup: The Inner Sewage
One last thing. Apart from those one or two big things/people in your life who are the greatest source of raw sewage – the ones you knew instantly when you first read my explanation – the greatest negative energy sources in your life are always those that are operating inside your head. Your core operating system is corrupted. It's that simple. The stuff that is most bleeding your life and causing the breath of God to escape your lungs is the stuff that caused you to believe, in the first place, that you don’t matter. The real stuff that is sabotaging your happiness and success are the values, beliefs, and FEARS that were implanted into you by someone else, more than likely a father or mother.
Now, I get into this more in my books and other articles, as well as in my counseling sessions with clients, but I am able to identify very quickly with clients (because I know exactly what I’m looking for and do so every day) those beliefs and fears that are dragging them down and causing their energy to greatly flag. It is the internal self-beliefs and life perspectives that were concretized in you as a child that are doing the most damage now. When we’re children, we’re wet cement. Whatever messages are significantly imprinted on our souls in childhood, stick. They become hardened, then further calcified and encrusted by the reinforcement of those values and fears by society and/or others who come along.
This is why the poet wrote (and forgive me for not remembering his/her name), “No man is truly free, until he can live as though his father is dead.” It’s not just that we are each trying to forever win the praise of a parent-figure. It’s that the cemented beliefs of our parents about who we really are – not to mention the fears they passed on to us! – most inhibit our pursuit of happiness. Until the voice and beliefs of the mother in your head are put to death, or at least greatly minimized, you will never know lasting peace, not to mention happiness. And this has nothing to do with whether you have a relationship with the living and breathing other (or father) who is or isn’t still in your external life.
To begin to live a life of diamonds – of positive energy flowing in and flowing out of you – means to have the courage, above all else, to kill the sources of negative energy around you and inside you. That is where true aliveness is found – in the cutting-away of all the things, people, paths, and beliefs that are no longer you…and likely never were.
Sven Erlandson, MDiv, is the author of five books, including 'Badass Jesus: The Serious Athlete and a Life of Noble Purpose' and 'I Steal Wives: A Serial Adulterer Reveals the REAL Reasons More and More Happily Married Women are Cheating.' He has been called the father of the spiritual but not religious movement, is a former NCAA Head Coach for Strength and Conditioning, and has a global counseling/coaching practice in NYC: BadassCounseling.com