Walking away from what we want is not easy — pic by averie woodard

“There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.” — Gautama Buddha

Many years ago, I wrote a short post: Strategy is the art of sacrifice.

It’s a timely reminder as I’m sitting in front of my computer, past midnight. I struggled a lot this week. It’s been one full of exciting opportunities -my energy and creativity levels have been at their peaks- yet I feel overwhelmed.

Am I trying to do too many things? Have I lost clarity to make the right choices?

Or am I simply not feeling happy?

Why Happiness Is an Art

Happiness is not what we do, but how we feel about what we do. Happiness is an internal emotion. The same applies to what we don’t do.

Being happy is a personal choice.

Sacrificing — saying no to something — is critical to feeling (and being) happy.

When we think about life and the pursue of happiness, we think in terms of “additions”. We tend to associate happiness with getting more things, like a car, a better-paying job or a nice vacation (whatever pleases us).

Even the more spiritual folks fall into this same trap. They want more space for reflection, they want more peace, they want to have more time to dedicate to their art. You get the point.

We associate achievement with adding more stuff to our lives. Like getting a new diploma, a promotion or winning an award. External recognition contributes to our desire to add. Accomplishing our goals or dreams makes us feel fulfilled.

Regardless if we are driven by material or spiritual goals, we all fall into the trap of associating happiness with (having) more.

The search to get more pushes our happiness farther away.

Subtraction is more important than addition. To sacrifice short-term comfort to achieve the long-term dream. To lose some ground here to win the right battle. To forget external recognition in order to reconnect with our internal appreciation and acceptance.

“If you don’t sacrifice what you want, what you want will be your sacrifice.”

Sacrificing -making choices- helps us stay focused, but our life is much more than being focused.

The Need for Focus Can Be Misleading

Avoiding distractions is good. But focusing too much can be dangerous as well.

Our life –both personal and professional- is anything but linear and predictable. Too much focus could easily narrow our vision. When our lives take an unpredictable turn, we might crash against the guardrail if we just keep a straight path.

Sacrificing doesn’t mean saying no to everything. It‘s about being clear about what to say NO to. Or when to say NO. And not feeling remorse or regret once you say goodbye to temptations.

Recently, my life took a huge turn when I decided to launch a startup at age 50 as I wrote on The Startup Grind Team publication.

I said no to the comfort of a corporate job.

I said no to future regrets for not pursuing my dream.

I said no to holding on to my strong reputation in marketing.

I said no to a bigger house, extra money and everything.

I said no to repeating myself and stop growing.

I said no to living without fear because that means I’m afraid of living.

And now, I feel liberated. I recovered the joy of freedom. I’m responsible for designing my path towards happiness. To let the things I said No to allow me to say Yes to what I want.

I say yes to do things for the first time.

I say yes to finishing and soon publish my book “Stretch for Change”.

I say yes to writing another uncertain life chapter with my favorite co-founder: my wife.

I say yes to looking myself in the mirror and find no sign of regret.

I say yes to launching my change leadership school.

I say yes to asking myself “WTF have I done?” without that slowing me down.

Cut Your Strings With Joy

“He who holds me by a thread is not strong; the thread is strong.” –Antonio Porchia

The hardest, the least frequent concept, when we talk about happiness is the sacrifice required.

We like to follow the path of least resistance. Because we bought into the idea that we don’t deserve to suffer.

Either way, to sacrifice doesn’t necessarily mean suffering.

On the contrary, we suffer because we are attached to things or emotions. Ripping off a band-aid hurts only if you let it stick too much.

Detachment brings joy. You don’t need a thread to hold to your life. You are much more than that.

Happiness is the art of saying no.

Say no with joy.

That’s how you remove the suffering.

And, like with any art, it requires a special talent but, most importantly, the willingness and practice to master it.

What about you?

How do you pursue happiness? Do you “add” or “subtract”?

Share your story.

Before You Leave

Gustavo Razzetti is the founder of Liberationist, Change Leadership School. You can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Liberationist can help you to become more adaptive, experimental and resilient by reframing your mindsets and behaviors.

Want to stretch for change? Reach out: stretch@liberationist.org