According to yoga philosophy, one of the biggest obstacles to happiness is having your mind slipping away from the here and now, fantasizing about something in the future. Here we’ll read text 2.7 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, where he directly explains why this happens.
Here’s an excerpt from my book The 3T Path, where I introduce the problem of mental time travel:
One of the tricks your mind likes to play with you is mental time travel. We look to the past and lament over events, conversations, and choices. We rehash failed relationships, conversations gone wrong, and bad life-choices, or else lament over how much better things used to be. When you relive an unpleasant experience or focus on what you don’t have now that you had before, the result is the same: misery. You subject yourself to negative sensations, reinforcing and strengthening them.
Even more common is travelling to the future and updating your list of what you need to be happy. This is called “conditional happiness,” telling yourself that you’ll be happy only under certain conditions, all of which are in the future. You’ll be happy when you go to college, when you get a job, when you get a promotion, when you get married, when you have children, when you get fit, when you buy a new TV or phone or car, and on and on.
Conditional happiness is a trap, a no-win situation. The big problem is that you’re telling yourself that you are incomplete, unhappy, or not yet “there.” Even though you don’t mean to put yourself down, by telling yourself that you’ll be happy when this or that happens or when you get this or that thing, you’re saying that you’re not happy now – you’re not satisfied or complete.
And it gets worse, because as soon as you place your bets on some future, external thing or situation to be happy, you can’t help but feel anxious about it. Consciously or not, you’ll get anxious about when it will come or anxious that it won’t happen at all. You’ll feel frustrated that you don’t yet have it, and you’ll feel angry if something happens to push that reality further into the future, or to make it unfeasible.
If all these feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiousness, frustration, fear, and anger aren’t enough to ruin your day, here’s the final blow: when you do achieve one of the items in your conditional-happiness list, the positive feeling is short-lived, sometimes practically non-existent. Maybe graduating from high school was a big item on your list. But for how long after graduation day were you actually happy? Getting into college? How long did that sustain your well-being? Getting your first job? Your new car? New phone? How long did you feel satisfied, complete, realized, or happy upon achieving these goals? What probably happened is what happens with most of us: as soon as you got one item in your list, you updated your list and didn’t feel so amazing after all. Your mind gave you no rest, no satisfaction, no lasting joy.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Revolution: How Timeless Yoga Wisdom Can Revolutionize Our Lives Today.
Yoga Sutras 2.7:
Fantasizing about the future is born of attachment to superficial pleasure.
Once you misunderstand who you are, you’ll mistake what will make you happy. Despite crushing evidence from our own lives and research in the field of psychology, economics, history, and sociology, we persist as a society in the greatest error: pursuing happiness from the outside-in and in the future.
Life is not about what you have; it’s about how you live it. And the worst way to live your life is by focusing on the what, especially when that is something in the future. Even if you have the business you desire, the car you wished for, the dream house you planned, and six-pack abs to show off, none of this will make you happy. Things don’t make you happy. It’s what you do with your things, how you live your life, right here and now, that makes you happy or not. So much so, that in the end you could be riding the bus, living in a one-bedroom apartment, and have a “dad bod” and still be happier and more realized than the folks in the Hamptons, Saudi princes, and the jet-set crowd. I call this “cartoon wisdom”, because it’s so obvious even children’s cartoons explain this.
We persist in this painful attachment to mundane, superficial pleasure, not knowing there is a better option, a better way to live our lives: focusing on our dharma in the here and now, in divine connection.
Look what they’re saying about my new book, Yoga Sutras Revolution: “In Revolution, his relatable translation of and commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Giridhari Das shares with us a lifetime of research and experience in ancient yoga traditions and guides us through the sutras one by one, helping us understand them from our contemporary perspective and apply their wisdom to our day-to-day lives.” – Dr. Carl Herzig, Professor of English, St. Ambrose University