Why Happiness is Temporary (but Well-being is Forever)

A few week’s back, I was sitting with a client when she asked me a simple yet profound question:

How do you know that well-being is the default setting for human beings?

I was stumped for a few moments, in the way you might be if someone asked you “how do you know there’s air?” On the one hand, you just do; on the other hand, that’s not a terribly satisfying answer for anyone.

My thoughts flashed back to the moment in a hotel room nine years earlier when I was watching my first Syd Banks video and heard him say “Every human being is sitting in the middle of mental health – they just don’t know it.” I didn’t know why those words struck me so hard, but it was like something beautiful deep inside me woke up in that moment and said “Finally – I’ve been waiting for you to notice me in here!”

Grandiose though it may sound, that moment changed my life. After years spent battling depression, insecurity, and every other mental affliction that sat beneath my high-functioning veneer, I realized that like Don Quixote, I’d been tilting against windmills. Even though most of the time I was winning the battle, the “enemy” within turned out to be made of nothing more solid than my own unrecognized thinking. I was born happy. My unhappiness came later, and even though it seemed to be a part of my mental make-up, I was delighted to discover that I’d been making it up.

Imagine for a moment a piece of paper covered from top to bottom in black ink. What color is the paper?


Now imagine that a few flecks of white begin to appear on the page – what color is it now?


How about now?



What about now?


The truth is, the paper was white from the very beginning. It only appeared to be dark at times because of the sheer volume of ink all over it. In a sense, the mind works the same way. Without even knowing we’re the author of our reality, we write the story of our life on top of the story of the world and generally speaking wind up with a big mess. But when we give our thoughts a chance to settle, the page clears and we can begin again. It works that way a hundred times out of a hundred because he nature of the page is blank and the nature of the mind is clear.

In the same way, the nature of a human’s being is well. Underneath the noise of our thinking, our innate mental health is always there waiting for us. This is true whether we are thinking “positive” (like writing in blue ink) or “negative” (like writing in red ink) and whether we think of ourselves as the hero or villain of our story. It’s true when you’re appreciating the beauty of a flower and equally true when your horrified by the prospect of a politically uncertain future. Your essential nature is unchanged by circumstance and unaffected by a lifetime of visible and invisible thinking.

So when I did finally come back from my mental reverie and attempt to answer my client’s question, I said something like this:

Whatever is constant is real; whatever comes and goes is the illusion. And even though it may seem at times like our misery or anxiety or insecurity is the constant, that’s just because our time frame is a bit limited. There was a time before you felt anxious; there will be an after. Happiness too comes and goes; happily ever after truly is the domain of fairy tales.

But the backdrop of pure consciousness against which our good and bad experiences unfold is ever present. And while the flickering light of thought within us may one day be extinguished, the spark of life itself will continue on, animating the ever-changing world of ten thousand things for ever more.

So I know that well-being is the default because it can be present regardless of circumstance and regardless of my thinking. In the same way as we can never really make a piece of white paper black no matter how much ink we use, our well-being can never be destroyed because we aren’t the ones creating it. It’s part of the factory settings for a human being – the original grace that we inherited when we came into the world.

With all my love,