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  • Writer's pictureAntti Vanhanen

Happiness and the Illusion of Control

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that everyone seems completely oblivious to even thought it’s right before our eyes:

We are not the thinkers and doers of our world. We are not in control of anything.

To illustrate this preposterous-sounding claim, lift your right hand.

Now, please tell me how you did it.

How did you raise your hand?

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel.

Most people will try to answer this question through theory by explaining how the brain synapses fire and send signals that make muscles contract to raise the arm.

But that's not what I'm asking.

What that is is simply a theory, a story of what is happening that doesn't address the question how it is done.

Rather, what I am asking is for you to explain how you actually do it as if I was someone who didn’t know how to raise their hand.

Go ahead, try it.

What you will inevitably find is that you cannot explain it.

You can't even begin to explain it, because in reality you don’t have a clue how you do it.

And neither does anyone else.

We can all make our hands do all kinds of things with ease, but in truth we don’t have the faintest idea how we actually make any of it happen.

The same is true of reading these words. How do you actually turn these words on a screen into coherent meaning in your mind?

You don't know. No one does.

If we examine our direct experience, we will inevitably discover that we don’t know how we do anything that we do - how we talk, how we talk, how we learn, or even how we think.

It’s all just happening.

Now, here’s an interesting question to ponder:

If you were the one that lifts your hand, wouldn’t you have to know exactly how you do it?

Otherwise, how could you possibly do it?

A surgeon or fighter jet pilot needs to know exactly what they are doing, because otherwise patients die and fighter jets crash.

Since you don't even know how you raise your arm, so how could it possible "you" that lifts it?

What this points to is that it’s not “me” that lifts my arm - or thinks, talks, walks, or learns.

Rather, there’s something or someone else that does everything.

All that we are is the witness to what is happening.

In this way, life as we know it is a dream.

In a dream, we imagine a world, characters in it, and even ourselves.

Our every thought and action is not actually thought or taken by the character in the dream, but rather by the dreamer.

The you in the dream is just the witness to whatever is happening in the mind of the dreamer.

And so it is with this life, right here, right now.

You don’t know how to do or think anything, because it’s not you who is doing or thinking it.

By seeing this for yourself, perhaps it will occur to you to let go, to allow life to unfold as it wants to.

Instead of constantly striving to find happiness, safety, improvement, success, or pleasure, you can simply sit back and allow your body and your mind to do what they are here to do.

After all, since you don't know how you do anything that you do, by trying to control things you can't control all you are really doing is adding tension and anxiety into the system.

And then you'll wonder why you're not performing and feeling so great.

Fortunately, simply seeing that you are not in control is often enough to let go of trying to be in control, which allows you to relax into yourself.

And from that place of detachment you will discover that you are truly free to experience everything that this life has in store for you.

I don’t know about you, but this realization puts the biggest smile on my face. 😀

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4 comentarios

正幸 緒方
正幸 緒方
25 mar

The reason we worry that life doesn't go the way we want is because we can't accomplish something well.

However, if we realize that we are not inherently endowed with such admirable abilities, we will not suffer.

Life doesn't expect us to do anything. We can only watch what happens in life.😉

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Brandy Whitt
Brandy Whitt
27 dic 2021

Oh thank god, I thought I was going NUTS!

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Bagus Pribadi
Bagus Pribadi
14 abr 2022
Contestando a


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Mohamed Boulmers
Mohamed Boulmers
22 dic 2021

Beautiful article.

Display font is thin which makes it difficult to read in a phone.


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