Most of us think that there is some thing out there – a new job, a second or third home, a new car, a million dollars, early retirement – some kind of “pony” that will bring us happiness. We’ll fixate on that thing and convince ourselves that it is the absence of that thing that is causing us to be unhappy.
But, at the risk of ruining your Christmas early this year, let me tell you a secret: There is no pony.
When I say there is no pony, what I mean by that is that there is no thing or goal or accomplishment that can make us happy. There is no thing that will make our problems go away. There is no thing that will make all other things fall into line.
In other words, there is no pony. There is just life.
The pony is a red herring we use to distract ourselves and push off living to another day.
Don’t get me wrong. There are better and worse jobs. It’s great to have freedom to work or to not work. It’s nice to have good stuff. I’d love a billion dollars. But hedonic adaptation is a thing. If you ever get your pony, your level of happiness will soon return to where it was before you got your pony.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this “pony” theme lately. To the extent that I have had a “pony” in my life, I just got it. I just got the thing that I had always wanted. And when I got it initially the sensation was terribly unsettling.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to live in the mountains. I’ve wanted to be closer to nature, living in a house with windows that look out to nature, with trees and peaks and views that stretch out in every direction.
And now that’s my life. Earlier this month I moved to Salida, Colorado. I’m typing this blog post in front of a dozen windows that give me views in every direction. It’s great.
But when I first got here, I wasn’t able to enjoy it. At first, I was overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of dread.
What if this doesn’t work out? What if I screw it up and have to move back to a cramped apartment? What if I go broke because I can’t get clients here? What if? What if?
I had told myself I needed this pony to be happy and then when I got the pony I was nervous about losing the pony and that’s all I could think about.
And then this morning I finally got back to my daily routine. I woke up early. I meditated for 30 minutes. I ate breakfast. And then I started writing.
And for the first time since I moved to Salida I had a sense of peace.
It occurred to me that as much as I like living here, living in Salida is not what gives me peace. I don’t need my pony to make me happy. It’s not what we have that matters. It’s what we choose to do with each day that matters.
Meditation, writing, working, cooking, cleaning, running, getting outside, spending time with the people I love. All of those things are free. None of those things depend on where I live. I can do all those things whether I live in Salida or somewhere else. I can be happy with or without my pony.
I like my view. I love the mountains. I think living in Salida is going to be great. I’m glad I got my pony.
But I don’t need it. I don’t need a pony.
As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
As someone who recently acquired his pony, that sounds right to me. The only way to enjoy your pony is to always be willing to let it go.