One of the greatest conversations of my life came during one of my trips to Germany. I’d gone there to teach, and after the events were over my hosts took me out to a little ice cream place to celebrate and spend some time together. Eventually, we somehow found our way to the subject of the Berlin Wall—and that was where the evening became something truly special.
Today, we’re continuing our discussion of the top 10 spiritual laws of all time according to you: our audience, with addiction vs freedom. Now, over the last 30 plus years, not one person has ever come to me because they had too much freedom or too many good habits. It’s always the addictions, the bad habits, that they need help with—and much of the time the difference between the two is just in why you’re doing it. There’s nothing wrong with reading for pleasure, after all. But reading constantly as an escape from life can absolutely become an addiction. Of course, some addictions are more destructive than others—no matter how many books you read, for example, you’re very unlikely to make yourself throw up or fall down in the street.
I had a client once who gave me a particularly eloquent explanation of their addiction to opioids, saying that he “liked the feeling of not feeling.” I know what he means. I had hip surgery a number of years ago to fix a birth defect, and afterward, I was on heavy medications for a while. Good stuff, I won’t lie. And I remember thinking that I could easily see how someone could become addicted to it. Like anyone else, I’ve had bad days where I engaged with negative habits in order to zone out for a while. So what’s the secret to building up good habits and dropping the others?
Let’s go back to the Berlin Wall for a moment. I can remember seeing it come down on TV, and it was a cause for celebration all over the world—but not like in Germany. I have a friend who worked for the largest airline in the country at the time, and when the wall fell, they sent jets over to bring people home. Most of them had next to nothing but the clothes on their back, and no money to pay for the flight. But they were told, “for you, it’s free.” When they reached Germany and needed transportation, the cabbies told them the same thing: “for you, it’s free.” Same thing for hotels, restaurants, etc. I don’t think there was a dry eye at the table by the time the story was done.
In the most ambitious study ever conducted on the human condition—the Harvard Grant Study, which took place over more than 70 years, millions of dollars, and thousands of subjects—the conclusion came down to a single phrase. Happiness equals love, full stop. In other words, love was the single greatest defining factor in every aspect of life, including addiction and bad habits.
So here’s how I see it: everybody wants freedom. Everybody wants to pursue their passions and experience love. When you’ve got that, you tend to avoid addictions naturally, without much thought or effort. It’s only when you don’t have that freedom that you tend to buy into “love substitutes,” as I sometimes call them. So I think one of the most important steps you can ever take in straightening out your bad habits is to pay attention to the good ones. Keep taking steps toward living in love and doing what you love to do. Keep moving forward, use ours and any other good tools you can find to remove negative memories and other obstacles holding you back. In other words, set your mind to the real thing—not the substitute.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!