Attachment or happiness

Right in front of my face are three words:

Attachment or Happiness

It’s an idea from Anthony de Mello’s The Way to Love. His point is that you can’t have both. You can have your attachments. But while they’re still in play, you can never attain happiness. 

Or you can choose happiness. But that means unburdening yourself from your desires and fears and beliefs. 

Attachment or happiness. You can choose. De Mello explains

“Everywhere people have actually built their lives on the unquestioned belief that without certain things—money, power, success, approval, a good reputation, love, friendship, spirituality, God—they cannot be happy. What is your particular combination?
Once you swallowed your belief you naturally developed an attachment to this person or thing you were convinced you could not be happy without. Then came the efforts to acquire your precious thing or person, to cling to it once it was acquired, and to fight off every possibility of losing it. This finally led you to abject emotional dependence so that the object of your attachment had the power to thrill you when you attained it, to make you anxious lest you be deprived of it and miserable when you lost it. Stop for a moment now and contemplate in horror the endless list of attachments that you have become a prisoner to.”

Choosing between attachment and happiness is an admirable idea. But how far does it extend? 

Most will, intellectually at least, be able to shed the attachment to wealth and material possessions. But what if we go deeper?

It’s harder to unyoke ourselves from our desire for status, power, influence and recognition.

It’s harder still to imagine ourselves in a state of happiness whilst living a life without purpose, meaning or any form of expression or self-actualisation.

And perhaps the most terrifying extension of this idea? We cannot be happy while we are attached to our friends and family.

Of course, we can choose what attachments to maintain. But there are few people who would choose to take this idea to it’s extreme. So perhaps, that’s the bargain you have to make with yourself? You know that there’s a choice between happiness and attachment. But you choose a certain level of attachment. You choose the inevitable pain that arises from that choice.

But ask yourself this: is the alternative so scary? Is a life without attachment really as empty and meaningless as you imagine it to be? Or is your mind playing tricks on you yet again