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It's Not All That Deep

A parable: Once there was a man who didn’t believe in happiness. “It’s inside you,” people said. So the man got a knife and cut a hole in his chest. “No,” he insisted. “There’s nothing here but pain.”

We’re all like that man at times, trying to cut life open, hoping that if we dissect every text, conversation, or situation, we’ll find deeper answers. But happiness doesn’t lie in depth. It lies in seeing our actions clearly. And sometimes, the action of analysis itself is what is wounding us.

The habit of over-analyzing usually starts in childhood, when we may have felt unsafe around our caregivers or in certain environments and we learned to scan the horizon constantly for danger. Now, as adults, our search for explanations often still carries the same anxiety. What we hope will give us control only reminds us of being out of control.

I had a client who kept dating self-absorbed men. Each new guy seemed different at first, but ended up fitting the same pattern. “I’ve got to understand why,” she said. In one of our sessions, I pointed out how much energy she put into scrutinizing her partners’ behavior. “It’s like you’re gathering intel in a war,” I said. “Oh my god,” she replied. “Maybe I don’t have to read all these books on toxic relationships? Maybe I can just trust myself to know what feels right?”

So often, the depth is the distraction. I remember struggling with finances in my twenties and reading all about the psychology of money. Some of what I learned was useful. The thing is, if you had asked me then exactly what I spent my money on or how much was in the bank at any given point, I couldn’t have told you. I was living in total vagueness.

Art by Markus Raff

It’s the same with all of life. You don’t have to dig so far beneath what you’re doing. You just have to see what you’re doing in the first place.

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