A poor man badly wanted money. He heard that if he could get hold of a ghost, he could command him to bring money or anything else he liked. So he went searching for a man who could give him a ghost.
At last, he found a sage with great powers and sought his help. The sage asked the man what he would do with a ghost.
“I will make it work for me. Teach me how to get one, sir. I desire it very much,” he replied.
“Don’t bother, go home,” the sage said.
The next day, the poor man returned to the sage. He wept and begged, “Give me a ghost. I must have a ghost to help me, sir.” The sage felt disgusted and gave in.
“Take this charm, repeat this magic word, and a ghost will come. Whatever you say, he will do. But beware, they are terrible things and must be kept continually busy. If you fail to give him work, he will take your life.”
“That is easy, I can make him work his entire life,” the man replied. He went into a forest, and after long repetitions of the magic word, a huge ghost appeared before him. “I have been conquered by your magic, but you must keep me constantly employed,” it said. “The moment you fail to give me work I’ll kill you.”
“Build me a palace,” the man said. “It is done,” the ghost replied.
“Bring me money.”
“Here is your money.”
“Cut down this forest and build a city in its place.”
“Done. Anything more?”
Now the man was frightened. He thought, “He finishes everything in a trice. I can give him nothing more to do.” The ghost said, “Give me something to do or I’ll eat you up.”
The frightened man ran back to the sage and begged, “O sir, protect my life! I have nothing to give the ghost to do and he threatens to eat me up.”
The sage said, “Look at that dog. Tie it to a pole and tell the ghost to straighten its tail.”
The man instructed the ghost to do so. The ghost slowly and carefully straightened the tail. But as soon as it let go, the tail curled once again. This went on for days. The ghost patiently straightened the tail only to find it curled up as soon as he let go.
Exhausted, he approached his master and said, “I am a veteran ghost but never was I in such trouble. I will make a compromise with you. You let me off, and I’ll let you keep all I’ve given you. And I promise to not harm you.”
The man accepted the offer. Hopefully, he learned his lesson that the easy way out always comes at a huge price. Instead, it often creates more problems than it solves. And you won’t always find a wise sage to help you out.
This world is like the dog’s tail. For millennia, people have strived to straighten it, only to see it curl again.
But most of us don’t learn. We relentlessly strive to change the world to suit our wants. We throw ourselves into making our partners do things that make us happy, into making managers appreciate our effort and pay us more, and into making people on social media agree with our views.
In doing so, we get addicted—to others’ approval, to trying to control circumstances and people, and to the negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and depression that accompany such futile attempts. And we die a thousand deaths each day.
A smarter way is to be like the ghost—he accepted what he could not change and looked for a way out. Likewise, you can accept that the world will remain like a dog’s tail. You can let go of the desire to control it and instead, focus your energy on the aspects in your control—your own perceptions, actions, and willpower.
Easier said than done, but it can be done.
How to Stop Trying to Control the World to be Happy
The first step to overcome any addiction is to admit your powerlessness over people and situations. This admission brings sanity. And it opens you up to the truth that you can feel happy even if others don’t do what you want.
Here’s a three-step process to do it.
#1. Choose a subject.
Think of a person or a situation you feel some level of anger, resentment, or sadness towards.
#2. Identify what must change for you to feel happy.
How must the situation alter itself? Should your crush text you first? Should your manager appreciate your effort? Should you get five more clients in the next month? Should people stop trolling you online?
Complete the below sentence by filling in the change you want and how you’d feel after it occurs.
If ____ happens, then I can feel ____.
#3. Acknowledge the ground reality,
Now scratch out the first clause of the sentence, so all that remains is:
I can feel _______.
This, dear friend, is the only concrete truth in an ambiguous world. Yes, it would be wonderful if things went your way, if your loved one gave you more sex, if the recruiter replied quickly to your job application. But you don’t need any of that to put yourself in a positive state of mind.
You are enough.
Accepting this is incredibly difficult. But it’s also incredibly gratifying. You learn to rely on yourself to maintain your emotional balance. You can shift your focus from the outside to the inside. And the harder you work on yourself, the happier you grow.
The World is The Same
What differs is how we perceive it. What’s great for you could be tragic for your neighbor, and vice versa.
You can either be happy or you can try to control the world. You cannot have the cake and eat it too.
It only makes sense to choose to be happy. When you accept that the dog’s tail won’t straighten, you can love the dog for what it. You also learn to love yourself. And since the dog (like the world) reflects your own feelings, it loves you back.
Let go of the desire to control the world. Allow yourself the freedom and privilege to experience life in its most beautiful, unbridled form. Let each experience help you discover a new, better aspect of yourself.
You don’t need the world to change for you to feel happy. You can accumulate happiness for yourself, by yourself.