Chasing the High (but Not Finding It)

Chasing the high is a phrase that struck me when listening to a tape from Dr. Wayne Dyer in the early 1990s. I came to realize that is the path I had been on up to that point, and I have to admit, I take minor detours onto that path still to this day.

What is chasing the high? You hear high in reference to drug usage. That is one and a devastating one to us and those around us, but there are so many ways we daily chase the high—some small, some not so small, some life-changing. Highs can take many forms.

Much like steps up to a higher floor, we chase highs that we believe help us climb to that ultimate high of happiness. We chase those highs in an effort to fill gaps or “holes” we perceive in ourselves that we believe block us from being happy.

Some holes are shallow and others cut to our very core. The hole could be something in your physical being, social life, work, relationships, possessions, spirituality or anything else you feel you need to fill those holes and make you feel whole. We want to feel more successful, victorious, womanly, manly. Then we’ll be happy we tell ourselves.

You may not even realize you have a hole that you are trying to fill, but if you carefully look at your daily actions and decisions, and ask the simple question, “Why do I do that?”, it will reveal itself to you. You may have to ask it several times as you peel away your layers like trying to get to the heart of a celery bunch or to the root cause of why you do what you do.

Our approach to filling the hole is to “chase” something in the physical world around us that we believe directly fills or something that compensates for that hole. If we lose our job and what we do is who we are, we desperately look for another one or maybe we turn to alcohol to drugs to compensate for that feeling of not being whole.

But you can never get enough of things outside of yourself to feel whole.

There are three commonalities to all of our chases:

  1. They go on outside of ourselves.
  2. We truly won’t be able to fill the hole from outside of ourselves.
  3. Those chases are choices we make and like all choices, have consequences—natural or manmade, intended or unintended, seen or unseen, felt or unfelt, heard or unheard, immediate or future. Often, we fill those holes at the expense of ourselves, those around us or the physical world.

In 1976, I was a chemist at Lubrizol studying for my Master’s Degree in chemical engineering. One of the engineers explained the difference between a chemist and a chemical engineer. He asked me to imagine I was chasing Raquel Welch (remember this is the 70s) through the woods and with each step you cut the distance in half.

A chemist would say that you’ll never catch her since you can cut the distance in half an infinite number of times and never get there. A chemical engineer would say that you’ll get close enough to make it practical.

When it comes to happiness, the real high in life, the chemist is right if you are looking for the happiness (wholeness) outside of yourself—you’ll never get there. There will always be a gap.

The chemical engineer, on the other hand, is right if you are looking for it within yourself—you get close enough to make it practical.

This blog has been about personal sustainability, which starts on the inside and then manifests itself on the outside. My definition of personal sustainability is:

Living your life in a way that enables you to get what you need without damage to the people or the world around you.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Yep, it is…if you lived in a vacuum. But then life happens to you.

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