Is it possible to remove all suffering from our lives? What is the difference between happiness and joy? Danielle LaPorte took this on as a research project for 10 years, and the metaphor she now uses is simple: Joy is the atmosphere, and happiness is the clouds passing through. Joy is foundational. And from that foundation you can begin to unpack your suffering. You can assemble the tools to for your joy. As Danielle says, "When you're in the pit, you forget you have a shovel."
Danielle LaPorte: My name is Danielle. My last name is [LaPorte 00:00:03]. I identify as a planetary citizen, but I live in Canada. What I do is I suffer, and then I get insight out of that, and I package it and I get it to the right people. I get it to the people who want to hear it. And then I also live a lot of sweetness, a lot of joy, and I try and get the wisdom out of that and package that. I exist. I show up to alleviate suffering and amplify joy. It's taken me all this time to figure that out.
Really, I'm most interested in the truth. That used to be like my flag. I'm most interested in the truth, but the truth is so painful sometimes. I just want it to be softer and more specific. Alleviate suffering, check. When you do that, you amplified joy or you just amplify your joy and you alleviate your suffering.
Jeff: You talk about joy a lot.
Danielle LaPorte: It's a survival mechanism.
Jeff: You talk about it in a particular way that has been insightful at least and attractive to me, which is the difference between happiness and joy. Can you unpack that a little bit?
Danielle LaPorte: Yeah. I took this on as a research project for about 10 years. Every conversation that I could have with someone who I thought was spiritually sophisticated, or refined, or had some kind of constitution, rabbis, monks, a Lama named Mark from Toronto, anybody, I was asking them what our true nature was? My opinion was that our true nature is joy. I mean I was fishing for a particular answer, but I wanted to hear that, well, that was true. I think it is true, but there is a refinement there for me. I think when I am still, when I am trusting, when I am present, my experience of that is joy. Presence equals joy, so then I think our true nature is joy. So then that's the baseline. Joy is ground zero. Everything else we just put on top of that. Everything we put on top of joy is where the suffering comes from.
So many mystics talk about, A Course of Miracle speaks of this, Rumi, [Hafez 00:04:47] speaks of it's not about generating more love, it's not about seeking love, it's just removing the obstacles between you and love, removing the obstacles between you and truth. And when you do that, my experience is joy, so that's foundational. That means everything you put on top of that grief, sorrow, frustration, I think you can still access joy at the same time. A simple experience, middle of a divorce, I walk my dog every night, cry in the alley, walk my dog around the neighborhood, smoke. I have one Marlboro. I had a pack. I always have a pack of Marlboros in the freezer wrapped in tin foil in a Ziplocked bag. These are really accessible during divorce though.
Jeff: Right, Armageddon and divorce.
Danielle LaPorte: Yeah.
Danielle LaPorte: Just the devastation of that breakage and I just, at the same time, experience like incredible joy. Just like my dog was happy, and cherry blossoms in Vancouver, and I was alive. This experience that keeps orbiting for me is when I'm most broken, it's there that I see, experience, feel joy. The brokenness brings me to my foundation to the pith of my truth.
Enter happiness. My metaphor is that joy is the atmosphere. Joy is the physical, the climate, and happiness just the clouds passing through. I think it's great to make this distinction because it's been proven that you can't have a positive thought and a negative thought at the same time. Your mind cannot hold happiness and sorrow or rage and peace. But I want to push that a little further. I think your mind can hold all sorts of conflicting things on top of this foundation of joy. I can feel rage and still be aware that joy is waiting for me. I can flip it. I feel this bothness. But the reason why it's helpful to know the difference is so that we don't get addicted to the happinesses.
Danielle LaPorte: Of course, may your life be full of ease, free of suffering, and full of happiness to put that in Buddhist terms. But joy is so calm.
Danielle LaPorte: Happiness is carbonated.
Jeff: Yeah, so would you say that happiness is a fulfillment of, it's sort of a fulfillment of the ego, or a fulfillment of daily desires?
Danielle LaPorte: Yep.
Jeff: Whether that's commercial, or Instagram likes, or whatever? That there is nothing innately wrong with happiness, but it is, as you say, non foundational, it's fleeting. Then if that's true, then what is the process that you need to undergo to establish that foundation of joy?
Danielle LaPorte: To access the joy you need to deal with your suffering head on. And if you don't deal with it head on, life is going to orchestrate it, so that you're going to have to stop. It's going to seize you. This is why I am really, I have more fluidity around your original question, is suffering necessary? Because I think if we have the desire we can get ahead of the suffering. We can lessen our suffering to a huge degree. I think part of that is being in this together.
I really feel with what I've been through if I can share my story, I might be able to lessen your suffering. I could flatten your learning curve if you're open, if I get you at just the right time, right tone, an idea and it helps you. It's a little bit of medicine. That's why we're not all islands unto ourselves. I think sharing our stories of our pain and our healing is really... That's the medicine right now, especially with I think we're both onboard with feeling like loneliness is an epidemic.
Jeff: For sure.
Danielle LaPorte: Yeah.
Jeff: So the establishment of that foundational joy come from a commitment to connection and an awareness of connection, an awareness of oneness. Is it also a product of sort of meditative self reflection?
Danielle LaPorte: I think being reflective helps you get clear on suffering. I mean, so many of us we're swimming in it. We haven't even named it. You get to name the suffering. You unpack it. You find its origins. You work on healing it and all the meditative contemplative stuff helps you stay clear knowing that you have the self agency to choose joy. So I feel that on a fairly regular basis I have to fight for my joy. You can't fight for peace, but it's a struggle for me often.
Danielle LaPorte: I've just recently become aware that it's a struggle. What I have to do is I have to with great intention, choose thoughts that are encouraging. I have to apply the medicine of gratitude, and some days oh, it's such a stretch to do that. If I'm feeling darkness, anxiety, anything that's not life affirming, there is some days in the morning I have to walk around the house just declaring, speaking out loud, positive things to myself. It's everything from, and these are all tied into my beliefs, but like I am a beloved of God. I am chosen to be here. I've chosen to be here. Countless people have been through dark things before. They have paved the way for me. Gratitude is my medicine. I'm grateful for great teeth and digestion. I love the temple I live in called a house. And I just go on and on.
Sometimes seven minutes of that while I'm putting my avocado on a toast. And I have actively changed my psychology. That's fighting for joy. That's the beauty of free will. And I got the tools. I'm going to use them. I think we forget about the tools. When you're in the pit, you forget you have a shovel.
Danielle LaPorte: Yeah.
Jeff: Yeah, or just that you have free will. That when you become sort of your own automaton knocking things off your busyness, and you begin to believe that you... That this is happening to you, that you are not an active participant in this. And that by extension, that all of these things become obligations instead of conscious choices. You talk about reframing obligations.
Danielle LaPorte: Obligations is one of my least favorite word. I think it just reeks of victimness. And it says, if something else outside of you is dictating what you have to do and to test this theory, you should be asking... Everybody right now listening, just let's all think of our list of so-called obligations. Well, I'm obligated to pay my mortgage. Nope, you don't have to pay your mortgage. I'm obligated to feed my kids. No, you could be despondent, and cruel and evil, and not feed your children. I'm obligated to take care of my ailing parents, et cetera, et cetera.
All these are choices that you do out of love, that you do out of just baseline integrity that you might be doing with great resentment, but you're still choosing to do it. In that reframe, oh my gosh, that puts you in the driver's seat. That allows you to bring some lightness to even the heavy resented stuff.
Danielle LaPorte: It's a choice. Everything's a choice.
Jeff: One of the other things that I think has become more and more important to you, or at least I hear you talk about more and more, is this connection between self-love and joy, deep contentedness, finding your true nature, your original needs, your infinite self, whatever you want to call it. The connection between those things and actually the giving up of things instead of the accumulation of things. How are those connected?
Danielle LaPorte: The more I love myself, the less I need. It works on in the inner worlds, and it works in the outer worlds. If I'm respecting myself and taking care of myself, I don't need you to compliment me. 24/7 I can just look in the mirror and say, "You've got this, you're lovely. Show up." The more I do that, the calmer my nervous system is, the less stimulant stuff that I need, the more accepted and beautiful I feel. I don't need the extra purse. The more I can take care of my nervous system and make choices that are about ... Well, just about pleasure and spaciousness, then the more mental clarity I'm going to have, which means I'll make better choices.
I'm going to take less shit from people. I'm going to work for people I want to work ... I actually want to work with. Yeah. I really become the master of my domain, and when I'm doing that, I'm aware of my power to create things. I don't need things to bolster me. Love becomes my own status symbol. So, you can run that theory down and I come to the conclusion that self-love is a great thing for the climate crisis. You just buy less crap to impress people that don't really know or love you to begin with that you're seeking love from. Just simplify. It's all you.
Danielle LaPorte: I think you start with self-love. My experience has been the more I work on loving, respecting, and taking care of myself ... Actually, that's an easier phrase to grasp. Just take care of yourself in a compassionate way, the more I feel connected to the planet. My language used to be ... I have always considered myself an environmentalist and aware of what's going on, but I always felt that still that I was living on the planet.
Now, I feel that now I'm aware. Now I know that I am living because of the planet, and that her oxygen has built my lungs, that it just ... My bones are made of dirt. I don't have a body. I just feel this great sense of oneness, and I mean, this is part of my own neuroses and my own anxiety with the current situation. I feel every time I throw something out, I am apologetic.
Danielle LaPorte: I need to actually work on that or I'm going to go crazy.
Danielle LaPorte: But I just say ... I'm just constantly saying sorry, but part of my practices is ... I think I'm down to about 20% sorry and about 80% gratitude. That actually feels pretty healthy for me. That's a respectful relationship actually, isn't it?
Jeff: That is. It's the 80-20 rule.
Danielle LaPorte: It could work for romance, yeah. 20% that makes all the difference. Yeah.
Jeff: You're here, we're sitting in Topanga. It's beautiful. We spent another amazing week together and we filmed another course-
Danielle LaPorte: We did.
Jeff: Called Free and Clear. Why did you make this course and what is it?
Danielle LaPorte: I made it because I wanted to look at what was working and what wasn't working before I made any more decisions. I could feel myself on my own hamster wheel, my own [inaudible 00:07:19]. I'm just like, I'm jumping to the next thing. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I also knew the practice of a business post-mortem, and let's have a debrief and just look at where we sunk it, and ... Yeah. When I did it for myself, it started with: I was in a business meeting that hadn't gone well, and I was really banking on it going well. I had the next 18 months planned, and I had a girlfriend with me who was acting as an advisor. We're in the pub afterwards and I was just like, "What am I going to do now?"
It was just her response to get me out of my funk of despair, and she just pushed pencil and paper to me and just said, "You have five minutes. Think about the highlights of the last 12 months." I was like, "Oh, okay. Just five." Just five. It brought me right up and I could see ... Immediately, I saw the pattern and it became so obvious about what I didn't want to do for the coming year, and what I wanted to do more of. It was really clear to me that relationships were the highlight of my life.
Every moment ... You know, I wasn't looking at my calendar. Everything I remember just from stream of consciousness, just heart, just in that compressed time had to do with relationship moments. It was sitting in the car with my girlfriend for two hours after the movie in front of my house talking about that thing we talked about that changed the way I did the next thing. It was the business deal I did, but it had nothing to do with the money or the clicks. It was just like sweet creativity. Yeah.
Jeff: Yeah. So when you actually engage in that conscious process, what is actually feeding your soul comes and rises to the surface.
Danielle LaPorte: Yeah.
Jeff: In a way that you would never ... That you would not be able to ascertain if you were just paging through your calendar.
Danielle LaPorte: Exactly, exactly. In most conventional year in review processes, you just go month to month. You don't ask yourself how you felt about what happened, what the heart learnings were. I don't think ... You don't really get the deep wisdom and there also isn't any ritual or ceremony, any threshold crossing built into year in review processes, where you let something go with ritual, where you're really going to cross; you're going to jump the broom from old to new. I've built that into Free and Clear.
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative). For you personally, are relationships the thing that fills you up that is that foundational joy.
Danielle LaPorte: Yeah. I'm a lover.
Danielle LaPorte: Yeah. I'm not declaring this as a universal thing.
Danielle LaPorte: But if I had to, I would, I would just say, "Listen, it's all about love and it's about relationships at the end of the day." How you make your money is about relationships. Your wellness has so much to do with what you are extracting and giving to your community. I think we go from tolerance to acceptance to celebration. I think I've done enough growing now that mostly, I hover around the acceptance level of people. Even if I don't agree with you, and maybe this is righteousness, but if I don't agree with you, I can at least think: You've got some pain going on, or you're myopic for these reasons; I can have compassion for that. I can accept, I can hang out with you. Then in some sweet moments, I can get to celebration way more often than I used to, and that is the result of, back to the top question of examining my suffering and then making very conscious, sometimes grasping choices to do what brings me joy, what makes me feel joy, and doing work that I know helps create joy for other people.
Jeff: I'm re-reading now Man's Search For Meaning. It's a Victor Frankel book. I talked about it last night, but it's actually true. He writes in the book that essentially man can find meaning in three ways, in work, in love, and in suffering. Very obviously, you find it in your work, you love your work. I mean, it's an expression of great joy and tremendous meaning. There's no doubt about it, and for those of us who are lucky enough to love what we do every day, we can easily find that meaning. It is often also easy to find meaning and love because it also feels so good. It's harder to find meaning in pain, in suffering,
Danielle LaPorte: Part of it is just to how many times you've run the race, how many times you've fallen and gotten back up. So I have enough data for my own life that not only do I get back up, but I am improved when I get back up every, I'd have to really test this. But I think I can say with 100% veracity that every setback, every heartbreak, every disappointment, everything I was going after that I did not get, not only did it not kill me and make me stronger, it actually brought me to a higher place where I was able to experience more joy. And if that weren't bonus enough, it's deepened my trust in just universal consciousness.
Love that God has me and I'm able to ... The more I know, the more room I have for mystery, you realize you just know. So not that I know little, but I know very few things deeply. And yeah, I, not only do I survive, I just become all. I become more of what I want to become. The qualities of the heart. I become more compassionate. I become more generous, I become more inclusive, I become more joyful. I become more radiant. All as a result of suffering, but that's not the only way to become those things. I think Frankel's right. I can become those things from meaningful work and I can become those things through love and how merciful. I mean that ratio is merciful. Work can be joyful. Love can be joyful, so, so easy, really easy to make those things joyful. Suffering, harder, but it's two out of three.
Jeff: You can go to the bank with two out of three.
Danielle LaPorte: Yes, and this brings us to the topic of spiritual bypassing and gratitude.
Danielle LaPorte: Because the anthem is that it's all about finding the gift in the pain. I believe 100% of the time you can find the gift in the pain. I think the downside of that theory is that when it's unexamined, we move into spiritual bypassing. We go into default mode, we resist unpacking, processing the pain by just saying there's a gift in it. It's karma. Everybody's got their stuff, family of origin, all good. It's all good. All those things are true. Karma is at play. It is all good at the end of the day, but just don't jump cut to that. You've got to walk yourself through it.
And the way I've walked myself through my suffering is that I used to think when I did the new age positivity paint over, that I had to be grateful for the perpetrator. I had to be grateful for the illness. I had to be grateful specifically for the betrayal. Actually I don't. Because that's not my learning. What I need to be grateful for, what I am honor bound as a self agent of my life to be grateful for is what I learned from that experience, for the good things that were born of that experience. Because again for something to be true, you have to be able to test it across the board. So this came up for me in a speaking gig once. I'm in an auditorium of like 3,000 people in Australia and somebody is bringing up this theory and somebody said, what are you going to tell the woman who has been raped? To find the gift in that pain?
Nope, no. But can you move into the strength that you have fostered as a result of that horrific experience and can you just focus on being grateful for that? Can you celebrate the better things you became because of that awful thing and you can continue to see that awful thing is awful. That's suffering is suffering. That injustice is injustice, but you're going to celebrate your own evolution and that's what I call empowered gratitude.
Jeff: Yes. Yes, that you do not have control necessarily about the way the world treats you, but you do have the agency around how you react to that treatment.
Danielle LaPorte: Yes, and part of self agency is realizing we have substantial control over what we attract and that's like another discernment line I like to draw, which is too much new age speak will tell us we're creating our reality, all of it all the time. There's no room in that for mystery. If there's no room for mystery, there's no room to be held by life. There actually is no room for a bigger plan and that's just division between me and creator, which is really just ego.
Ah, yeah. So in terms of creating our reality, the wake up call is to see that we will continue to create things. We will continue to move towards things that feel comforting and familiar, even if it's kind of sick and twisted. So if we grew up with abuse and neglect and a certain kind of messaging that like gets baked into us, so we can find that abuse and that neglect in another relationship or work situation where it's just like, I know this is messed up. But this is strangely, this kind of lulling me. This is, I know this. If I know this, I can feel in control. Yeah.
Danielle LaPorte: And ...
Jeff: I mean it's like anger or has it, resentment has it's ... It's like can be this old couch.
Danielle LaPorte: Yep.
Jeff: That stinks. But you like love to lie on it and you're like, fuck, throw away that couch please. Do you, I heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk about this the other day. I'm not sure I followed it 100% but it was an interesting thought where just like the nature of our brain. We have this sort of reptilian brain, the old brain, which is this fight or flight brain. This reptilian brain, which is really geared on fear and self preservation. And then we have this consciousness that then lays on top of that and says, no, no, no. We need to actually find love. Love is the opposite of fear. But then I was like, oh man, are we innately good or evil as human beings, because we have this sort of ancient brain that works that essentially just works off of fear. Are we all innately evil or sinners at the core? And then we have to do all of this foundational work to build love on top of that. Or are we actually innately good? Killing me this one.
Danielle LaPorte: I think we're innately good. I think our job ... I look at humans as we're each a spark of the fire of God. So why have we all crammed that spark into these suitcases called bodies? Like why are we even doing this? I think this is creativity. I think I got ... Okay guys, I got an idea. I'm going to fragment myself so that I can go out and proliferate light into the universe. And in order to become stronger and clearer and more loving and more powerful, let's play this game where we all forget that we're God. It's going to make us so effective and so strong. Lets do this obstacle course to get back home and we're going to have some fun and we're going to build some momentum and we're going to build skills of consciousness and love. So everybody agree when you incarnate, act like you don't know that you're God. And it's all about remembering.
And as I remember that I am creative and blessed and I have capacities to make things happen. And I remember that I'm one, and how you love me and I love you changes us and we have an effect. And then I'm adding to the great light. The original light is increasing through my awareness. And I look at things as like a universal consciousness. So my belief is that in doing that down here on this planet, this dimension called Earth, we are making a contribution to the greater whole called the universe. Something else is expanding because of our expansion. Yeah.
Jeff: Will you come on a third time if I ask you?
Danielle LaPorte: Hat trick? I'm in.
Jeff: I love you.
Danielle LaPorte: I love you. Thanks for the friendship. Yeah.
Jeff: Thank you.