3 ways non-attachment affects happiness

Spot attachment in my life!

Let me tell you a story – a true story – about how attachment can make you and those around you feel, well, rubbish!

There are three examples of attachment in this story.

See if you can spot them!

Here goes…

I’ve recently taken up mountain biking with my husband and bought myself a shiny new bike.

One sunny day, as he was getting the bikes out to go for a ride, he accidentally knocked my new bike putting a scratch on the handlebars! I didn’t make a fuss (well, not much!) but I was gutted that my perfect bike was now less than perfect. 

The story continues…

Out on the hill, we got to a steep downhill section that I’ve struggled with in the past. Feeling brave, I went for it and felt chuffed that I’d managed to get down it confidently. I looked up to see my husband’s reaction – expecting him to be equally pleased – but he wasn’t looking.

Even though my achievement hadn’t changed, I felt a bit disappointed that he hadn’t seen it. 

Towards the end of the ride, we bumped into a friend and cycled the last downhill sections as a group. I immediately noticed how much faster she was than me. I felt like I should be going faster by now even though I was still a bit of a newbie on two wheels. I started to recall all the times when I had been a bit of a wimp and resigned myself to thinking that I just wasn’t a daredevil. I was a just more cautious whether I liked it or not. I didn’t like it!

And there ends the story. 

Did you notice the three examples of attachment?

And more importantly, did you spot how non-attachment might have made my day more enjoyable?

If not, here they are. 

Everything in life had the potential to cause pain without practising non-attachment (Photo by Gustavo Fring)

1. But pretty things bring so much joy!

The most obvious example of attachment that we see in our everyday lives is probably the pleasure we get from an external object – a new pair of shoes, a fast car, big house, perfect nails. 

The list goes on. 

These aren’t bad things to have by any means but being attached to any material object has the potential to cause suffering. 

The great yogic philosopher, Patanjali, said,

“Everything in life is pain” 

Think about the scratch on my beautiful new bike. Any object that we treasure has the potential to cause pain and suffering in this very same way.

Attachment is the emotion you feel when you spill red wine on that expensive t-shirt.

The ancient texts, the Yoga Sutras, teach us that the fear of losing our prized possessions or our success is the cause of pain and suffering. 

By practising non-attachment, we let go of this desire to keep everything perfect and under our control. We start to understand that everything is changeable and nothing is permanent. 

Slowly, we become more content and our desire to possess things as a means to happiness disappears.

Are you attached to the approval of others? (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio)

2. Look at me! Love me! 

You guessed it. 

The second example of attachment is related to other people. 

It is the need to have someone tell us how well we are doing. 

The desire for approval. 

The deep-rooted need for praise from our peers, partner or parents. 

Practising non-attachment with regard to other people is not the same as being un-attached to them. Quite the opposite! 

Non-attachment means to act in a way that we believe is right. 

Taoist, Lao Tzu, put it in the simplest terms,

“Act without expectation”

This means doing things without being attached to the outcome and without the need for approval. 

How often do we post a picture on Instagram of something that we took great pleasure in doing only to be disappointed a few hours later when nobody has ‘liked’ our photo?

When we act without the need for encouragement or reinforcement, we learn to trust our own thoughts and emotions, and in doing so, we become truer versions of ourselves. 

We begin to love ourselves. 

And, as any good therapist will tell you, it is only when we love ourselves that we can truly love anyone else.

“I’m such an idiot!” (Photo by Maël BALLAND)

3. “That’s just typical of me!”

For me, this is the biggie! 

As human beings, we can become so attached to ideas about ourselves as well as others. 

We say things like, 

“I’m always getting things wrong!”


“I’ve never liked that kind of thing.”

And about our children, 

“They’re always apprehensive.”


“He’s never going to change.”

We use phrases starting with “always”, “never” and “should” to create a sense of comfort and security, to boost our ego or to provide justification for an action. 

This attachment to thoughts gives the mind and emotions power over us. 

Try, instead, to view these thoughts from a distance.  

By watching our thoughts we create the space in which to be rational. 

While, listening to the words we use about ourselves and others gives us perspective. 

Non-attachment to our thoughts and emotions helps us to be more peaceful allowing things to just be. 

You might be thinking that non-attachment to emotions sounds kind of cold. But rather than make us uncaring, not trying to control how we think others “should” behave helps us to love more deeply. We learn to love others just as they are without expectations.

Let go of attachment to discover your true self (Photo by Gustavo Fring)

Commit to the action; let go of the outcome

If you want to feel a sense of contentment, try being present enjoying each moment for what it is. When the moment is over, let it dissolve. 

The same goes for any experiences you perceive as being ‘negative’. Experience them without needing to control the situation or the outcome and then let them go.

Be a passive observer of life noticing how you feel when you let go of all expectations, desire and control.

I know it sounds like a tall order but if I can learn to do it, you can too! 

It all starts with learning to observe your thoughts and feelings. 

No judgement. Just observation. 

Are you ready to stop chasing happiness and let life unfold? 

I would love to hear your experiences and ideas in the comments below.


Paula x

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