The Illusion of Happiness

The world is an illusion.
~ A Course in Miracles

There’s a magic trick I perform where I take a playing card and toss it away from me. With a gentle flick of my wrist, the card is gone.

Any observer watching me perform this trick sees the card in my hand one moment, and then watches me throw the card off into nothingness. The card magically disappears. It’s no longer in my hand, nor is it on the floor or under a table or anything like that.

It can be very unsettling for an onlooker since clearly the card must be somewhere. But it’s nowhere to be found.

And then, just as miraculously, I clap my hands the card re-appears back in my fingers.

Attentional Blindness

Of course, no miracle happened. It’s all sleight of hand.

Magicians are masters at sleight of hand. Their art is getting observers to put their attention on one thing while the performer does something hidden. Like making a playing card vanish.

But once we know we’re being fooled, it is very easy to catch the deception. Right?


Even when we know we’re about to be fooled, a good magician still pulls one over on us.

We’re like the dog that loves chasing after a stick that is thrown by its master. If you fake the throw, the dog still runs off in anticipation of catching the airborne stick. Every time.

With the magician, we know there is some trickery about to unfold – we’re ready for it – and yet we’re still deceived.

Our eyes (and attention) get drawn in exactly the place the performer wants, even though we tell ourselves we’re not going to fall for it.

Master of Deceit

Research has shown how easy it is to deceive our prefrontal cortex and our sensory cortices – the areas responsible for attention. That’s how optical illusions work.

Check out this image:

It seems as if the squares marked A and B are different shades of gray. But they aren’t – they are the exact same color, shade, hue, etc. Our eyes and brains really struggle with that. But our perception doesn’t make the fact any less true – A and B are identical in color.

We don’t realize how easily our senses are fooled. And there is one magic trick – perhaps the greatest sleight of hand ever performed – that fools us like none other.

The trick is called the Illusion of Happiness, and the master of deception performing this remarkable apparition is known as the ego.

The Illusory World

The ego works by convincing us that the source of happiness is in the world, other people, and our body. Likewise, that the source of all our pain comes from things going on in the world, other people, and our body.

Have you fallen for the trick?

If you think any person or situation in the world has the ability to either make you happy or make you unhappy, then you’ve fallen for it.

Consider these lines from A Course in Miracles:

The world is an illusion. Those who choose to come to it are seeking for a place where they can be illusions, and avoid their own reality.

Elsewhere the Course equates our experiences in this world as a dream:

The body’s serial adventures, from the time of birth to dying are the theme of every dream the world has ever had. The “hero” of this dream will never change, nor will its purpose. Though the dream itself takes many forms, and seems to show a great variety of places and events wherein its “hero” finds itself, the dream has but one purpose, taught in many ways. This single lesson does it try to teach again, and still again, and yet once more; that it is cause and not effect. And you are its effect, and cannot be its cause.

In other words, the world and all our experiences seem to convince us that we are the effect of what’s going on around us. That our joys and sorrows are based on causes beyond our control. But what the Course (and every other non-dualistic thought system) teaches is that we made it all up.

The truth is that happiness has nothing to do with anything going on the world. The world and other people are giant smokescreens to keep us looking there. As long as I’m convinced that other people (or things) can make me happy or sad, then I’m being deceived. And not only that, I’ll keep looking in those places to find the joy I desire.

It isn’t until we see through the deception and understand how the master of deceit works that we can finally dissolve the illusion.

Once we know how the trick works, it ceases to capture our attention, and we are no longer fooled by the magic. We begin the process of undoing all the ego deceptions and experiencing much greater peace on our path toward awakening.