Most of us have spent the better part of our lives seeking happiness, satisfaction, meaning, and peace, only to find it is an illusory state. We set goals — for more money, wealth, friends, love, better looks, a better body — only to find that once we reach each goal, the happiness we achieve is fleeting. It lasts a moment, only to have us return to more fears and desires. Our lives become an endless seeking of gratification through external circumstances.

What people come to find after they have achieved most of their worldly goals is that happiness is achieved internally, not externally. I finally have arrived at a beautiful place in my life — I met and married the woman of my dreams, we have a beautiful child and another on the way, and I’ve achieved most (if not all) of my material goals. But I also discovered something even more lasting along the way: I fell in love with existence itself.

One day, it dawned on me that everything is a gift — everything is beautiful. I stopped being conditional in my love for people and situations and started to appreciate the absolute beauty of everything. Think about it.

How could we appreciate good without evil? How could we appreciate a sunny day without a rainy one? How could we appreciate health without sickness? And most important, how could we appreciate life without death?

The best analogy I ever have heard is that life is like a river flowing downstream. Either we can choose to go with the flow of the river (life), or we can try to fight it and swim upstream.

Pain in life is a given, but suffering is optional. Suffering is caused by resistance and trying to swim upstream.

If we begin to look at and accept life as an incredible school of experiences — both good and bad — we begin to accept whatever life brings us and completely surrender to it. We begin flowing downstream in the direction of the river. Life becomes wondrous and beautiful.

We start to operate from a place of complete integrity. We no longer are striving or trying to reach a distant goal when we finally will feel complete because we already are complete. We simply don’t know it yet.

So how do we reach this level of harmony with life and existence? The best place to start is with ourselves. We should stop trying to fix other people, situations, or the world. The world doesn’t need saving. It’s perfect as it is.

If we start by working on ourselves, our world will become a beautiful place. What do I mean by “our world”? Simply this — our world is based on the parents we have, the environments into which we were born, our experiences growing up, the friends (and foes) we chose, and the judgments and opinions we formed.

Therefore, we all live in a subjective world, one of our own making. If we see a world of struggle and strife, that is the world in which we chose to live. If we see a world of beauty and wonder, that world also exists. It all begins within each human being.

The best way to start is by dropping all expectations we have of others and ourselves and instead accepting people for who they are. This is easier said than done, but once we begin doing this, we will begin to see the beauty in all people, things, and events.

When we stop labeling things as good or bad, we see them as “different” rather than “better” or “worse.” Our relationships become better because we begin to accept people for who they are rather than who we think they should be. People (family, friends, and peers) begin to feel “understood” by us — we accept and love them for who they are, not what we expect them to be.

That also goes for ourselves. We should stop becoming and start being. When it’s boiled down, that’s what goal setting is all about: becoming somebody other than who we are — richer, smarter, thinner, more attractive — and never accepting the beautiful person dwelling inside.

When we begin accepting both ourselves and others, the miracles start to occur. Suddenly, we will feel complete. What’s more, we will begin making life and business decisions using our “internal compass” versus the promise of “external rewards.” We will begin to live in complete harmony.

Think about a flower. It radiates its beautiful essence for all to appreciate. It makes no exceptions. It simply is. It doesn’t put a sign up saying only wealthy or attractive people can appreciate me. It radiates its beauty, making no judgments whatsoever. It’s in perfect alignment with its surroundings; it desires nothing, and it fears nothing because it already is complete.

All of us are like caterpillars that have no idea that they actually are beautiful butterflies. We go through life with our fears, insecurities, cravings, and desires, always seeking external gratification, when in reality all we have to do is go within, allow the metamorphosis to occur, and watch the caterpillar (our “false self”) turn into a butterfly (our “true self”).

There’s a tremendous difference between seeking and attracting. Seekers always are looking for the “secret” to happiness, wealth, and good fortune. The moment we surrender to life and welcome whatever situations it brings us, however, we begin to start flowing in the direction of the river. We begin to attract all the things we’ve spent our lives seeking. It becomes effortless.

There’s an ancient saying that a happy man doesn’t seek happiness. The very act of seeking implies it hasn’t been found. The minute we stop seeking and start appreciating and accepting the ebbs and flows of life is the minute the floodgates open and we begin to live the waking dream.

The “waking dream” is a state of peace, a state of harmony, a state of infinite appreciation for the blessings of being on this planet, of living this life on our terms, without clinging to expectations, fears, or desires, and simply seeing the stunning beauty of it all.

It’s the day we wake up and discover we are living our dreams. We will have a never-ending well of love that we want to share with other people because we feel complete and whole. We will seek nothing from anyone or anything, and as a result, we are given everything of which we’ve ever dreamed.

I have a secret to confess. For many years, I was goal-directed. I lived by my goals, always seeking fulfillment at some future date when some future event occurred. Then one day it dawned on me. Every beautiful thing I ever have experienced was attracted into my life. It was not sought.

I met my wife, my soul mate, by accident at a happy hour my brother had at his house in college. They were not friends — she only happened to be there. I wasn’t even looking for a girlfriend, yet that night I met the woman who would be my life partner and the mother of my children.

I almost am embarrassed to admit it, but I also never have had a business plan — each of the four businesses in which I’m involved was attracted to me and evolved out of passion and alignment. My financial success has been a byproduct of my passion. The money never has been my goal.

Machiavelli couldn’t have been more incorrect when he said, “The end justifies the means.” In reality, the means is everything. The path is the goal. Playing the game is winning. Life is all about the present moment — the now. Not the past, and not the future.

Most people spend most of their lives caught up in their minds’ focus on past injustices or a brighter future. There is no past and there is no future; they are figments of our imagination. They don’t exist, yet many of us hold so tightly to them that we never experience the beauty and joy of the present moment: the eternal now.

The one thing of which each of us can be certain is that everything will change; everything is cyclical — friends will come and go, loved ones will die, the stock market will rise and fall, and we will see war and peace, good and evil. But we always have a choice: We can accept people and things for who and what they are without judging them or assigning labels, or we can fight the flow of the river and try to swim upstream.

I admire those who choose to flow with the river (life) and wish them much happiness on this beautiful journey. My only real goal on this planet is to experience peace, joy, and eternal happiness and share it with my friends, family, coworkers, and members.