What is Happiness?
From the beginning of human writings, people have explored happiness, what it is, and how to become happier. To begin our discussion of happiness, it is important to define happiness. All of us have a natural, intuitive sense of happiness, of what it feels like to be happy. We know when we've had a happy day, a happy experience, or a happy relationship.
In looking through countless definitions of happiness, many of them used the word “happy” in defining “happiness,” which is entirely unhelpful. Many definitions are simply vague. But, we need to start somewhere, so here are some introductory thoughts and definitions: “Happiness is a pleasurable emotional state characterized by feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction.”
Aristotle wrote about happiness in 350 BC, stating that, “Happiness is the only thing that humans desire for its own sake.” He observed that men sought wealth not for the sake of being wealthy, but to be happy. Those who sought fame desired it, not to be famous, but because they believed fame would bring them happiness. Actually, Aristotle did not have the word “happiness.” He was really writing about “eudaimonia,” a Greek word that has a similar flavor as “happiness.” If we look at the roots of the word “eudaimonia,” “Eu” means well or good. “Daimon” means, spirit. Aristotle had a broad notion of happiness that suggests prospering and flourishing. Eudaimonia (spiritual well-being) is the synergy of both well-feeling and well-acting. “Hedonism” is the belief that happiness comes from well-feeling, or “feeling good,” but it does not have anything to do with virtue or right action, which Aristotle felt were essential ingredients for happiness.
There is a good deal of research on happiness. Intuitively, we can understand the research, but we need to understand that we don't have a good definition of happiness, so the “happiness research” begins from the weak standpoint of exploring something that has not yet been defined. Your happiness is not my happiness. However, we can recognize happiness on the faces of those we see every day.
George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” That quote is in line with research that shows that the happiest time of life for men is age 60-69, and the unhappiest period is 20-29.
Freud theorized that most of us are unhappy, because it takes less effort to be unhappy than to be happy. Author Gregg Easterbrook says–“If you are looking for something to complain about, you are absolutely certain to find it. Most people take the path of least resistance. Far too many people don't take the steps to make their life a more fulfilling one.”
So, then, is happiness about “fulfillment?” Notice how the happiness researcher I just quoted slipped from talking about happiness to talking about fulfillment. Indeed, fulfillment and purpose do have a lot to do with happiness.
Since researchers and writers of dictionaries can't define happiness very well, and they slip and slide all over the place while trying to get a handle on it, why should the average person have a good handle on happiness? One thing is clear. There is a degree of choice involved in happiness. Each day, upon rising, we can choose to be happy or unhappy. We can choose love over fear and hate. We can choose to do things that will promote happiness, and to think in ways that will promote optimism and happiness. Whether the cup is half full or half empty is entirely determined by our individual outlook.
Oprah Winfrey was asked by Larry King, “On a scale of 0 – 10, how happy are you?” Oprah replied, “15! It's true, Larry. I really am a 15 in terms of happiness.” Oprah's huge success is not just because she is brilliant, a great marketer, or a power broker like Donald Trump. Oprah is Oprah because she has a great hunger for learning, expansion of consciousness, genuine love for humankind, clear goals and intentions, and very high abilities to bring her dreams into reality.
Most important in creating happiness is whether or not we do the right thing when we know what the right thing to do is. When you know what the right thing to do is, but fail to do so, you will become unhappy, and your overall personality will weaken. Each time you flex the muscle of taking powerful right action, you become a happier, more powerful person. Now what does “power” have to do with this? I will let you ponder that for a moment.
Physical Aspects of Well-Being
It is possible to measure a number of physiological parameters associated with happiness, such as brain waves. What I'd like to address first are genetic issues. Some people have powerful genes for depression. These people are simply more likely than the average person to fall into very dark, unhappy moods. Helping to restore normal brain chemistry is essential, for fighting one's way out of depression is a big task, not easily overcome with positive thinking.
We humans may be genetically predisposed to unhappy states. Genetically, we are closer to the chimpanzee than to any other animal. 95% of DNA base pairs are identical in chimps and humans. Chimps are often aggressive. They are known to hold a grudge and even to seek brutal revenge, and can turn their friends into enemies. That sounds an awful lot like many human beings. It may be that we have a genetic heritage as a species to overcome, before we can reach our highest levels of happiness.
Many physical factors will contribute to unhappiness. Hypoglycemia is one factor. So is adrenal exhaustion. Around 3pm workdays, many of us hit a slump. It is a stress slump, and it manifests both on physical and mental planes. Chronic pain is another condition that makes it very hard to sustain happiness. Chronic pain is demoralizing. People with chronic pain have to work harder than most of us to attain happiness, but happiness is certainly available to all of us.
There are countless books about “keys to happiness.” These books, almost invariably will list the 3 keys, or 5, 7, or 8 keys to happiness. That kind of simplicity is good marketing and it does give people something concrete to act on. I am going to avoid trying to tell you how many keys there are to happiness. However . . . if there is any one key, it is the ability to live fully and completely in the moment.
Buddhism: The Olympics of Happiness
What is clear is that, how you understand and experience happiness depends on the level at which you are approaching happiness. There is the psychological, the physical, and the spiritual level. I believe that spiritual definitions and spiritual practices about happiness transcend definitions that come from lower levels of consciousness. The Dalai Lama was asked what the happiest time in his life was. He immediately laughed and responded, “This very moment is the happiest time in my life.” The late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, was once peering into a small puddle with some sparse plant-life. He told his daughter, Bindi, “This is the most beautiful place on Earth!!” Read that sentence hearing Irwin's passion and intensity. Talk about living fully in the moment.
Buddhism may be the ultimate study of happiness. Buddha's life goal was to find the cause of suffering. Ultimately, he concluded that happiness did not come from outside ourselves. Rather, happiness was considered to be the very nature of our Self, Soul, Spirit, or Atma. Buddha outlined the 8-fold path to enlightenment, a systematic path for removing ignorance, and attaining lasting happiness. By determining what is real and unchanging (and what is unreal and changing), one gets to the core of happiness. In Buddhist thought, everything in the material world is impermanent, and hence, not a potential source of lasting happiness. Attachment to anything impermanent leads to unhappiness. Spirit is the only aspect of our lives that does not change, and it is out of identification with our spirit that happiness arises.
It is a false notion that money is an obstacle to happiness. If one is overly attached to money and the things that money can buy, then you will be unhappy. However, money is like energy. It is neither good, nor bad. How we use it and whether or not we are detached from money determines how monetary concerns will affect our happiness. It is possible to be a happy billionaire. I've known a few multi-millionaires who, at one time, barely had a roof over their head. Their level of happiness was the same whether wealthy or poor.
The biggest obstacle to permanent happiness, or bliss, is our ego or mind. When the mind is transcended, we “become” bliss, or permanent happiness. This concept of permanent happiness flies in the face of Western notions. We do not believe in permanent happiness. If any of you met the Buddha, you would know that permanent bliss is possible. Or, just watch the Dalai Lama on TV or in a documentary, or observe any other advanced Buddhist adept, and you will see someone who is always happy, or close to it.
Buddhism does not have a “lock” on happiness. Chris tian mystic, Thomas Aquinas, wrote that the ultimate end of human existence is “felicity,” a Latin term, similar to “eudaimonia,” the term for “happiness” that Aristotle wrote about. Felicity means, “blessed happiness.” Jesus spoke about “the peace that passeth all understanding.” He was describing a state identical to the Buddhist's “nirvana” and the Hindu's “samadhi.” In the happy state Jesus spoke of, the mind is totally silenced, and we experience inexplicable bliss, peace, and love. In this state, extreme happiness, peace, and love merge into one powerful state of consciousness so transcendent as to be “ineffable” (not explainable with words).
Hinduism's ideas about happiness are similar to those of Buddhism. Here are the core principles:
1. What we call happiness and misery are relative experiences. They are called dualities.
2. To experience lasting happiness, we must rise above dualities. These dualities include pleasure and pain. Ordinary life is an ebb and flow of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. Lasting happiness requires that we rise above the pleasure-pain principle.
3. Real happiness is inherent within each of us. Our true nature is considered to be bliss.
4. What we call happiness is a tiny reflection of the brilliant, infinite bliss within each of us. Happiness and misery are nothing but different states of mind. Bliss is experienced when we transcend ordinary mind. It is our attachment to the outer world that keeps us tied to cycles of happiness and misery.
5. Real, permanent happiness, or ananda, is the goal of all beings. All of us are seeking that goal, whether consciously or unconsciously. That is the Hindu belief.
Native American spirituality is all about the unity of all life, the idea that everyone and everything is part of the interconnected web of life, expressed in the Lakota phrase, “Mitakuye O'Yasin.” By living in conscious awareness of our interconnectedness, we have no choice but to live by the golden rule. We cannot harm others or Mother Earth when we consciously see ourselves as being no different from anyone or anything else, for in harming others, we harm ourselves. The concept of Mitakuye O'Yasin is woven into the basic principles of the world's great religions. If we are to ignore the central teachings of the world's great religions, our understanding of happiness will be quite shallow.
Research about happiness mainly has to do with the kind of happiness that is affected by external factors. The data is interesting. Here are some of the facts:
1. Married people are happier than non-married.
2. Those without children are happier. (note: they are also less worn out).
3. Single parents with children under 18 are the least happy group.
4. In terms of brain chemistry, happiness is associated with an active left prefrontal cortex in the brain. Negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety, are associated with the right prefrontal cortex.
5. 12 hours a day of meditation will lead to feelings of great happiness. However, the effect is not lasting! Those happy brain waves revert to normal fairly quickly.
6. People with serious illnesses, such as those who are paralyzed, and spend their lives in wheelchairs, are no less happy than the rest of us. Chris topher Reeves is a good example of this, as is his wife.
7. College graduates are happier than high school grads.
8. Religious people are happier than nonreligious.
9. Republicans are happier than Democrats, and both are happier than independents.
10. Sunbelt residents are happier than those living elsewhere in the United States.
11. Money. If your financial state shifts from homeless to earning $50,000 per year, there is a large jump in happiness. However, there comes a point, where there are diminishing “happiness returns” on increased income. For example, a person who made $150,000 one year, and $600,000 the next is not 4 times happier. He is a little happier, but that's all.
Life in the Moment
All techniques and principles about happiness ultimately boil down to living in the “Now.” There is no happiness for those us who live in the future. First of all, the future does not exist. Secondly, most people focused on the future are mainly worrying, thinking about and picturing negative outcomes.
Artists, musicians, and athletes understand a major key to happiness, namely the flow state, which is the same as the zone. When experiencing life from the zone, we live entirely in the moment. There is a wellspring of creativity that flows through creative people. All people are creative. However, most people got the creativity driven out of them at a young age. When living fully in the zone, there is zero effort. Our event or our art moves through us effortlessly, leaving us immersed in the moment. Such immersion is a state of profound bliss.
Much has been written about living in the moment, including The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Be Here Now by Ram Dass. When reading their works or listening to people who live in the moment, we are able to glimpse extraordinary happiness.
It is important to note that, even if one has mastered the art of living in the Now, life will still have ups and downs. The important thing is to “be in the moment” with whatever you are experiencing, regardless of what life throws your way. To use Buddhist wording, the goal is to be unattached to highs and lows. One Buddhist story illustrates the point. A Buddhist monk, having practiced meditation for years, experienced nirvana, a state of supreme, transcendent bliss. Excitedly, he rushed to tell his roshi, or teacher, the good news. His roshi smacked him with a bamboo stick and said, “Don't worry. It will pass.” Even as one becomes more able to experience profound levels of happiness, it is important not to get attached to an experience of nirvana or supreme bliss. Don't worry. It will pass. As soon as you get attached to being happy, you will soon be unhappy.
“Going with the flow” means “staying present, accepting whatever experience arises in the moment, and not judging any experience as good or bad.” We need to avoid judging unhappiness as “bad.” Rather, unhappiness and happiness are waves that come and go. The more you are able to live with these principles, the happier you will be. The less attached you are to being happy, the happier you will be.
The greatest challenge for most of us is, “How do we get to Now? Where is it? How can I find Now?” We can practice living in the moment, being much more aware of how we walk, talk, and eat. We can allow ourselves to be more fully immersed in Nature. We can meditate to help quiet our minds. There are many things we can do that will bring us up to the “door of the zone,” which is also the door of Now. By developing this kind of awareness, you will simply fall into happiness more and more. If you think about it, there are many days when you feel happy and really don't know why. There are other days when you feel unhappy and don't know why. If you chase happiness, metaphorically, it will run from you. Happiness finds you.
Inner Meets Outer Happiness
How can we make sense of the following paradox? For most of us, external factors, such as a beautiful sunset, a new car, a great concert, or making love (with someone we love) makes us happy . . . for a while. Advanced spiritual seekers attain a lasting experience of happiness by looking inside themselves. What does the ordinary fellow's happiness and that of the advanced Buddhist monk have in common, if anything? I'll use the metaphor of a beautiful violin string, or perhaps that of a harp, cello, or guitar. When that string is vibrating, metaphorically, that vibration is happiness. One man buys a new Mercedes Benz and feels quite happy. Why? Because, for a while, the new Mercedes causes his “internal violin string” to vibrate. So, he is happy.
The Buddhist monk has found that, through a variety of spiritual practices, including detachment from the outer world of sensory pleasure, his internal violin string vibrates. Because the string is inside, he does not need to go looking for something outside himself that will help his violin play. His peace of mind and his expansive love cause the violin string to vibrate spontaneously and freely, and it continues to play a beautiful note, the note of happiness, endlessly. All happiness originates because this inner violin string is vibrating. One person finds that various material things cause the string to vibrate, and that makes him happy. Another person finds that by “going deep inside,” he has direct access to the same violin string. The inner movement of consciousness is what causes his violin string to vibrate. Regardless of what makes us happy, it is the same violin string playing within all of us.
“Mikakuye O'Yasin.” At the core, we are all the same, made of the same “spirit stuff,” that flows to the Great Ocean that we call God, Higher Power, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mazda, or Great Spirit. The same violin string exists within all of us, but is caused to vibrate in countless ways.
In the next issue, I will offer up an extensive recipe for happiness. If you bite off one little piece of that recipe, and work with one item, you will become happier. In the meantime, ponder what happiness means to you and make a list of all the things that make you happy.
David Gersten, M.D. practices nutritional medicine and transpersonal psychiatry out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Please feel free to access 1,000 on-lines pages about holistic health, amino acids and nutritional therapy at www.aminoacidpower.com and 800 on-lines pages about mental imagery at www.imagerynet.com.
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I broke my right elbow while playing tag football with my kids. Now my doctor is saying that it will never heal properly, I guess because of the type of break it was, which doesn't make sense to me. What do you suggest?
Of course you can heal it! And you can do it on your own time line, not someone else's. I suggest that you look into Magnetic Field Therapy (MFT). MFT is a method that penetrates the whole human body and can treat you without chemical side effects. Magnetic therapy can be applied in many ways; and devices range from small, simple magnets to large machines capable of generating high magnitudes of field strength. MFT is so popular in Japan and Germany that the use of certain devices is covered by medical insurance. MFT is just beginning to be recognized in the United States as an alternative therapy.
MFT has been used for years by sports doctors in treating injuries such as yours. You can be fitted with a simple elbow brace (similar to an Ace bandage) or use a device to treat your fracture. It's best to have a practitioner in the field explain the options in more detail. I suggest you contact the following company to ask for a resource in your area: Bio-Electro-Magnetics Institute, 2490 West Moana Lane, Reno, NV 89509-3936.
I've been plagued for quite a while now with carpal tunnel syndrome. I have to use my wrists every day in my field of work (I'm a grocery-store cashier). Can you help me heal this once and for all? Thank you!
A.X., Kansas City
Carpal tunnel—or any repetitive stress syndrome—can be related to fear and anger “frozen” in the muscles and nerves. The fear comes from our unwillingness to risk and change the patterns in our life that we find unsatisfying. The anger is often our frustration over feeling trapped by our fears.
Send love and reassurance to your wrist and arms. Very often it's our inner child who holds on to the messages that it's unsafe to fully be ourselves and follow our own dreams and desires. Reassure yourself, just as you would a small child, about the steps you are taking to heal.
Affirm: I MOVE BEYOND PAST LIMITATIONS INTO FREEDOM. I AM NOW BECOMING ALL THAT I AM CREATED TO BE.
Will you be speaking in a city near me soon? I just discovered you through HayHouse-Radio.com ®. I would love to hear you in person!
I'm so glad that you're listening to our radio station! I'm very proud of that addition to Hay House. I'm now retired and am no longer speaking in public; however, I do still love to meet fans, and I'll be at various events around the USA and in the UK this year to sign books and give hugs. Since you're in London, check on the www.hayhouse.com.uk Website to see when I'll be there. Come by and say hello!
Louise L. Hay is a metaphysical teacher and the bestselling author of numerous books, including You Can Heal Your Life , Empowering Women, and I Can Do It! . Subscribe to the Louise Hay Newsletter! Call for a Free Issue: (800) 654-5126. Questions for Louise? Write to: Dear Louise Column, c/o Hay House, Inc., P.O. Box 5100, Carlsbad, CA 92018-5100 (letters may be edited for length and clarity). Visit Louise and Hay House at: www.LouiseHay.com or www.hayhouse.com.
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