I’ve been spending time lately wondering about happiness. I’ve been blessed with a reasonable amount of happiness and a fairly optimistic demeanor, so I most often wonder what someone who’s not happy can do to achieve it.
Fortunately, there are people smarter than me who have put a lot of thought into happiness. One is Gretchen Rubin, who authored the best-selling book and website called The Happiness Project. She has studied happiness for years, and started out with two questions:
- Is it possible to make myself happier?
- What is happiness?
The answer to the former question is emphatically yes, and is backed up by scientific study:
...People have an inborn disposition that’s set within a certain range, but they can boost themselves to the top of their happiness range or push themselves down to the bottom of their happiness range by their actions.
The answer to the latter is very subjective, as you might imagine. The best summary she could come up with is quotes from former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s description of obscenity (“I know it when I see it”), Louis Armstrong’s description of jazz (“If you have to ask what [it] is, you’ll never know”) and poet A. E. Housman’s description of poetry (“I could no more define [it] than a terrier can define a rat…I recognized the object by the symptoms it evokes”).
Sounds about right to me.
Someone else who recently mused on the subject of happiness was Deepak Chopra, who recently wrote a two-part essay titled, “Why is Happiness So Unhappy.” In Part One he outlines a problem with the solutions some researchers have come up with to make ourselves happier:
In place of a “secret to happiness” or, at a deeper level a “path to happiness,” as promised by every religion, the new view dispels all ideals. Just as the universe is random in modern physics, positive psychology (an ironic name) wants us to believe that happiness is random. Not everyone can live with this conclusion, naturally. There are programs being offered in how to recover from setbacks and improve your state of happiness. Launched with considerable optimism, these programs have had mixed results, to say the least. Long-held habits are stubborn; misery keeps feeding on itself.
However, in Part Two he outlines practical solutions and insists that happiness is attainable by using “wisdom traditions,” which are long-term solutions based on choices, values and ideals instead of the short-term fix of a new gadget or piece of candy. Mr. Chopra outlines 18 of these choices and values:
- Meditation, which opens up deeper levels of the mind.
- Actions that benefit others.
- Social relationships that support intimacy and bonding.
- Inspiration through reading the world’s scriptures and poetry.
- Taking enjoyment in natural beauty.
- Having a vision of personal fulfillment that you follow every day.
- Aiming for inner fulfillment rather than external fulfillment.
- Reducing stress.
- Taking time for peaceful reflection.
- Learning to love your own company, cultivating the self as a state of Being.
- Eschewing violence and anger in all its forms, gross and subtle.
- Resolving conflicts, both inner and outer, rather than letting them build up.
- Paying one’s debt to the past, which means healing old hurts and grievances.
- Stepping away from group think and second-hand opinions.
- Giving up a belief in enemies and us-versus-them thinking.
- Cultivating kindness and compassion.
- Being generous of spirit, learning to give.
- Seeing yourself as part of a larger humanity, and humanity itself as an expression of the divine, despite our flaws.
There is no denying that these are powerful ideas (in fact, we’re tackling a few of them during our Ultimate Spring Cleaning project). What they do is put in place missing pieces of ourselves—when the pieces fall into place, happiness is a natural and ongoing result. How many can you say you have in place today? Which can you work on right now, or tomorrow?
What’s your experience with happiness, or unhappiness?
We’ll explore some of these choices and values as we go forward.
Why is happiness so unhappy? [DeepakChopra.com]
Why is Happiness so Unhappy? Part 2[DeepakChopra.com]