Tag Archives: happiness

The Notion of Happiness

At a recent gathering, someone posed the question, “What is happiness?” The question opened a thought-provoking discussion on the notion of happiness. There are many words for happiness: bliss, contentment, delight, elation, euphoria, joy, exhilaration, optimism, or peace of mind, to name a few. Because of the range of feelings we associate with this notion, we are able to feel happy in a variety of ways. Is it an inner quality, a state of mind, or both?

“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” Dalai Lama

HappySo does the Dalai Lama’s statement refer to momentary happiness or long-term happiness? Is it a thoughtful consideration when we say we just want to be happy? Is there a key to happiness?

Psychologist Martin Seligman and the findings from Positive Psychology studies asserts that humans are happiest when they have the following five things:
1.    Pleasure including delicious food, a warm bed and desired material objects; that is, essentially anything that pleases one or more of our five senses.
3.    Relationships; social ties are an extremely reliable factor of happiness.
4.    Meaning – belonging to something bigger than ourselves; a sense of doing good for others and making the world a better place.
5.    Accomplishment – the achievement of goals.

It appears happiness can be both immediate, sensual, and measurable as well as rational, reflective, and relative.

We know being happy is good for our health. Happy people have stronger immune 46421713 - smiling friends playing volleyball at sandy beachsystems and have a longer lifespan. When you are happy, you are more giving, you better handle stress, you have more successful relationships as well as a more meaningful network of friends. Happy people are more creative and energized and this attitude translates to their work performance. Happy people are reported to live 14% longer.

According to Dr. Robert Holden, a British psychologist considered Britain’s foremost expert on happiness, we are experiencing what researchers call “static happiness.” In the 1940s, when people were asked, “How happy are you?”, the average score was 7.7 out of 10. Most recently, the average score was 7.2 out of 10.

While it may be universal, the meaning of happiness remains complex and ambiguous. Given its very nature, reported happiness is subjective. It is difficult to compare one person’s happiness with another.

The psychological and philosophical pursuit of happiness began in China, India and Greece some 2,500 years ago with Confucius, Mencius, Buddha, Socrates, and Aristotle. There are remarkable similarities between the insights of these thinkers and the modern “Science of Happiness.”

 MenciusMencius (372 – 289 BCE) could well be called the pioneer of Positive Psychology. He spells out the role that feelings of happiness or satisfaction play in motivating people to do the right thing, as well as the sense of joy that results from the practice of humanity.

More modern day thinkers such as Abraham Maslow, an American professor of psychology at Brandeis University, theorized that human happiness is the outcome of meeting a set of needs. He listed these in order of priority, leading to a pyramid called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. These needs include physiological, Trianglesafety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. For a person to have happiness her or his needs have to be satisfied first.

In 2002, the notion of happiness presented itself to me in a unique way when I traveled to the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Nestled between India and China in the Tibetan Himalayas, it is often called “The Last Shangri-La.”

I was fascinated to learn Bhutan’s Gross National Product is Happiness. Understanding and embracing the concept of happiness, the Royal Government of Bhutan organized a Gross National Happiness Commission to execute a strategy for national happiness. Objectives included promoting citizens to live in harmony with tradition and nature, as well as investing in the nation’s greatest asset: its people.

PARO, BHUTAN - NOVEMBER06,2012 : Unidentified smiling young monks standing by the religious prayer wheels at Paro Rinpung dzong, Paro, BhutanWhile the GNH framework reflects Buddhist origins, it is solidly based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology and well-being. The concept of GNH is transcultural – a nation need not be Buddhist in order to value sustainable development, cultural integrity, ecosystem conservation, and good governance.

Through collaboration with an international group of scholars and empirical researchers, the Centre for Bhutan Studies further defined with greater specificity these “Four Pillars of Happiness” into eight general contributors to happiness: physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality. We can each certainly use these standards to personally measure how happy our lives are.

 Gretchen Rubin’s personal 12-month journey, chronicled in her book, The Happiness Project, was based on a number of premises assumed to be foundations for happiness. They include “mindfulness,” a kind of no elaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is. This is an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Living in the present, which I relate to as mindfulness, as well as intention and gratitude are foundational concepts.They are also foundational concepts of Feng Shui.

“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in It.” ~
Groucho Marx

When I reflect on what makes me happy, the list is endless: everything from hearing my daughters’ voices on the other end of the phone, seeing a shooting star, teaching a class, having Tom’s arms around me, being with family and dear friends, watching my garden bloom and a million things in between. I know mindfulness, laughter and gratitude contribute to my happiness. The bonus? They allow me to better handle the sad and/or difficult times that life inevitably brings. On reflection, I have come to believe we are in control of our own happiness level

“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”  Unknown


How Do You Make Other People Happy?

At a recent Feng Shui Institute of the Midwest meeting, each attendee was asked to briefly respond to the question: “How do you make other people happy?”

HappyMy first thought was – “isn’t that a question to ask of my friends and family?” My second thought was whatever I might do to bring happiness would likely change, depending on who the person is. But as I continued to reflect on the question, I realized that the energy we carry with us – our core energy – has the potential to bring happiness to any and all with whom we might come into contact, anytime and anyplace. If we live in gratitude and are basically “the glass is half full” kind of person, then we exude an energy that lifts the energy of all around us. It seems to me we can only bring happiness to others to the extent we are happy with ourselves. But this is my version and is it correct? And what actually makes us happy?

It seems that researchers have concluded that each of us has a set point for happiness—a level of contentment that stays constant through changing circumstances, such as the loss of loved ones or winning big bucks.

Other drivers of happiness that matter less than you think include money, beauty, youth, intelligence and education. Those that matter more include self-esteem, social skills, free time, volunteering and humor.

Back to the responses the night of our meeting. They were quite varied, as you might imagine, and, perhaps, instructive, as well. One woman owns a cleaning business said how happy her clients are to walk into a clean home. AnotherYellowFace was an interior designer who makes her clients happy with color and design in their environments. Still another visits the elderly to bring some special happiness to their day. And I wasn’t the only person that evening who stood up to say, “I try to bring happiness by smiling at others everywhere I go.“

 “It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald 

 I am amazed at the glum facial expressions I observe when I’m out and about! Have you noticed? So many people nowadays appear to be burdened with life. It is true that the world, especially now it seems, can often feel mostly negative. These times are challenging with all the conflicting information we hear about threats to our safety and challenges to our health and well-being, to name a few. I like to believe we are experiencing growing pains. Our world is in the throes of becoming more tolerant, inclusive, and aware of choices that protect our planet and ourselves. Where there is growth, there is pushback – anxiety, fear and dread of the unknown. Trusting that everything is as it should be can be most helpful and comforting.

In the meantime, I’m frequently asked, “But what can I do when it all feels so overwhelming?” I believe that we hold power in how we chose to live on a daily basis. If I focus my attention on noticing good and thinking about the things I can control, I’m using my attention and energy to build optimism and happiness rather than to deepen worry and sadness.

It can also mean making conscious choices about the foods and products you buy, asking the questions: “Does this help or harm our environment?” “Does this help or harm my health and the health of my family?” Those preferences can contribute to our feeling more in control of our environment.

You always have a choice to bring happiness to yourself and others (even if you have to fake it on the days you’re not feeling optimal Chi). We know it is not realistic, nor is it desirable, to be happy all the time. Negative emotions are natural.

Flowers2But you can make a decision to smile at a stranger; to say “Thank you” to wait staff at restaurants, including those who fill your water glass or remove your plates. You can plant a garden or fill a pot with flowers that make you and passersby smile. Volunteering seems to bring everyone happiness. There are hundreds of small ways to bring a bit of happiness to others and yourself on a daily basis. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  Mahatma Gandhi