September 10, 2011

In the Pursuit of

Every human being from Greenland to Antarctica desires it. Religious commitment does not extinguish our craving for it. The poor as well as the wealthy struggle to achieve it. There's no question, we all want to be happy. It's universal. But what is happiness? Is it a state, a condition, a predisposition, or an illusion? Can we decide to be happy or is our happiness determined by our environment?

Happiness is big business. According to Micki McGee, author of "Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, "the self-help industry, inclusive of books, seminars, audio and video products, and personal coaching constitute a 2.48-billion dollar-a-year industry." A myriad of sources are available that provide different answers on how to become happy.

We know what people believe will make them happy: more money, attractiveness, that dream job, youth, prestige, a baby, power, a good woman or man. Still, it's not uncommon to find out that the people who have those things are searching too. The fact is fewer sources explain what happiness is and I wonder how many tell us why we're so damned unhappy. We’ll leave why the $2.48 billion spent on getting happy isn't working for a different discussion on another day.

Though happiness is as hard to identify as it is to capture we know it when we feel it. We know it just as we know when we are satiated by food, water, or sex. This makes perfect sense because happiness is a state. It has a drive similar to the ones that let us know we need to eat, drink fluids, or have sex. It is good news that happiness is a state with its own drive. We can finally make peace with why the grass looks greener on the other side: Happiness ebbs and flows just like the tide. This is all very natural. So, no more beating ourselves about-the-head-and-neck because we need a new “fix.”

The environment plays a role in our happiness too. For example, there is healthy competition and unhealthy competition. Unhealthy competition creates negative emotions. The degree of competition that we often face and struggle with is an artificially induced phenomenon. A climb up the corporate ladder can bring you down. A bad relationship can be a real buzz-kill. A desire to acquire material things that are beyond your means can drain joy. We can expand our analysis to include competition between and among groups. For example, competition for national superiority through war. These examples of striving for power and prestige, superiority in the relationship, keeping up with the Jones’, or national defense strategies are all forms of competition which will not lead to happiness—even if you “win” the zero-sum game.

Competition is the world of not-enoughness. In this world there is not enough food, fuel, or love. It is the domain of lesser-frequency people who exist where what is impossible hangs out. In this world: it’s not possible for everyone to be healthy, it’s not possible for everyone to have decent living conditions, it’s not possible for everyone to fulfill their dream. In reality, there is abundance in the universe and the things we long for are possible.

When researchers study the brains of happy people happiness measures in the brain as a calmness rather than elation over something good happening or depressive lows resulting from bad experiences. Calmness doesn’t exist in a zero-sum game, not even for the “winner.” We can find calmness, that is, our happy place, in cooperative situations. This is true because cooperation presents opportunities for fulfillment of our greatest need: companionship and love. Cooperation decreases the ebbs and increases the frequency of the flows of happiness into our lives.

The Framingham Heart Study indicates that happiness is as contagious as the common cold. Researchers found that it can be transmitted up to three degrees of separation. So your friend’s, friend’s, friend's happiness can have an affect on your life and vice-versa—whether you know each other or not. Bonus! Now is that natural, systemic cooperation provided by the Universe or what?! I don’t know about you but knowing that I’m not alone in my quest to achieve my personal happiness makes me happy. It has a calming affect on my mind. And knowing that just by being happy I’m contributing to the happiness of someone else makes me feel powerful—in a win-win situation sort-a-way.

Our drives for food, water, sex keep us alive; bring us pleasure and sustains the human race. The major difference between those drives and our drive for happiness is that the latter is less self-centered.
Essentials for Happiness

                                  Need                           Source
                                  Energy                        Healthy diet, exercise, rest, stay well-hydrated,
                                                                       intellectual health habits

                                  Positive attitude        Determination to see the good

                                  Positive thoughts      Focus on the core strengths
                                                                       rather than “deficiencies and faults”
                                                                       of your own and others'

                                 Connections with       You’ll know them by their positive spirit
                                  happy people             and cooperative behavior

                                  Detachment               Don't stew over transgressions
                                                                       people have made against you
                                                                       or mistakes you've made. Let it go, now!

                                  Mindfulness               A positive and calm relationship
                                                                       between the thoughts and emotions

                                 Cooperative               May have to do some house cleaning
                                 situations and           at work and in relationships

I’m not sayin’ that you need to give up your self-help tapes, books, seminars, or consultations. I’m not judging you. Oh, no, ‘cause lawd knows I have my habits too. Just know that when the 5-hour high wears off you know what to do: get out and meet some happy people, cooperate to create win-win situations, think positive to feel positive, and take care of you!   

We exist in the domain of abundance and the possible!   

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