[I hinted at this post a few days ago through FB. I felt I needed to spend some time to think thoughtfully on the subject before I could gain clarity on what I need to communicate. Also, this is not a quick read. I will be splitting this into multiple posts.]
Let’s unlock the BOX of happiness.
Happiness can be a simple concept, but we make it far too complex for ourselves. We create so many misconceptions around what it takes to achieve and maintain happiness that we have in turn created unhappy societies with great individual and collective divides. This is a solvable issue. It will take great introspection and consensus from many different aspects of society: social, political, economical, etc. I don’t have any notion that there is a quick fix. It is a generational solution that will take great leadership and a unified society to tackle.
I want to be very clear on a few details before I begin:
– I will be speaking about happiness from a current societal perspective and not about transcendental joy. These are two distinctly different concepts and I’m not sure if they can be resolved together…at least not yet (more on that in the future).
– The happiness issue cannot be condensed into any catchy top 10 list or whatever the general default consensus is on the subject which is floating around the mass media. Most of these solutions are based on consumer mentalities of attainment and personal empowerment which ultimately add to a dichotomy of noise and internal dissonance.
– The ideas I will be presenting are not absolutes. They are ever evolving ideas based on my philosophical, spiritual and data studies and mostly applicable to the societies that I have encountered. I am fully aware that there are societies out there functioning within a high happiness index. Again, not to be mistaken with transcendental joy which is applicable to all.
Enough with disclaimers. Let’s get to it shall we?
Pursuing and quantifying happiness vs. Having and knowing joy.
I posted the above pics to represent the omnidirectional nature of happiness (yeah, I know I’m only showing left and right). Happiness does not follow any predictable upward curve based on attainable material wealth. It is not a pyramid based on any hierarchy of needs. Neither is it a roller coaster ride alternating between swings of pleasure and pain or non-pleasure. Greater happiness can be and probably is a cultivated outlook of inner stillness and compassionate joy.
About a year ago I ran a social experiment out of curiosity. Out of a sampling of approximately 200 people I asked a simple question:
What do you want out of life?
A seemingly ambiguous question. There was a small percentage of outlier answers. However, the majority (80%+) response was, “I just want to be happy.” Of course, I had follow up questions based on each individual conversation. Otherwise, just walking up to people and asking a vague question would have been just a teeny bit awkward (then again that has never stopped me from my experiments!). Even though the majority answer was acceptable there was something bothersome about it. It wasn’t that the people I talked to weren’t happy. A majority said that they were happy with their lives. However, most could be happier. A conundrum. It took me some time to figure out what it was that bothered me about “wanting to be happy”. The conclusion:
Wanting to be happy suggests a state of pursuit and quantification of happiness vs a cultivated natural state of having and knowing joy.
Our constant pursuit of happiness through material wealth, career aspirations, comparisons to others, creates discontentment and inner dissonance. Some have argued back that they are very content at where they are in life. Those who argue this with me are usually from stable income households and on positive career tracks. There is a hole in their argument. A very good litmus test for this argument is to simply ask yourself one question:
Could I maintain a state of happiness if everything was taken away from me: material wealth, career, loved ones, support structure…everything?
I have been exploring this by living a minimalist life. I find the more that I let go the happier I am. In the absence of everything that we use to quantify our happiness, and seemingly our existence, we can begin to source out those things that can truly cultivate natural joy. The following are the basics:
– Social Connection. We can’t all be monks living on top of the mountain. We are naturally social creatures so contact with others is important. It helps us know that we are not alone in the world.
– Compassionate Connections. Along with social connection it is important to have positive, compassionate connections. It is an outlook of looking out for each other and treating each other as equals without ego hierarchies.
– Expressions of Love. This isn’t necessarily what you think this means. This is actually a bit tricky to address. We all have an internal bias towards those we deem closest to us through blood relations, intimate relationships or cultivated friendships. If we can step away from this bias, then we can begin to address each other, seemingly strangers, as loved ones. We can begin to see each other as reflections of love.
– Contributory Happiness and Independence. That’s a funny term isn’t it? I had a random conversation the other day about cultivating happiness for others and the person I was talking to said to me, “I have to take care of myself first in order to take care of others.” I countered with, “By seeking to elevate those around me, I thereby elevate myself.” Contributory happiness and independence is happiness and independence gained naturally by ensuring the happiness and independence of others.
– Equal Access to Equally Distributed Resources and Education. This is less about the individual state and more about the collective state which contributes to governed happiness. Before you throw out the lazy socialist or communist label at this truly think about this. Most data point to the fact that the more equal a society, the happier it is, the more productive it is. Equality maximizes societal potential.
These are my discoveries thus far. You may have noticed that no where do I mention attainment of consumptive material wealth, career aspirations/advancement, or personal self-empowerment gain. These things are not inherently bad, but they should not be standards to weigh happiness against. If anything, they usually result in a happiness divide within the self and society.
You can’t buy or manufacture happiness.
Happiness is free of charge.
– Happy Rabbit
[In part 2 I will explore what can be done at an individual level to cultivate happiness.]