The formula for happiness
you're happy and you know it,
it is clearly a result of: P + 5E + 3H.
people who obviously meet the equation
they have solved one of the greatest mysteries plaguing mankind - just
what is the secret of happiness?
The answer, apparently, is nothing as
simple as true love, lots of money, or an exciting job. Instead, it can
be neatly summarised in the following equation:
= P + (5xE) + (3xH)
Questions on which the equation is based
1. Are you
outgoing, energetic, flexible and open to change?
2. Do you have
a positive outlook, bounce back quickly from setbacks and feel that
you are in control of your life?
3. Are your
basic life needs met, in relation to personal health, finance,
safety, freedom of choice and sense of community?
4. Can you call
on the support of people close to you, immerse yourself in what you
are doing, meet your expectations and engage in activities that give
you a sense of purpose?
See below to
work out your score
Working out the answer
should be answered on a scale of one to ten, where one is "not at
all" and ten is "to a large extent"
Add the scores
for question one and two together to find your P value.
The score for
question 3 is the value for E, and question 4 for H
Just to explain,
P stands for Personal Characteristics, including outlook on life,
adaptability and resilience. E stands for Existence and relates to
health, financial stability and friendships. And H represents Higher
Order needs, and covers self-esteem, expectations, ambitions and sense
complicated? Actually, it isn't as difficult as it may seem.
formula was worked out by psychologists after interviews with more than
1,000 people. Life coach Pete Cohen, who co-wrote the study, admitted
that the equation was not easy for most people to understand. But he
said it was based on a series of simple questions (see box).
Each person who
completes the questions ends up with a rating out of 100. The higher the
score, the more happy they are.
probably don't know what happiness is, they think happiness is perhaps
having lots of money or a big car, or a big house.
"But people who
have all these things are not necessarily happier than people who just
enjoy their life."
Mr Cohen said
the British were expert at making themselves unhappy by focusing on
"We tend to be
very obsessed with what is wrong, what is missing and what we have not
got, rather than focusing on what we want and getting it.
"It would be
nice to just enjoy your life, because life is a bit short."
Pete Cohen came up with the equation
found that different factors were important for the different sexes.
Four in ten men
said sex made them happy, and three in ten said a victory by a favourite
For seven in ten
women happiness was related to being with family, and one in four said
higher for men than women. So did a pay rise and a hobby they enjoyed.
Women were more
likely to cite sunny weather.
a consultant psychologist at the London Medical Centre, told BBC News
Online: "I would be very surprised if people sat down and had to work
out whether they were happy or not.
"We can all be
happy in a heartbeat if we make the decision to be so."
A PLEASNT kind of MAD ness
by Dr Marc Cohen
happiness? Perhaps the only completely desirable psychiatric
condition in the world!
It is difficult to study joy and happiness scientifically since it
can only be defined by what people say. There is no blood test or
imaging technique to detect happiness or joy.
While we can identify the funny bone, a physical substrate for
happiness is still elusive and scientific attempts to define it have
met with limited success.
Happiness: A psychiatric condition?
One recent attempt to classify happiness scientifically was
discussed in the Journal of Medical Ethics.
A paper titled 'A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric
Disorder' suggests that happiness fits all requirements to be a
psychiatric condition and that it should be listed as a 'Major
Affective Disorder (MAD)-Pleasant Type'!
In this somewhat tongue-in-cheek article, the authors argue for
classifying happiness as a psychiatric condition because happiness
a) Is statistically abnormal; b) Consists of discrete clusters of
symptoms; and c) Is associated with particular affective, cognitive
and behavioral components.
The paper identifies happiness as being either reactive, manifesting
as an acute episode followed by a rapid remission of symptoms, or
endogenous, which is more chronic and less likely to be associated
with spontaneous recovery.
The cognitive components of happiness include general satisfaction
with specific areas of life such as
work, as well as the happy person's belief in his or her own
competence and self-efficacy.
The behavioral components of happiness, while less easily
characterized, include particular facial expressions, such as
smiling, as well as carefree, impulsive and unpredictable behaviour.
Certain kinds of social behaviour are also identified, including
frequent recreational interpersonal contacts and pro-social actions
Happiness, apparently, is also associated with irrational behavior,
including overestimating one's control over environmental events
(often to the point of perceiving completely random events as
subject to personal will) and giving unrealistically positive
evaluations of personal achievements.
In summary, the authors conclude that happiness fulfils all the
criteria for being labeled a psychiatric condition, except the fact
that happiness is not undesirable.
However as desirability is a question of ethics and not science, it
was decided that this is scientifically irrelevant.
What causes happiness
It seems that western medicine is much more comfortable
analyzing pathological conditions than looking at the positive
states of health.
In psychiatric literature over the past 30 years, there have been
46,000 articles on
depression, 36,000 on
anxiety, and only 2,000 on happiness and 400 on joy.
Further, where studies on happiness and joy base the common
correlates of these conditions on epidemiological data, they have
relatively little to say.
A recent review of the literature on happiness, reported in
Scientific American, suggests that happiness is unrelated to the
demographics of age, sex, income, country (unless you live in a
war-torn or famine-ravaged nation), occupation, or the ownership of
Evidences collected to date suggest that happiness is related more
to personality factors, such as high self-esteem, optimism and
extroversion, than external factors.
Many people endure the present in anticipation of happiness: 'I'll
be happy when I'm rich', or 'I'll be happy when I get a good job',
or maybe, 'I'll be happy when I get a nose job'.
This line of thought is not supported by available evidence. If you
are happy now, you are likely to be happy later. If you are unhappy
now, you need to change your attitude to your circumstances rather
than the circumstances.
There's no use waiting for a lottery win. One study, in fact, found
that lottery winners tended to be much less happy after winning.
Correlates of happiness include a sense of control and the sharing
of one's life through close personal relationships, most commonly
Another factor consistently associated with happiness is
participation in religious activities with self-reported happiness,
doubled in highly religious people.
The various health benefits of being joyous have also been
acknowledged since antiquity.
However, serious study of this aspect had to wait until the 1960s,
through the work of Norman Cousins, a US-based journalist.
Stricken with ankylosing spondylitis, Cousins received only limited
benefit from conventional medical treatments. Yet he overcame much
of his pain through comedy and laughter.
In his book Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins chronicles his fight
against, and eventual victory over, his ailment, aided by high doses
of vitamin C and humor.
The Tao of joy
Unlike its western counterpart, eastern medicine has always defined
happiness with ease. Most eastern traditions are based on a concept
of perfect bliss, variously called nirvana, satori, enlightenment or
'living according to the Tao'.
This is said to be our natural state and occurs when we are 'at one
with the universe', which is achieved by giving up day-to-day
worries, desires and attachments. Perfect bliss also suggests a
state of ideal health where perceptions flow freely.
To help achieve enlightenment, most eastern traditions have
developed sophisticated daily practices that can help induce this
state. These practices generally involve
meditation and a particular attitude to daily life.
Meditation attempts to dissolve the barriers between the ego and the
outside world by focussing the mind until the object of
concentration disappears and the simple state of being is achieved.
It also involves letting go of attachment to daily concerns that may
consciousness, for a new, detached observation. While there are
different systems and philosophies of meditation, any single-minded
endeavor may be considered meditation.
Thus, when you are involved in an activity that absorbs your
awareness so much that you seem to 'lose yourself in the moment',
you are meditating. You can meditate while pursuing any activity
that you 'love' to do: martial arts, gardening, individual sports or
creative activities such as painting and music.
The act of 'loving' an activity seems to enhance the ability to lose
oneself completely in it, and including such activities in the daily
routine enhances the overall experience of life.
Meditation is also associated with predictable and reproducible
changes in physiological functioning, including a reduction in the
heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen consumption.
There are also distinctive EEG changes that include a greater
coherence and synchrony across the brain and a tendency for
increased activity in the alpha/theta frequencies (around 8 hertz).
This altered EEG activity results in the brain adapting similar
frequencies to the electromagnetic frequencies that occur around the
planet called Schumann Resonances.
Tuning into the planet
Schumann Resonances are naturally occurring electromagnetic waves
that travel freely around the planet as a result of global
lightning. They are named after Professor W.O. Schumann who proposed
the existence of such waves and calculated their main frequency.
These resonances occur in the non-conducting spherical cavity
created between the ionosphere, which is the upper stratum of the
atmosphere above 50 km, and the surface of the earth, which consists
mainly of seawater.
The production of Schumann Resonances may be likened to the tone
produced when a hammer strikes a bell or piece of metal. The
resulting clang contains many different frequencies that dissipate
It is interesting to speculate that during meditation, the brain
appears to harmonise with planetary electromagnetic activity. This
correlation, however, must be noted merely as an association for it
is almost impossible to prove any causal connection between the two.
This association gets more interesting when one realises that a
majority of global lightning is concentrated over the three main
rainforest areas of the planet-in
Africa and the Amazon basin.
These areas maintain a constant level of lightning activity that, in
turn, maintains the global Schumann Resonance. It is, therefore,
possible that when we meditate, we have a subconscious connection
with the greatest life force on the planet-the rainforests.
Moving from the still point
Meditation seems to have a homoeostatic effect on the body and
consciousness. After meditating, the mind gains a renewed sense of
focus and perspective. Finding the still point in consciousness thus
allows for the greatest mental flexibility.
But the idea that the greatest movement comes from a still point is
an ancient one. It also finds its expression in physical forms of
martial arts, gymnastics and dance where the most powerful movements
arise from the 'hara' or 'dantien'.
This is a point below the navel that represents our physical centre
of gravity. It is from this point that martial artists are best able
to initiate defensive or attacking moves. This is also the point
about which a gymnast rotates when executing a somersault.
The principle of acting from a still point can be translated into
everyday life by allowing events to unfold naturally and 'going with
This is also an ancient concept, expressed by the phrase 'living
according to the Tao', and can be extended to the point of
enlightenment when it is possible to 'do nothing and achieve
A condition called Pronoia
'Living according to the Tao' may be likened to the state of 'pronoia',
the positive counterpart of paranoia.
Pronoia is the
belief that the universe is plotting to make you happy and that
there is nothing you can do about it. This state has been discussed
in psychiatric literature and, like happiness, is considered to be a
Symptoms of pronoia include "delusions of support and exaggerated
attractiveness as well as the delusion that others think well of one
and that the products of one's efforts are thought to be well
Rather than viewing pronoia as a pathological state, it is possible
to view the state as highly desirable. Pronoia, like happiness, is a
subjective state of being that may occur irrespective of external
By adopting the attitude that whatever happens is for your benefit,
you open yourself to the possibility of positive outcomes and thus
stop being afraid of change.
You simply assume that any change occurring is for your benefit and
that even if circumstances appear negative, there is always a hidden
treasure waiting to be uncovered.
This frame of mind gives rise to the belief that you are always in
the right place at the right time and by remaining open to positive
outcomes, this attitude often ends up becoming a self-fulfilling
Just as eastern traditions believe that bliss is our true nature, it
may also be true that pronoia is our natural state. Infants and
children naturally have pronoia and this seems justified, for in
many ways their universe is continually conspiring to make them
Most people however, grow out of this state and some even claim that
they never experienced it because they had a difficult upbringing.
While this may be the case, it is possible to renew the sense of
childhood pronoia in our adult lives.
It is never too late to have a happy childhood! One of the most
important childish principles to apply to life is to express your
The most basic law of emotions is that if you share joy it increases
and if you share pain it decreases. A way to practice this is to
simply go around smiling at people.
People may consider you a little crazy if you go around smiling
indiscriminately. You shouldn't let this bother you-it doesn't seem
to bother children.
After practising in traffic, you may like to progress to smiling at
strangers in the street and then to beaming smiles at everyone you
meet. Some people may think you are crazy. However, your condition
is probably just a symptom of 'MAD-Pleasant Type'!
Based in Melbourne, Dr Mark Cohen is the Founding Head of the
Department of Complementary Medicine at RMIT University, President
of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association and an Hon.
Research Fellow with the Monash Institute of Health Services
Pleasure has many faces and can be found in the simplest things. Life
without pleasure and enjoyment would be arid. What are the dynamics of
pleasure? How many facets does it have?
The pleasure of pain. Or the pain of pleasure! The two somehow seem
irrevocably interlinked in the labyrinth of the human psyche. And
perhaps it is this dilution which balances off the intensity of
these emotions. Otherwise, the pleasure might be too exquisite to
bear, or the pain too enormous to tolerate.
That's one point of view. Grudgingly endorsed by religions and
moralists. The other, most often discarded as hedonism, is the
enjoyment of pleasure for pleasure's sake, without guilt, without
boundaries. Somewhere between the two sits the confused biped,
hoping for the latter and rooting for the former. The mind holds
back, while the heart rebels. And the random juxtaposition of
civilization over the primal has a field day wreaking havoc over
whatever passes for sanity.
So, what is the real nature of pleasure? Just another hangover from
the cave days that, at best, should be ignored? A temptation from
the Prince of Darkness? Or is it something as simple as living, the
creation of a neural miracle, that makes life worthwhile?
HEDONISTS AND EPICURES
Pleasure is commonly understood as the positive stimulation of
the senses. The Webster's Dictionary defines pleasure as
"enjoyment or satisfaction derived from what is to one's
liking", closely followed by "sensual gratification". In a more
plebeian perspective, pleasure is primarily limited to
food and luxury—in that order.
Aristippus of Cyrene, the father of hedonism (hedone:
pleasure), however, believed that pleasure is the ultimate
object of endeavor. His definition of pleasure included not
merely sensual gratification but also mental pleasures, domestic
love, friendship, and moral contentment—all that is commonly
understood to comprise
Epicurus, who emphasized the superiority of social and
intellectual pleasures over those of the senses, followed
Aristippus. Epicurus taught that pain and self-restraint have a
hedonistic value; pain is sometimes necessary to health but
self-restraint paves the way for long-term pleasure. He further
classified sensual pleasure as pleasure in motion; the state of
ataraxia, which is pleasing in itself. He discarded transitory
stimulation in favor of enduring satiation.
Eventually, the pleasure-pain debate metamorphosed into what
Herbert Spencer, British philosopher and sociologist, called his
evolutionary theory of ethics. It postulated that the
discriminating norm of right and wrong is pleasure and pain.
According to this argument, pleasure, in its ultimate sense,
defines ethics since that which pleases us and gives us joy, is
also beneficial for our survival and evolution.
Ayn Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged, the fictionalized
acme of her philosophy: "By the grace of reality and the nature
of life, man—every man—is an end in himself; he exists for his
own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his
highest moral purpose."
THE PAIN OF PLEASURE
On the face of it, there isn't much difference between
Rand's statement and those propounded by followers of
self-indulgent hedonism. It is the context that marks the
The 'father of sadism', French writer Marquis de Sade, averred
that nature is inherently destructive, and it is our
identification with this primal trait that links pleasure and
De Sade's philosophy of pleasure is actually a no-holds-barred
promotion of a system of ethics, if it can be called that, where
the only criterion of judging an action is the amount of
pleasure one derives from it. And the pleasure itself is at its
greatest when it is at the cost of another's pain. Thus
James W. Prescott, neuropsychologist at the National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development in
Maryland, USA, however, argues that violence and pleasure,
neurologically, can never go together. "The deprivation of
physical sensory pleasure is the root cause of violence," he
claims. "Pleasure and violence have a reciprocal relationship,
the presence of one inhibits the other." So, even though people
prone to violence may claim to enjoy it, their actual motivation
is the insecurity derived from a lack of pleasure and not
THE PLEASURE INDUSTRY
Perhaps the one form of pleasure that has never found open
acceptance is sex. Unlike other sensual pleasures such as food
or luxury, which are most often ignored or tolerated, sex has
been looked upon as the bane of civilization, the original sin.
Children's desire to indulge in food or comfort is humored, but
their exploration of their own sexuality through questions,
masturbation or pornographic movies, is strongly discouraged.
According to Stella Resnick, author of The Pleasure Zone,
it is this taboo that leads to repression, guilt, and, as an
obvious extension, sex-related problems. Resnick argues that
most people are excited by extra-marital sex because the major
arousing element here is the knowledge that "it would violate
some moral precept or personal pledge."
claims that societies where pre-marital and extra-marital sex is
accepted, and where children are freely allowed to explore their
sexuality, violence and abuse is at its least. So, does
civilization as a whole need free sex?
Looking at the celebrity status of Hugh Hefner, founder of
Playboy, it would seem a popular choice. Hefner, in his
mid-seventies, is today the not-so-secret idol of every man—not
just for the magazine, but for his lifestyle of pleasure that
includes a luxurious Playboy Mansion where he lives with his
four buxom 'playmates'.
Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, who redefined the term
sexuality to cover any form of pleasure derived from the body,
suggested that human beings are driven from birth to enhance
In fact, the mind-boggling popularity of pornography would
suggest that next to necessities such as food and shelter,
perhaps sexual pleasure is the primary focus of the human
psyche. Censorship adds spice to it, while the good old pleasure
industry thrives on repression. "Sex, eventually, should be a
personal choice," Anita Sood, a Hyderabad-based practising
psychiatrist, explains. "So, whether you opt for a multi-partner
system or monogamy, it should be a matter of decision limited to
you and your partner(s). It is not a moral issue."
ETHICS OF PLEASURE
Rand's philosophy of pleasure, however, completely negates the
sensual, and takes into account only the morality of joy.
"Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without
penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your
values and does not work for your own destruction," wrote Rand
in her philosophical treatise, The Virtue of Selfishness.
For Rand, the defense of pleasure was not just an ethical
choice, but also a reaction against the anti-pleasure stand of
religious and moral authorities.
"For centuries," Rand stated in Atlas Shrugged, "the
battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that
your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs
to your neighbors; between those who preached that the good is
self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who
preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of
incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life
belongs to you and that the good is to live it."
Perhaps it is worth a thought. Why is it that almost all modern
religions preach the sacrifice of 'earthly pleasures' for the
sake of 'higher pleasures', when no one really knows what these
higher pleasures are all about?
"A lot of anti-pleasure conditioning goes into our upbringing,"
says Sood. "As children, we are told not to feel proud of our
achievements. As teenagers, our tentative forays into
discovering our sexuality are repressed, when we earn money, we
are told it is the root of all evil. Name anything you
enjoy—sex, food, luxury, achievement, ambition, appreciation-it
is all branded with the devil's name!"
No wonder, feelings of pleasure almost always bring up feelings
of guilt and shame. And the greater your sacrifice, or
self-torture, the higher your stature on the scales of morality.
Isn't it time we step back and ask 'why'?
We usually think of charity, compassion, humility, wisdom,
mercy, sacrifice and other 'virtues' as morally good and
pleasure as, at best, morally neutral. In fact, all the virtues
are a classic case of self-denial. Why else should asceticism be
considered the height of virtue? Why should human beings be born
with the capability of enjoyment, if the goal is to deny them?
The obvious conclusion here would be that pleasure as an end is
not only ideal, but ought to be sanctified by ethical and
religious codes. So, what stops us?
Let us get back to Epicurus. "The Epicurean brand of hedonism
can be surprisingly ascetic in its totality," explains Manuel
Goldsmith, a Manchester-based student of philosophy. "In fact,
it is pleasure through self-denial. All that pleases you need
not necessarily be good. A lot of food that we crave can
actually harm our health. Alcohol, tobacco, drugs are all
pleasurable but harmful. Free sex can be quite pleasurable, but
it can have adverse physical and psychological consequences, and
sap you of your capacity for intense love."
The criterion here is long-term pleasure. Or delayed
Most ascetic religions regard the senses and the passions as
traps that cage the soul. In fact, chastity and non-possession
are part of the five vows of Jainism. This, however, applies to
monks who dedicate their life to religious activities with the
aim of transcending the body. The same applies to
Buddhist monks and post-Vedic
Hindu sages. There are innumerable examples, however, of
revered sages in the Vedic period, who often lived with two or
So, is pleasure compatible with spirituality?
LIVING WITH JOY
"Organized religions might have their own code of conduct," says
Atmara Yogini, a US-based
personal growth trainer, "but spirituality does not preach
asceticism. What's the point of being human if you cannot take
pleasure in the beauty around you?" And how worthwhile would
life be if shafts of light breaking through the clouds, a flower
blossoming in the wilderness, raindrops caressing your limbs,
don't fill you with joy? And why should one be born with a body
if one doesn't take pleasure in it? Or have the capacity to feel
joy, yet deny it?
Pleasure is as much a part of the human experience as life
itself. "By implanting electrodes and taking recordings from the
deep-lying areas," explains Dr Robert G. Heath, who first
experimented with electrodes in the human brain, "we can
localize the brain's pleasure and pain systems." Pleasure and
pain are, literally, two parts of the same coin, and cannot
exist without the other. Pleasure would not be identified as
pleasure in the absence of pain. And pain, perhaps, would lose
its sting without the awareness of pleasure. Is that the idea
when we deny it?
Probably. Pleasure is a risk. Of letting go. Of drowning in the
exquisite sensation of joy. You will have to surface sometime.
That's the bargain.
Is it worth it?
Is it a fair bargain to witness each dawn after the darkness of
the night? To risk death as the inevitable when you choose life?
Think about it!
SEVEN STEPS TO HAPPINESS
By Suma Varughese
The quest for
happiness has taken mankind on many strange journeys. Many
have arrived at destinations never imagined or sought. We lose
our way frequently and end up with regrets and sorrow. Is there
a sure way to find happiness?
"Don't worry, be happy," carols Bobby McFerrin.
"And the prince and the princess lived happily ever after,"
say the fairy tales.
"I only want your happiness," croons the lover.
"Every man has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness," says the American Constitution.
"Happiness is buying the latest must-have," shout the
No matter what the message, mankind is united in conviction
that happiness is a very desirable state. Indeed, all of us,
consciously or unconsciously, are motivated in all we do by
our need for happiness. The housewife strives for a clean
and orderly house and well-brought up children so she can be
happy with herself. The husband aims to make more money so
he can be happy. We chase money, health, growth, fame,
power, property and relationships, not for their own sake
but for the satisfaction they promise. The creation of
empires and civilizations, the discovery of continents, the
waging of wars, the whole ebb and flow of history is a
graphic portrait of man's ceaseless quest for happiness.
Yet, most of us will acknowledge that we don't always feel
happy. Oh, yes, winning that merit scholarship or the
coveted promotion, buying a car or losing weight feels great
for a while. But we find that our friends are jealous, or
that the promotion means longer working hours or that the
car guzzles petrol, and that our lives haven't been
transformed by losing weight. We are weighed down by a sense
of lack. No matter how well life turns out, nothing seems
quite enough. Others seem to have more, or desires keep
arising. If nothing else, we fear for the future. What if
something was to happen to our loved ones or to us?
Many of us are content to accept this mixed bag of happiness
and sorrow as the human lot. Within this framework we
attempt to maximize our joys and minimize our woes. We excel
in whatever skills we have, spend less than we make, save
for a house, take care of our health, get our children
married and keep money aside for old age. At the end of our
lives, we believe that we have lived to the best of our
capacity. This is no mean task and deserves to be richly
But for a few, this unpredictable, fleeting happiness is not
enough. They dare to ask if an irrefutable, permanent and
absolute happiness is not possible. A happiness they can
trust. Perhaps it is this question that moves man towards
divinity. For he is attempting to transcend the very
framework of the human condition.
Is such a state possible? Yes, say the scriptures and
enlightened beings. "The highest happiness comes upon
the yogi whose mind is calmed, in whom passion is
appeased, who has become Brahman and is free from sin,"
says the Bhagavad Gita (Vl: 27).
The Upanishads add: "Take the happiness of a man who has
everything: he is young, healthy, strong, good, and
cultured, with all the wealth that earth can offer; let
us take this as one measure of joy. One hundred times
that joy is the joy of the gandharvas, but no
less joy have those who are illumined."
The Buddha's entire teaching revolves around the
question of how to overcome human suffering and attain
happiness. The first words of the Dhammapada, a
collection of the Buddha's teachings, pinpoints the
problem and its cause:
Mind precedes all phenomena,
Mind matters most, everything is mind-made.
If with an impure mind
You speak or act, then suffering follows you,
As the cartwheel follows the foot of the draft animal.
On the other hand, here is the Buddha's recipe for
If with a pure mind
You speak or act,
Then happiness follows you
As a shadow that never departs.
The very nature of life and our Selves, according to
the Upanishads, is joy or bliss. Our true nature is
sat (reality), chit (consciousness) and
ananda (bliss). Bliss is part of who we are. Bliss
is our birthright. "Vedanta says that happiness is you,"
explains Uday Acharya, a Vedanta teacher. But how on
earth do we claim it?
Step l: Prioritize Happiness
Aiming for absolute happiness is serious business. It
calls for steady, patient labor for years on end. This
means absolute commitment to the goal, no matter what
you may have to sacrifice. How does one achieve such a
dogged attitude? Usually from plunging into the miseries
of life. Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher based in
Canada, whose book, The Power of Now, is a
masterpiece of spiritual guidance, led a life, he says,
of almost continual anxiety interspersed with bouts of
suicidal depression. Then he had a spiritual experience
that transformed his life forever. Not that he didn't
have to work at sustaining it. It just meant that he had
something concrete to work towards, for he knew the
state he was aiming at from inside.
Perhaps restlessness and an inner quest do motivate you.
Eknath Easwaran, the late meditation teacher practicing
in California and writer of many popular books on
spirituality, reveals in his translation of the
Upanishads that he was the quintessential man who had
everything. Unsatisfied, he kept looking for that which
he himself didn't know until a chance reading of the
Upanishads unfolded vistas of joy unimagined thus far.
The statement: "There is no joy in the finite; there is
joy only in the Infinite," became a lodestar to which he
hitched his happiness wagon.
In other words, the quest for happiness comes from
within. It arises only when we are ready to engage in
the mammoth task of seeking. Which is to say, it is not
entirely within our conscious control. Scott L. Peck
uses the term 'grace' to explain the mysterious force
that nudges us towards further growth: "The paradox that
we both choose grace and are chosen by grace is the
essence of the phenomenon of serendipity."
You can also begin where you are right now. If by
reading this you are inspired to want happiness, that
too is a starting point. What matters is the intensity
of your desire.
Prioritizing happiness means that you will let go of
everything that is inimical to happiness.
In his book, A Dialogue with Death, Easwaran
talks of the concepts of preya and shreya.
Preya is what is pleasant; shreya, what is
beneficial. Preya gives us instant happiness, the
happiness of eating a good meal or buying an outfit, or
getting a compliment. Shreya also gives us
happiness, but in the long run, such as when we embark
on a fitness program or kick the smoking habit. Preya
and shreya are most often directly opposed to
each other, such as when we spend the night carousing
and wake up the next day with a heavy head and
conscience. Preya's seductive happiness, arising
as it does from the satisfaction of the senses, almost
inevitably leads to long-term unhappiness. So how do we
choose shreya? Simply, by not choosing preya. Our
refusal to settle for short-term happiness in itself
guarantees long-term happiness.
Prioritizing happiness means a single-minded focus on
shreya. Are your eating habits interfering with your
health? Change them. Is your anger spewing unhappiness
around? Let it go. Are you spending more money than you
make? Get financially smart. Are your relationships in
trouble? Work at them. Is your yen for fame or power
coming in the way of your happiness goal? Off with their
heads. Are these easy? Let's face it, they're well-nigh
impossible when attempted from the outside. How do you
access such superhuman will? This takes us to the next
Step ll: Know Thyself
All spiritual masters and texts are united in this one.
The answer to the human condition lies in understanding
our true Self.
According to Vedanta, our primary error is to mistake
ourselves for our body, or even our minds or egos. Our
real Self lies beyond these limited factors of identity,
and is boundless, infinite, pure reality, consciousness
Those who know they are neither body nor mind,
But the immortal Self,
the Divine Principle of existence,
find the source
Of all joy and live in abiding joy.
This knowledge, even if only an intellectual
concept to begin with, will give us the perspective to
Vedanta graphically uses the concept of a chariot to
convey the real nature of the Self. In the Katha
Upanishad, Yama, lord of death, tells the young
Know the Self as lord of the chariot,
The body as the chariot itself,
The discriminating intellect as the
And the mind as reins.
The senses, say the wise, are the
Selfish desires are the roads they
When the Self is confused with the body, mind, and
senses, they point out, he seems to enjoy pleasure and
suffer sorrow. In other words, the reason why we choose
preya rather than shreya is because our untrained senses
gallop after a drink or espying a pretty girl, leaving
our charioteer toppled on one side with the reins
hanging loose. The Self, meanwhile, deep inside the
carriage, can't make itself heard. The nature of the
senses is to run after objects of desire, and only a
well-trained mind controlled by a discriminating
intellect, which takes its guidance from the sequestered
Self, can rein them in. This then is the task before us:
to train the senses, discipline the mind, and strengthen
the intellect to awaken the Self.
The Buddha said the same thing when he observed that
attachment created suffering. Attachment arises out of
our reactions of like and dislike, which are a result of
the contact of the senses and the mind with the world.
These, in turn, are part of universal mind and matter,
which arise out of undifferentiated consciousness. The
Buddhist approach to ultimate happiness is the
abolishment of the entire structure of consciousness by
focusing on reaction. The cessation of reaction would
cause the cessation of like and dislike, which would
cause the cessation of contact between the senses and
the world, eventually leading to the collapse of
consciousness. While Vedanta moves you towards a
positive identity, Buddhism unshackles the construct of
all identity. Each, however, forces us to confront the
very depth of our nature.
In her book, Spiritual Intelligence, Danah Zohar
draws upon the latest discoveries in quantum physics to
substantiate her claim that we are made of the same
stuff as God. Says she: "The quantum vacuum is the still
silent 'ocean' on which existence appears as 'waves'.
The first thing to emerge from the vacuum is an energy
field known as the Higgs Field. This is filled with very
fast, coherent energy oscillations that are the origin
of all fields and fundamental particles in the universe.
If proto-consciousness is a fundamental property, then
there is proto-consciousness in the Higgs Field. And the
quantum vacuum becomes very like what mystics have
called the 'immanent God'. In that case, the 40 H2
neural oscillation that result in our human
consciousness and our spiritual intelligence have their
root in nothing less than 'God'. 'God' is the true
center of the self. And meaning has its origin in the
ultimate meaning of all existence."
There we have it. Even science acknowledges that we are
divine stuff, children of immortality, amrutasya
putraha, to quote the Upanishads.
Identifying with the body or the mind traps us within
the sensory world. Preya becomes our only concept
of pleasure so that happiness becomes purely a question
of how much money we have, how beautiful we are, how
many houses and cars we own and whether we belong to the
A list of socialites. Says Eckhart Tolle:
"Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen
of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments and
definitions that block true relationship. It comes
between you and yourself, between you and your fellow
man and woman, between you and nature, between you and
God. It is this screen of thought that creates the
illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you
and a totally separate 'other'."
So how do we start the process of de-identification?
Move to the next step.
Step lll: Enhance Your
Before we get to the actual task of discarding our false
self, we need to take certain preparatory steps. We are
about to embark on a long and arduous journey (which the
Upanishads call walking the razor's edge) and we must
have enough rations to see us through. The most crucial
of these is robust self-esteem. The task of confronting
yourself and coming to terms with every aspect of you,
essential aspects of de-identification, can only
commence if you are capable of containing and accepting
the less than flattering truth. Renouncing the ego can
only be successfully accomplished by those who have a
healthy one to begin with.
Nathaniel Brandon, virtually the guru of self-esteem,
defines it thus: "To trust one's mind and to know that
one is worthy of happiness is the essence of
self-esteem." He stipulates six pillars that comprise
self-esteem. These are:
• Living consciously: The ability to be active rather
than passive, to be in the moment, and to have a
commitment for growth.
• Self-acceptance: The ability to be on one's side, to
accept all feelings, thoughts and acts and to be
compassionate with oneself.
• Self-responsibility: To take responsibility for the
achievement of desires, one's behavior with others, and
for one's happiness.
• Self-assertive: To know that we have the right to be
who we are and that we do not have to live up to others'
• Purposeful living: To use our internal power for the
attainment of our goals, including happiness, by taking
responsibility for it, identifying the actions necessary
to achieve it, monitoring our behavior to check if it is
in alignment and so on.
• Personal integrity: When our behavior is congruent
with our professed values, and ideals and practice
prescription to enhance self-esteem is through sentence
completion. Sit down every day, morning and evening, and
give five different completions to the following
sentence stem: "When I reflect on how I would feel if I
lived more consciously…"
At the end of the week, go through all that you have
written and give six different endings to this sentence:
"If any of what I wrote this week is true, it would be
helpful if I…"
Do this with the other pillars too and you will find
that the very fact of thinking and writing about these
will help you move towards these states of mind. In her
book, The 12 Secrets of Health and Happiness,
Louise Samways suggests that a good way of achieving
self-acceptance is not to surrender to labels about
ourselves created by others or us. Stick to facts, she
says. Thus, when you botch up a presentation, you say to
yourself, "I didn't do this well', rather than: "I'm a
lousy salesperson." Says she: "Self-acceptance allows
you to be comfortable with all aspects of yourself, good
and bad. You feel confident that you can change if you
want. You can be yourself; you don't need to hide behind
The other way of accessing self-esteem is through the
knowledge of who we are. If we are divine, an aspect of
God, then surely that is reason for self-esteem?
Self-esteem is innate; an aspect of our true nature and
what stops us from experiencing it is our ignorance and
Count down slowly from 20 to 0 until you find yourself
feeling peaceful inside. Tell yourself with as much
intensity and conviction as you can manage: "I am whole,
perfect and complete." Soon, depending on the strength
of your conditioning, this knowledge will manifest
within you not as an intellectual concept, but as a part
Why does this work? We'll discuss this in the next step.
Step lV: Go Within
You don't need to have perfect self-esteem before
entering into this step. It is enough that you started
working on it and have reached a basic level of inner
stability. It is time now to go within. This is the key
to the whole enterprise. If you can direct your mind
inwards with unshakable commitment and steady
application until you have seen through it, you are home
and dry. What you must do is direct your attention to
the uncharted inner regions: the zones of thoughts,
feelings, reactions and actions. You are going to take
the measure of your mind. Remember what the Buddha said,
that we live in a mind-made world? That our thoughts
create our reality? Are these thoughts supportive of
happiness or not? Let us explore.
The first thing we learn is that we have very little
control over our mind. And that we are never in the
present. Thoughts zoom in and invade our mind. We zigzag
between the past and the future in a medley of regrets,
despair, anger, worry, fear and so on. Our past failures
haunt us and fill us with apprehension for the future.
We have certain ideas of the world and people based on
our past and we view the whole of life through that
We also become aware of how much we are controlled by
circumstances and other people. Any stranger on the
street can abuse us and spoil our day. We live in fear
of what our boss will do or say, and we base our life
goals on making our parents proud of us. From stepping
into a muddy puddle to being rejected by our 'true'
love, our reactions are based on external events. And we
have very little control over ourselves. We decide that
we are going to concentrate on a project and the next
thing we know we have awoken from a daydream about a
Mauritius. We vow to lose weight, but when a colleague
passes chocolates around, we can't resist it. We try to
curb our temper, but each time there's a provocation, we
lose it. In other words, not only do others and
circumstances control us but we have no control over
ourselves. We are enslaved to our feelings, thoughts,
actions and reactions.
Why is this? Vedanta and Buddhism have a word for these
conditioned thoughts, words and deeds: samskaras.
Samskaras create the personality. It is in
understanding the process that creates it that we can
become free and transform ourselves. Our mind is
composed of two parts, the conscious and the
subconscious. The subconscious is at the root of many of
our thoughts and behavior. We cannot control these
consciously, which explains why we have difficulty
losing weight or kicking the cigarette habit, but we can
learn to master them if we understand how they come into
The subconscious is fully influenced by our thoughts. If
we think repeatedly that we are good, worthwhile and
likable, the subconscious gets the message and
automatically operates from that assumption, giving rise
to behavior that is open, spontaneous and
non-manipulative. This in turn makes other people like
us, transmit messages to say that we are good and
worthwhile, to further entrench our original impression.
This is how we create our personality, from beliefs and
assumptions about ourselves, much of it arising from our
infancy. A thought repeated a thousand times gives rise
to words repeated a thousand times leading to deeds
repeated thousands of times.
In The 12 Secrets of Health and Happiness,
Samways talks of the chain linking speech, feelings and
actions. According to her, our perceptions of events in
our lives, such as being scolded by parents, lead to
beliefs that create the thoughts we have about ourselves
(self-talk), which give rise to feelings and finally to
behavior or deeds. Each link in the chain reinforces the
others so that the chain becomes increasingly stronger.
This is also the essence of karma, which implies that
everything we think, say and do has a consequence. The
consequence not only occurs in the outside world, but
also within, by shaping our personality. All this is
fine, as long as the samskaras are positive and
life-enhancing. But when they cramp our style, limit our
potential and make us unhappy, they create problems.
Says Samways: "An optimistic style of self-talk has been
found to be the single most important predictor of who
is successful in life."
Samskaras then are a process, created by our
thoughts, words, and deeds. This has two implications,
both vital to our pursuit of happiness. The first is
that what we have made we can unmake. The second is that
we can also create fresh positive conditioning. In Step
III you were advised to repeat the words that you were
whole and perfect. You were, in effect, reconditioning
yourself positively. All spiritual and mind improvement
techniques focus on these two processes, undoing
negative conditioning and feeding in positive ones.
How Do You Undo?
There are many methods, the most popular being
meditation. Whether through chanting, watching your
breath and sensations as in vipassana, your mind is
automatically drawn to its own wayward movement. By
patiently bringing it back to the subject on hand and
allowing our thoughts to be, we finally begin to move
towards stillness and inner balance. The momentum of
thoughts declines, and we experience a modicum of
choice. There are those like J. Krishnamurti, who
advocate tackling the mind directly, by a choice-less
awareness of all that arises. The task consists of being
ruthlessly aware of the content of our consciousness;
the presence of jealousy when it exists, of indifference
or hate-without resisting or rationalizing it, in other
words, nonjudgmental acceptance helps transform it.
Awareness and acceptance by themselves can transform us.
Eckhart echoes Krishnamurti in suggesting that we watch
the thinker. If we can watch the thoughts without
identifying with them or reacting to them, then there is
a gap between the thought and us. This is the beginning
of going beyond the mind. He also suggests being in the
now, what the Buddhists call mindful living. Here, we
buttress ourselves in the moment with all the intensity
at our command. We experience the process of walking,
breathing, talking, eating, sitting, standing, as
thoroughly as we can by being present to every nuance.
Easwaran suggests using the power inherent in desire to
go against the conditioned might of the samskaras.
We can tap into the flow of prana to take us
towards happiness if we just redirect our desire for
sensory objects. Jaya Row, a teacher of Vedanta, agrees
when she says that the trick is to shift our focus from
the lower desires to higher desires, such as the quest
for happiness and self-realization.
How do we do this? By strengthening the will. Says
Easwaran: "The power of desire is the power of will.
Every desire carries with it the will to bring that
desire to fruition." How do we strengthen our will? By
going against all conditioned self-centered desire. If
you feel like sleeping when you still have not completed
your homework, resist it. When your fingers itch to grab
that last gulab jamun, stick your hands into your
Easwaran says: "If the will is unified from top to
bottom, the moment anger surfaces you can transform it
into compassion. The moment disloyalty arises you can
transform it into love. Every negative samskara can be
transformed in this manner, which means that personality
can be remade completely in the image of your highest
How easy is this? Not too difficult, provided you have
one crucial attribute-discipline. Says psychiatrist
Scott L. Peck, in his book, The Road Less Traveled:
"Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to
solve life's problems. Without discipline we can solve
nothing. With only some discipline, we can only save
some problems. With total discipline, we can solve all
problems." According to Peck, there are four aspects to
discipline-delaying gratification, acceptance of
responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing. The
ability to delay gratification arises from a sense of
self-worth and security, which is to say, self-esteem.
Says Samway: One of the strongest predictors of who
feels happy is the degree to which an individual feels
in personal control of their life." She adds: "Happy
people also take control of their time. They make
manageable plans and commitments. They are busy,
purposeful and punctual." She says: "It is very
important to remember that as a human being you have
been designed to cope with a great many unhappy and sad
things-'the roughage of life'-as well as the good things
When we incorporate discipline within us, we will have
begun to live masterfully, using all problems as
challenges and opportunities for our growth. The will
becomes powerful, and desires have no power to move us
from the goal of happiness. We learn to go beyond our
natural human selfishness that instinctively serves the
cause of survival. We choose the burnt toast and let
others have the well done ones. We endure inconvenience
in order to do others a favor. We surrender our bus seat
to a senior citizen. Gradually, we are learning not to
put ourselves first, a feat the Buddha called as
difficult and unnatural as water going upstream. Says
Easwaran: "The surest mark of grace is marvelous, almost
unimaginable: the desire to go against all selfish
desires. Until this begins to happen, you cannot believe
it is possible…If only we knew what daring is required
to face and conquer a selfish desire! Every cell in the
body stands for an ovation."
Fine, our human condition has been explored and the
solution approached. But, what of the road ahead?
Step V: Transcend Happiness
When the will becomes powerful enough to take on desire,
the discriminating intellect (the charioteer, remember?)
awakens. Buddhi, as it is referred to in Vedanta,
is the center of discrimination. It views the situation
on the whole and helps us to arrive at balanced and wise
decisions that benefit the larger good instead of our
The intellect in turn helps us to move beyond duality.
We become increasingly aware that our mind vacillates
between likes and dislikes, pain and pleasure. For the
Buddha, this was the root of the problem of suffering.
The mind reacts to events either favorably or
unfavorably, pushing away what we don't like and holding
on to what we do. Craving and aversion result, and
through this we distort the very nature of life. Instead
of accepting its essential impermanence, we strive to
perpetuate the pleasant, and be rid of the unpleasant.
To transcend this duality, we need to let go of our need
for happiness. We cannot afford to like something
because we will dislike its opposite. Like cool, breezy
days? Beware, you will dislike hot sultry days. Like
mild-mannered, polite people? Whatever are you going to
do when confronted with aggression or rudeness? To free
ourselves from this entire edifice of reactions, we must
destroy the whole structure. Yes, indeed, the secret of
happiness is to let go of our need for it. When we do
this, we trade the ephemeral satisfactions of the ego
for the permanent peace of being. Established in
equanimity, we become witnesses to the ebb and flow of
events in our lives, resisting nothing, holding on to
Step Vl : Recognize the Other
Only when we have finally relinquished our ego-centered
perspective based on likes and dislikes do we really
become conscious of the other as existing in their own
right and not as instruments of our need. Free of all
need, we see them as they truly are for the first time.
Says Easwaran: "We feel towards all the way we feel
towards ourselves. No one likes to be snubbed or made
fun of… You understand where people are coming from. You
do not judge, romanticize or close your eyes."
You do more. You actively begin to care for their
welfare. Happy yourself, you seek to make the other
happy. You acknowledge them, appreciate their good
points and point out their potential. You empathize with
their misery and strive to support them through it. Free
of need, you become a selfless repository for others'
needs. And you discover that they are a potent source of
happiness too. Participating in the joys of others
fulfills us as much as our own joy. By focusing on their
happiness we transcend all conflicts both within and
without us. Nothing they say or do or even think can
affect us any more. We live now for the universe and not
merely for ourselves.
Bertrand Russel says in his book, The Conquest of
Happiness: "A man who has once perceived, however
temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness of
soul, can no longer be happy if he allows himself to be
petty, self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes,
dreading what fate may have in store for him. The man
capable of greatness of soul will open wide the windows
of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from
every portion of the universe."
You no longer require people to be polite, courteous,
loving or unselfish. You can allow them the space to be
themselves and take on the responsibility of the
relationship on yourself. When this happens, you are
cutting off all the cords that tied you to others and to
circumstances. Awesomely enough, you are now free. The
long journey you embarked upon is drawing to a close.
You are your own master. No circumstance in life has the
power to ruffle your equanimity, or your commitment to
Step Vll: Be in the Moment
When the content of our consciousness is emptied, when
we have accepted every minuscule bit of ourselves, when
we have freed ourselves of all conditioning, when the
past and the future are closed chapters, then the
present unfolds like an endless song. Still as a lake,
our mind is poised in the moment, alert, joyous and
free. With no identity to fetter us, no needs to tie us
down, we surrender ourselves fully to life,
experiencing, enjoying and letting go. We are home,
When all desires that surge in the heart
Are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.
When all knots that strangle the heart
Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.
This sums up the teachings of the scriptures.
What can one say to this but
A Recipe for Happiness
German researchers have finally concluded their 15
year long research aimed at examining spouses'
happiness levels. They were able to determine that
marriage does not really improve one's life. It has
been noted that on a scale from 1 to 10 "marriage"
has acquired only 0,1% of the total score.
So it has been officially noted that marriage
improves life only on 0,1%. Does it mean therefore
that people should not unite their destinies in a
sacred matrimony? Of course not. Majority of people
have already been happy before marrying. Such fact
allowed them to build happy family. One should
clearly understand that marriage is not a good way
to resolve his/her personal problems. It is a
couple's creative collaboration. The outcome depends
totally on the positive mood of both husband and
There are exist 10 rules of happiness:
1. A person is born tired and spends his entire life
2. Love your bed as you do yourself.
3. Try to rest during the day so that it will be
possible to sleep at night.
4. If you notice someone resting-help him.
5. Work is exhausting.
6. Postpone your today's work till tomorrow and you
will have two additional days off.
7. If some type of work makes you tired,
let someone else do it for you.
8. Nobody has ever died from excessive relaxation.
9. If you have sudden urge to work? wait a while, it
should go away.
10. Rest is good, laziness is happiness.
Seriously, everybody dreams of true happiness in
love. We want our romantic relations to lead to
something greater. It is obvious therefore that not
a single one of us makes conscious choice to find an
incompatible second half. We wholeheartedly believe
in a positive outcome of any beginning relationship.
For better or for worse, people tend to make
An old proverb states, "only a person's unconscious
is strong." It is always easier to look back and
spot something which has been unnoticeable before.
It is easier to be wise looking back at our previous
mistakes instead of realizing those current
ones. Still, I have always believed that there is no
such thing as a "mistake".There only exist a room
for further development. Such possibility to learn
from one' own mistakes simply adds a meaning to our
Meet the people shaping the future of
Everyone wants to be happy, right? Wrong, says
Ed Diener, a psychologist in the emerging
field of "subjective well-being"-- a professor
of happiness in all but name--at the
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He's found
that happiness is more than just a warm glow,
it's firmly rooted in culture. And guess what?
Money really does make you happier--but for
maximum gain you have to be poor to begin
with. Michael Bond asks Diener how science
goes about adding to what philosophers and
artists have told us about happiness over the
Overall, Scandinavian countries seem to be the
happiest. Income is very important to happiness up
to a point, and it correlates with democracy, human
rights, infrastructure, longevity and other things.
But once you allow for that, cultural factors that
have little to do with income seem to make a big
difference. If you take income out of the
equation--if you level the playing field, in other
words--the happiest people are Hispanic.
Hispanic people tend to look at what's going to go
right. They ask: "What can I do that's fun, what can
I do that's interesting?" Americans are like this,
and Britons to an extent. They worry more about what
good things they can get rather than the bad things.
The other big question is, obviously, who are the
Some of the former communist countries and the very
poor countries consistently show up as the
unhappiest. But allowing for income, the
countries are much less happy than you'd expect.
Japan, China and Korea tend to see the glass
half-empty. When you ask them how satisfied they are
with their lives, they look at what has gone wrong.
If nothing big has gone wrong, then they're
satisfied. They are a little more tense because they
have to be on guard, they have to be careful to
avoid making errors and pay the right respect to
Why is it harder for Asians to be happy?
In the West the individualistic culture means that
your mood matters much more than it does in the
East. When assessing life satisfaction, Japanese and
Koreans count what their parents think about how
they're living their lives more highly than their
How does that work?
Take love. In the
US, if you asked someone why they divorced their
wife and they said they didn't love her any more,
you might say: "That's too bad." In Korea, you'd
say: "Are you crazy?" Your personal feelings are
much less important and not a justification for your
actions. Certainly the biggest cultural differences
are to do with pride and guilt. Hispanics report
much more pride and Asians much less pride, because
of the stress on humility in their culture. Asians
report more of all the negative emotions, such as
anger and sadness. With guilt they report even more,
and Hispanics report even less.
Happiness is supposed to be everyone's goal. Have
you found that to be true?
Actually, no. We believe that people have all kinds
of values, and the value of being in a good mood, of
having fun and feeling joyful--that's just one value
among many. It's not everybody's ultimate value.
Now, you might say satisfaction is a higher goal
because people would have that if they achieved
something they valued. We have found that
Asian-Americans are more willing to give up fun and
enjoyment more frequently than white Americans to
reach some other goal.
So are Asians, or any others, worse off for being
Asian cultures obviously work pretty well, and
they've been around a long time. The important thing
is that all of us need all the emotions. The
dysfunctional thing is not only the inability to
feel happiness, but also the inability to feel some
of the negative emotions when they turn up. Those
emotions do things for us. At the same time, while
you need to feel anger and fear when it's
appropriate, you don't want to be feeling those too
much of the time because it's unpleasant.
Happiness can mean different things to different
people. How do you know that people take what you
say the same way?
This can be a problem. The word "happy" doesn't have
an exact equivalent in some languages. In English,
happiness has a number of different meanings. It
depends on the context. It might mean "satisfied",
it might mean "joyful", it might mean a longer-term
happiness. We try to break down what people mean by
using a bunch of different words describing
emotions, including words from their own language.
We use these words in various different tests of
How do you do that?
For example, we ask people how happy they are in
general. Then we do "experience sampling", where we
contact them at random moments over a period of time
and ask them how they feel at that moment, and then
add up those scores. Finally, we do retrospective
recall, where we ask people how happy they were at a
particular time. We use all these so we know what
we're asking them and to pick up any biases. The
only measures we haven't yet used are biological,
such as cortisol and immune response. We could use
these to look at stress and tension. People's
reports of their feelings are crucial, but I don't
believe they should take priority over their
physiology or facial expressions.
What advantages does happiness bring?
In the West, if you're a cheerful, happy person,
your marriage is more likely to last, and you're
more likely to make more money and be successful at
your job. Whether that's true because everybody
likes happy people in Western societies, so you get
rewarded more, we don't know. On average, happy
people have stronger immune systems, and there is
some evidence that they live longer.
You've found that people have a remarkable capacity
to adapt emotionally to a terminal illness or
debilitating injury. Why is this?
I don't want to make the case that health problems
don't matter. People with multiple, severe problems
do report lower levels of happiness. For others,
when they realise they can't be on the basketball
team any more, for example, they see there are new
things open to them. They realise there are positive
things in their lives, such as social support and
love of family, that they hadn't noticed very much
before. But there are some things in life that knock
you down from which you don't come back fully. One
of those is unemployment. Unemployed people show a
big negative drop. They come back, but not to where
they were before. Widows and widowers come back, but
it takes them quite a few years.
So does winning the lottery really make you happy?
This does push up your happiness level, as does
marriage, but it doesn't last forever. It can last
for a year or two.
Does it help to be well-off?
Every study that's ever been done on this has always
found that happiness increases with income, but in
the West the effect is always a small one.
Elsewhere, among slum dwellers in
India, for example, the effect is much more
substantial. There's quite a difference between
making $1 and $5 a day--for one thing, it dictates
whether you get to eat that day. In the
too, it's much more likely that a poor person will
be unhappy. We studied people from the Forbes
list who were worth more than $100 million. Most
were slightly happier than the average American.
Can science really add anything to our understanding
of happiness, beyond the analyses of philosophers?
Bertrand Russell, certainly a great intellect, wrote
a book about happiness in which he stated that
having children was one of the most important keys
to gaining happiness. But research has shown that
this is simply not true. People with and without
children are about equally satisfied with their
lives. We find that people become more satisfied
with life when they have a baby, but then drop back
to their previous levels after a year or two, and
perhaps even go a bit lower than their previous
baseline. So as smart as Russell was, pure thought
is not always a match for careful empirical study.
Are there any gurus who have got it right?
There are certain things the Dalai Lama says about
not stressing yourself out and approaching life with
a good mental attitude that I think are probably
true. I do agree with a lot of common-sense recipes.
The Stoics of ancient
said a lot of things that were sensible, such as the
need for calm.
How do you explain the explosion in the market for
Part of it is the realisation that you're
responsible for your own happiness. You're not going
to learn about it at school. There they teach you
how to add up, but they tell you very little about
how to live your life. So there's a vacuum. But it's
also because people's expectations are higher.
People think they should be living on the edge of
joyfulness all the time. You get people who are
actually happy, but they think happiness is so
important that they strive to be even happier. Yet
we're not built to be joyful. We're built to be
positive, but not to be stuck in a kind of euphoria.
We should be in that mid-range so that when
something good happens, we can go up. This desire to
be always euphoric is a product of medicine, of
standards of living, but also of individualism,
where the emphasis is on you individually, your
emotions and feeling good.
Why did you decide to study happiness--or subjective
well-being, as you call it?
Around 1980, I had just finished a study on
aggression and crowd behaviour and was looking for a
new area. I thought, happiness is a wide-open field,
not much has been done in it apart from a few
sociological studies, and it's what people are
worried about. People are not just worried about
getting rid of depression, they're worried about
living a happy, fulfilled life. So it's a big issue.
And it's positive, it's interesting. I had wanted to
do a study on happiness when I was an undergraduate,
but my professor wouldn't let me. He said it was too
Do you want to increase the sum of people's
I would like other people to take on that mission. I
see myself as a more basic scientist, where my major
concern is to define the components of subjective
well-being and see if we can measure them reliably.
As a scientist, those measurements are crucial.
That's a pretty big undertaking by itself. People
ask me if I feel bad about the fact that I'm not
actually doing anything to make people happier, but
it's like a physicist studying basic particles:
they're not doing anything to make energy. Some
people have to do the basic stuff and that's what
I'm doing. The intellectual questions are really
Do you think it's possible for everyone to be happy?
I think it's possible for most people to be happy
most of the time. I also believe that there's a
small proportion of society who are so predisposed
to depression that drugs are necessary to prevent
it. But we find that the majority of people in the
West are mostly happy, certainly above neutral. I
find it interesting that reporters, especially those
New York City, cannot believe that. I don't know
whether reporters from that city are particularly
unhappy, but they find it fantastic when I tell them
that most people are, on average, happy.
Marina Krakovsky --
between a new sweater and a pair of concert tickets? Buy
the tickets, suggests a new study on whether our
spending habits are likely to make us happy.
Why we find material goods less fulfilling. /Publication
Date: Nov/Dec 2003
Choosing between a new
sweater and a pair of concert tickets? Buy the tickets,
suggests a new study on whether our spending habits are
likely to make us happy.
Philosophers since Aristotle
have claimed that experiences fulfill us more than
material goods. To test this claim, a pair of psychology
professors examined discretionary spending on material
purchases (such as jewelry or clothing) and experiential
ones (such as vacations or tickets to a concert). In a
nationwide phone survey of 1,279 adults, respondents
were much more likely to claim that a prior experiential
purchase made them happier than a material one—57
percent versus 34 percent—even after accounting for
differences in price.
Of course, some items—such as
books or sports gear—are both material and experiential.
And one person’s splurge may be another’s must-have. So
the researchers simply asked respondents to think of
purchases they’d made “with the intention of advancing
their own happiness.”
The researchers, Leaf Van
Boven of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and
Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, found some
demographic differences in strength of preference: A
higher percentage of women, for example, were happier
with experiences than were men. Individuals with higher
incomes and more education especially tended to prefer
experiential spending—perhaps because the less
discretionary income you have, the more any purchase
will improve your quality of life. Even so, not a single
segment reported being happier with their material buys.
Unlike possessions, our
experiences get better with time. “We redefine and
reconstrue them as we retell them, and they continue to
be a part of who we are,” says Van Boven.
Shiny Happy People
Can We Cultivate Our Own Happiness?
you want to be happy, forget about winning the
lottery, getting a nose job, or securing a raise.
In his new book, Authentic
Happiness, psychologist Martin Seligman
argues that overall lifetime happiness is not the
result of good genes, money, or even luck.
Instead, he says we can boost our own happiness by
capitalizing on the strengths and traits that we
already have, including kindness, originality,
humor, optimism, and generosity. He has christened
the discipline "Positive Psychology," arguing that
we would be better off building on our own strengths
rather than bemoaning, and, hence, trying to repair,
By frequently calling upon their strengths, people
can build up natural buffers against misfortune and
negative emotions, he said.
An Epidemic of Depression?
Seligman is leading the charge in what might be
called Happiness Revolution in psychology.
Since World War II, psychologists have focused on
fixing what is broken — repairing psychosis, and
neurosis. Research has piled up steadily when it
comes to looking at patients who are neurotic or
dysfunctional, while the happy or joyful people
among us have received little scientific scrutiny.
When Seligman did a search to find academic articles
about such "positive psychology" he found only 800
out of 70,000.
"Psychologists tend to be concerned with taking a
negative 8 person, and helping him get to negative
2," said Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania
psychology professor. "My aim is to take a plus 2
person and boost him to a plus 6."
In the last 50 years, statistics have show that we
are less happy as a people.
"While our quality of life has increased
dramatically over that time, and we've become
richer, we're in an epidemic of depression,"
Seligman said. "Depression is 10 times more common
now, and life satisfaction rates are down as well."
Seligman argues that the new science he writes about
is shifting psychology's paradigm away from its
narrow-minded focus on pathology, victimology, and
mental illness towards positive emotion, virtue and
strength, and positive institutions that increase
people's happiness quotient.
Three Roads to Happiness
Science has shown that there are three distinct
roads to being a happy person — though happy might
not mean what you think. Material goods — even
simple ones like ice cream cones, and massages — are
only stimuli, things that fleetingly give people a
Research found that lottery winners are no happier
years after their windfall than they had been
before, and that paraplegics tended to be no less
happy in the years after their misfortune than they
"We used to think that a happy person was just
someone who giggled a lot," Seligman said. "But if
you define it solely by how much you laugh, you
confine yourself to one category."
Here are the three happy people categories that
Seligman has set forth in the book:
The Good Life: Some happy people are low on
pleasure, but high on "absorption and immersion,"
meaning they take great pleasure in the things that
"Think of these people as hobbyists who become so
immersed in their work that time ceases to exist,"
Seligman said. "A person who enjoys gardening
discovers that the day has gone by without notice,
The Pleasant Life: This is someone who laughs
a lot, and thrives on pleasures, such as eating good
food. These are people who seem surrounded with
contentment, pleasure and hope.
The Meaningful Life: Those who apply their
highest strengths and virtues for the greater good,
as through charities and volunteer work, religion or
There are vast benefits to leading a happier life,
Seligman said. A study of cloistered nuns found that
those scoring high on happiness tests at age 20
lived the longest. (Cloistered nuns make for good
research subjects, since variables such as
environment and financial status are the same for
To cultivate happiness, you must first identify
which of the aforementioned happiness categories you
fall into, then ascertain your individual strengths
and virtues. Next, apply the qualities in such a way
as to enhance your happiness-generating category.
For example a student of Seligman's who fell into
the "good life" category was a grocery bagger and
did not like it. Further testing identified that one
of his key strengths was excelling in social
interaction. So Seligman advised the student to try
to make the check-out process the social highlight
of each of his customers' day.
to take happiness quizzes.)
11 Things You Didn't Know about Happiness
Smiling can improve your mood. When you smile, you
draw more air through your nose and restrict blood
vessels in your face. This cools the sinuses, which
cools the blood flowing through the hypothalamus,
the part of the brain that controls emotions.
Scientists believe the smile may have evolved from
early primates who grinned as a sign of submission
or to tell predators, "I'm harmless."
Research with twins has shown that unhappiness may
be hereditary. But you can apparently make yourself
happier. A study at USC found that people who
introduced novel activities to their lives were
happier than those who just plodded along.
The Irish consistently report themselves as the
world's happiest people.
There is a link between mood and the day of the
week. According to one study, people feel happier on
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays than they do on
Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. (Wednesday is
Most Americans consider December the happiest month
of the year, followed by July. February is the most
miserable. December is also the least popular month
for suicides (the most popular: April), and mental
hospital admissions peak in summer rather than
Happy Birthday to You, the four-line ditty written
in 1893 by two sisters, generates $1 million in
annual royalties for Warner-Chappell Music, which
owns the rights. You don't need permission to sing
it at a party, since private use is OK. And you can
always hum it since only the lyrics are protected.
Studies have found that communities where everyone
earns about the same are happier than those where
some people make more.
Most couples report a high degree of happiness in
their first years of marriage, a steep decline
between the third and fifth years, then a slight
rebound between the sixth and eighth years. After
low points before the second decade and 25th
anniversary, there's a happy ending: after 40 years
couples report being as happy as the newlyweds.
While pessimists regard bad events as internal
("it's all my fault"), stable ("it'll last forever")
and global ("it'll affect all I do"), optimists
explain them as outside their control ("it's the job
market"), unstable ("things will get better") and
limited ("everything else is great").
Robert Frost believed "happiness makes up in height
for what it lacks in length." But research indicates
that frequency is better than intensity.
Psychologist Ed Diener says that many people who
feel infrequent but intense joy often suffer through
heavy downers. Happiness, like everything, is best
Research on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
confirms the depressing effect that short, dark or
cloudy days have on people. But a researcher at the
Max Planck Institute in Germany found that the
happiest people don't pay attention to the weather.
Happiness Quotes and Proverbs
Democritus, (460?-370? BC)
Happiness resides not in possessions and not in
gold, the feeling of happiness dwells in the soul.
To live happily is an inward power of the soul.
It doesn't matter how long we may have been
stuck in a sense of our limitations. If we go into a darkened room and
turn on the light, it doesn't matter if the room has been dark for a
day, a week, or ten thousand years - we turn on the light and it is
illuminated. Once we control our capacity for love and happiness, the
light has been turned on.
Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not
material wealth... Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try
hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us
also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it.
Ursula K. LeGuin
I certainly wasn't happy. Happiness has to do
with reason, and only reason earns it. What I was given was the thing
you can't earn, and can't keep, and often don't even recognize at the
time; I mean joy.
Mary Baker Eddy
Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love.
It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all
mankind to share it.
Take care of yourself. Good health is everyone's
major source of wealth. Without it, happiness is almost impossible.
The greater part of our happiness or misery
depends on our dispositions, and not on our circumstances. We carry the
seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go.
Happiness is not having what you want. It is
wanting what you have.
All who would win joy, must share it; happiness
was born a twin.
Happiness is not having what you want, but
wanting what you have.
The world of those who are happy is different
from the world of those who are not.
Happiness is not a matter of events; it depends
upon the tides of the mind.
The really happy person is one who can enjoy the
scenery when on a detour.
Diogenes Laertius, Zeno
One ought to seek out virtue for its own sake,
without being influenced by fear or hope, or by any external influence.
Moreover, that in that does happiness consist.
The supreme happiness in life is the conviction
that we are loved — loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of
Everything exists in limited quantity -
The greatest happiness of life it the conviction
that we are loved - loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of
Margaret Lee Runbeck
Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a
manner of traveling.
John B. Sheerin
Happiness is not in our circumstance but in
ourselves. It is not something we see, like a rainbow, or feel, like the
heat of a fire. Happiness is something we are.
Think of all the beauty thats still left in and
around you and be happy!
Allan K. Chalmers
The Grand essentials of happiness are: something
to do, something to love, and something to
Happiness is enhanced by others but does not
depend upon others.
Happiness is a choice that requires effort at
Be happy while you're living, for you're a long
Most people would rather be certain they're
miserable, than risk being happy.
I can only think of one thing greater than being
happy and that is to help another to be happy, too.
...happiness is the highest good, being a
realization and perfect practice of virtue, which some can attain, while
others have little or none of it...
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
People take different roads seeking fulfillment
and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean
they've gotten lost.
They seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as
if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods.
To live a pure unselfish life, one must count
nothing as one's own in the midst of abundance.
Allan K. Chalmers
The grand essentials of happiness are: something
to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
Action may not always bring happiness; but there
is no happiness without action.
We all live with the objective of being happy;
our lives are all different and yet the same.
Aristotle, In Philosophy
Happiness is something final and complete in
itself, as being the aim and end of all practical activities whatever
.... Happiness then we define as the active exercise of the mind in
conformity with perfect goodness or virtue.
Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that
perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to
consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally
Different men seek after happiness in different
ways and by different means, and so make for themselves different modes
of life and forms of government.
Happiness depends upon ourselves.
Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so
lives as to make happiness impossible.
You are forgiven for your happiness and your
successes only if you generously consent to share them.
Charles Caleb Colton
Happiness, that grand mistress of the ceremonies
in the dance of life, impels us through all its mazes and meanderings,
but leads none of us by the same route.
Luckier than one's neighbor, but still not
A great obstacle to happiness is to anticipate
too great a happiness.
What we call happiness in the strictest sense
comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been
dammed up to a high degree.
No man can be happy without a friend, nor be
sure of his friend till he is unhappy.
We are long before we are convinced that
happiness is never to be found, and each believes it possessed by
others, to keep alive the hope of obtaining it for himself.
There are people who can do all fine and heroic
things but one—keep from telling their happiness to the unhappy.
Happiness is a warm puppy.
Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso
When I meet people from other cultures I know
that they too want happiness and do not want suffering, this allows me
to see them as brothers and sisters.
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