Monday, May 25, 2009

What Makes Us Happy?

Recently my friend sent me this:

Date: Tue, 12 May 2009 16:22:25 Hi-- I am passing along this article from The Atlantic called "What Makes Us Happy" based on a longterm longitudinal study. It's long, but worth the effort. I'll be curious to hear what you think of it if you read it. Here is the link:

I still haven't had time to read it thoroughly, but I've scanned it several times. It's worth a look. It describes a study on happiness lead by George Valliant at Harvard University. 268 men were participants in this study which began in the 1930's. The study followed the men's lives from the time they entered college until death. The men are referred to by case numbers. Case Number 141 describes a fairy tale beginning with wealth, happiness and harmony in the home. The social worker studying this case could not find any problem. Case 141 continued to shine at Harvard and showed so much promise for success in the future. At age 31, the subject got married and took a posting overseas and then began to drink and smoke. By his mid-thirties, he dropped out of sight. What happened to Case Number 141? You'll have to read the article to find out.

Case Number 141 was also quoted as saying, "In the early years I used to pride myself in not having any (hostilities). This was probably because they were buried too deeply and I was afraid to face them." I think this describes the mass of society right now. There is a shift happening, but very few people are involved. Eckhart Tolle talks of that shift in his book The New Earth. The problem lies in where we place importance. So much importance has been given to the outside. We say, "Look at me! I have a nice body, a wonderful partner, intelligent children, a good job, a nice car, a this and a that." We are like children trying to get approval from society for something on the outside. There is so much stress in society these days. The world is getting faster with technology. As the world gets faster, we realize we can do more, so we add more to our plates. We want to have it all: a happy marriage/relationship, children, a good job, a nice car, a big house, a new this and a new that. We are so busy trying to get the next thing that we have to hire dog walkers, nannies, house cleaners, a masseuse, etc., etc. There's no time for happiness. Think about your life right now. Have you heard yourself recently say, "If I just had _______ I'd be so happy!" I have big news for you. NOTHING on the outside can make you happy. Everything on the outside is temporary. If you're depending on something from the outside to make you happy, what happens when that person, place or thing is gone? What happens when that person, place, or thing doesn't do what we want it to do or doesn't live up to our expectations?

True happiness is a state of being that is unaffected by what happens outside. Some call this a feeling of "inner peace". This feeling of "inner peace" happens when we clear a space and just be.

In that empty space of "just being", we enter into the present moment. There is no past or future in this space. We are able to witness and accept things as they are. Everything is perfect as it is in each moment. As we learn to accept things as they are from moment to moment, we open up a space within us. We start to feel our breath, hear birds sing, feel our feet in our shoes walking on the earth, feel our fingers grip the steering wheel when we are driving. Many people live in fear of that empty space because there is so much garbage buried deep inside. We fear what we might see if we allow ourselves to just be. If we allow whatever is buried deep within to just come up, if we don't try to bury it again, we start to become free from it.

I honestly believe, from my own experience, that deep meditation is needed to unwind all the knots we have tied within us. The behavior patterns that are deeply rooted do not disappear, they are stuck with us. When we go inside for extended lengths, we can see those patterns at a very deep level. We learn to face what comes up for us. Emotions, pain, memories and thoughts, that we have been carrying within us, are released by the very act of accepting them and letting them be. I explained in a recent blog about Ken Wilber's idea that the stages of human development can be used to describe emotional/spiritual development. It is necessary to go through those stages for our own evolution, I believe. Otherwise, we may be able to show that many things are going great on the outside (family, fame, fortune, activism, service), but these mean very little if we are stuck on the inside. This is where I believe all depression, mental illness, and other social problems come from.

If you think meditation or finding time to "just be" is too difficult for you or that you "don't have time", you are probably the person who needs these things the most. What makes us happy, I believe, depends on our inner state. It can never come from anything outside. Whatever pleasure we get from something outside, is temporary. If we have developed ourselves from the inside out, happiness becomes part of our nature and does not depend on the ever changing outside world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Religion vs. Spirituality

I don't think of myself as a religious person, but I love anything that will expand my conscious
ness. Last weekend my husband went out for sushi in Seattle with Dr. Wayne. My friend Chaya, the acupuncturist, called and said, "Dr. Wayne Dyer??!" I had the same initial response. My husband's funny that way. He often says surprising or bizarre things very matter of factly. I can remember when he came home one evening and said, "I had a nice time at Starbucks with the Rinpoche." I had to ask, "And which Rinpoche might that be?" and he said, "The one I met in the library." I guess he met a holy Tibetan Lama in the Seattle Public Library and took him out for hot cocoa at Starbucks and a walk around Greenlake. When Seong Yoon came home from his evening out with Dr. Wayne, he had an armful of reading material that we have been devouring ever since. He hardly noticed our mailbox that lay in pieces across the street in front of our house. While he was dining on sushi and discussing psychology and religion with Dr. Wayne, I was picking up mailbox pieces and talking to police officers. It was the second time there was a car accident in front of our house since we've lived here. The neighbors claim it has happened more than 10 times in the same spot. Perhaps the culprit is a spirit, a black hole or maybe it's just a blind intersection which needs a stop or yield sign. So, anyway, one of the books he brought back from his dinner out is titled Introducing Ken Wilber: Concepts for an Evolving World. Wilber describes how all people grow upward along a spiral of development. There are different stages along this spiral just as there are stages of human development starting from the infant stage and continuing on to old age. Humans often get stuck in a particular stage of development and live out there entire life in this stage. Wilber uses colors to denote the stages. The color blue describes people who are stuck in the 6-11 year age bracket. Under the color blue are the words traditional, conformist, ethnocentric and agrarian. According to Wilber, 40 percent of the world's population live in this stage. If you are stuck in this stage, it will be difficult to understand the other stages of development because you have yet to pass through them. At the top of the spiral, which is represented by the color Turquoise, the words holarchial, integral, mature, worldcentric and informational are written. People who have passed through all stages of development can see the value of earlier stages. However, people stuck in earlier stages, will disregard anything that doesn't fit into their picture of the world. I find this very fascinating.

Recently, one of my colleagues at the college asked me to be on a panel on a discussion about "religion" and "spirituality" in her Cultural Issues class. The panel included one Muslim, one Christian and one Buddhist. I was the Buddhist, although I don't think of myself as a Buddhist. I am just a person who practices meditation. The goal was not to strike up an argument, but to find the commonality amongst all religions. The first question for the panel was What do the words "religion" and "spirituality" mean to you? We all agreed that the word "religion" may be the cause of separatism amongst groups of people. We can ask the question "What's your religion?" and from the answer we are given, we have already drawn a picture in our minds of this person. So, if you say you are a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Christian, you are, in effect, identifying yourself with a title. The definition of that title varies from person to person. Spirituality, we decided, is very different from religion. Spirituality describes a "oneness". It is something all of us can have. This word doesn't seem to discriminate. Spirituality is a quality that is in every human being's nature. Whether or not one chooses to develop it is up to that individual. It is a personal thing but, once developed, includes all things. This is where Wilber's idea of the spirit being something that we develop makes sense. The last question for the panel was What do you think is common or shared across all religious or spiritual practices? Our panel came up with many answers along a similar vein. One is that we as humans have a goodness inside of us. Also, that many people feel a sense of happiness or peacefulness when practicing their given faith. Last, if people are truly following their religion or spiritual practice, love, compassion, peace and wisdom should arise.