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.


  1. This is a wonderful post... it makes me think a lot about life and if I'm depending too much on outside matters for my own happiness. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. The pictures are really pretty too... :)

  2. Thanks so much Kate. I also had to work on this one quite a bit. Finding happiness within was not easy in the beginning. When something didn't go my way, I would become disappointed. These days I find myself saying, "Oh, well!" It's easier to let things go and go with the flow, but it took a lot of practice!

  3. I am truly interested in following this blog. Really seems there is something you want to offer. So I am a follower now.
    I hope you would find my writings/sharings/reflections on my experience living in Mexico, having left the states, job, community...for something I felt called to. It's been and continues to be an opening, evolving, dropping away...and I write honestly about all that.

  4. Thanks rainbowgate, for following! Yes, the main purpose of my blog is to share. We all have so much to offer. I look forward to viewing your blog as well.