The topic of happiness is very much in the news, in self-help magazines, and coming from our spiritual teachers. According to a recent article in The Week, there is “a science of happiness.” The behaviorists have been researching to find out what are the basic building blocks leading to a life of joy and contentment?
“The people feel secure, have a sense of purpose, and enjoy lives that minimize stress and maximize joy.”
Harvard University’s eighty year long study of adult development found that close relationships with both family and friends are most important in promoting happiness. The research also found it is in the day-to-day positive interactions that are an even better predictor of satisfaction. A warm smile, a compliment, kindness shown by a stranger...all these can turn a bad day into a happier one.
When considering how to rate our own happiness. it can be helpful to revisit the work of Abraham Maslow, sometimes referred to as the father of Humanistic Psychology. He came up with a pyramid of “needs” leading to “Self Actualization, the key to permanent happiness.
Firs,t we require our Basic Needs be met...oxygen, water, sleep and some include sex. Next come our Safety Needs, including feeling protected, secure and stable. In the third category are our Belonging Needs, for love affection and “familylike relationships.” Next rung on the pyramid are our Esteem Needs, including the achievements, status, responsibilities and reputation engendering a sense of feeling good about who we are and how we are in the world. The last on the list are our Self-Actualization Needs.
Before we reach the highest point on the ladder, particularly for Boomers and those Beyond, we may be challenged to feel joyfulness. As we retire from the worklife, as health and economic security may decline, a lost sense of belonging, and of self-esteem, can create isolation. As we withdraw from the world it may mean we no longer have enough positive daily interactions, or a sense of purpose or having responsibilities so that we feel useful and needed.
But, If we do finally come to Self Actualization, we develop and grow into our full potential of who we are “meant to be”, and then we may achieve the coveted prize of lasting happiness.
All along the rising path toward this goal we meet obstacles. Jack Kornfield, one of the early teachers introducing a Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West tells us...
“In popular Western culture we are taught the way to achieve happiness is to change our external environment to fit our wishes. But this strategy doesn’t work. In every life pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame keep showing up, no matter how hard we struggle to have only pleasure, gain and praise.”
Another approach, seen on Oprah, in assessing your happiness quotient is to rate yourself 1 through 7 on the following statements...
- In most ways my life is close to ideal.
- The conditions of my life are excellent.
- I am satisfied with my life.
- So far, I've gotten the important things I want in life.
- If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
If your happiness quotient is low you might try...
...Deciding whether you can realistically make changes, or is it better to be content with “what is”.
....On a daily basis give thanks, count your blessings, one by one; appreciate and feel grateful for all in your life that is fortunate.
... Take care of yourself by exercising daily, becoming aware of how you nourish yourself (or not) with your food and drink choices, find a way to get a good night’s sleep, keep active with learning something new and giving back to your community.
....Come to the understanding, “Happiness is a butterfly which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly (as in meditation) it may alight upon you.” ...Author Unknown.