Philosophers, spiritual leaders, self-help gurus, even scientists profess to know what makes a person happy, yet the core principles remain unchanged.

happiness, joy, dalai lama, secrets to happiness
The theories behind what creates happiness have been dissected, discussed and debated since the beginning of time. New disciplines are blended with ancient philosophies in an attempt to understand the nature of positive emotion. Humans inherently strive to feel good physically and mentally, to seek joy. While the pathway is highly individual, the desire for joy is rooted in universal longings.

As the ideas surrounding individualism emerged throughout history, some philosophers argued that pursuing personal joy was self-centered, non-altruistic and hedonistic. Yet some argue that placing the pursuit of joy as a central goal in one’s life doesn’t necessarily diminish others’ goals. Cultivating joy can, in fact, become the engine that drives a person towards expressing deep, genuine compassion and kindness.

The formula for happiness is dependent upon a person’s beliefs, experiences and cultural, generational and familial expectations. Yet, the core principles appear universal, invulnerable to social trends or to the inherent differences that exist among people.

Happiness as a Choice and Daily Discipline

In the 2007 LiveScience article “The Keys to Happiness, and Why We Don’t Use Them,” Robin Lloyd writes that while psychologists continue to discuss the “keys to happiness” with patients, many continue to adhere to habitual ways of negative or irrational thinking. It’s believed that people can only change chronic patterns of thought when they actively, with intention, decide they want to. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Individuals can begin by adopting a firm, unwavering belief that they deserve to be happy, and not by taking defensive stances like, “That lucky SOB always gets money, girlfriends and promoted. I deserve that, not him.” Happiness can come in addition to others’ good fortune, not in lieu of it.

A person must also change the commonly held belief that others “make” them happy or unhappy, e.g. “If he would be more attentive,” “If my boss would only give me a raise,” etc. People can’t make another person happy, but they can add to the collective pool of joy that’s available to everyone.

A person can choose to accept with peaceful conviction that they deserve to be happy simply because they do, for no other reason or justification. Some people associate this brand of thinking with being entirely self-serving, and in fact – it is. To joyfully serve self however, means others will be served in the center and the wake of another’s happiness. A joyful parent is more emotionally present, more patient, more fulfilled; children sense this. A joyful spouse is more attentive, loving and appreciative, and as such, more likely to receive the same in return.

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Establishing a daily discipline of journaling, prayer, and/or meditation helps foster a mindset that intuits that joy is natural and deserved, rather than something to be earned. Next, individuals can write a point by point action plan to move towards accomplishing their goals no matter how unrealistic they seem at the moment. Establishing a mindset of deserved joy and expressing the words around what joy means to an individual sets in motion the manifestation of those dreams and goals.

The Dalai Lama on Happiness

The Dalai Lama, in a book he co-authored with psychiatrist Howard Cutler, titled The Art of Happiness, says that transforming one’s mind toward achieving happiness is a gradual process and a lifelong commitment. He says that on a daily basis, individuals should consider and contemplate “reminders of how to speak to others, how to deal with other people, how to deal with problems in your daily life, things like that.” The characteristics of a happy person, he says, include sociability, creativity, flexibility, a loving attitude, and forgiveness.

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The Dalai Lama also believes that showing compassion towards others helps unify the common goal people have of achieving happiness. Cutler gleaned great insight from this new knowledge. “I’m trained in medicine and science,” he says, “I probably wasn’t aware enough to realize the importance of kindness and compassion. And these qualities are critical. I’m now able to see people differently, that they are the same as me, striving to be happy. It’s about human connection, you know?”

And while following a spiritual path is deeply rewarding and some believe essential to create authentic joy, one particular religion is not the key to happiness, says the Dalai Lama. “There are five billion human beings, and in a certain way, I think we need five billion different religions. I believe that each individual should embark upon a spiritual path that is best suited to his or her mental disposition, natural inclination, temperament, belief, family and cultural background.”

Healing, Happiness and Health through People, Nature and Animals

Most people understand the intrinsic value of connecting with others or the feelings of awe and joy that come with appreciating nature’s boundless beauty. Owning a pet it turns out, can also foster emotional and physical well-being.

A growing body of research is showing the benefits of human-animal bonding for child development, elderly care, mental illness, physical impairment, dementia, abuse and trauma recovery, and the rehabilitation of incarcerated youth and adults.

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Dr. Froma Walsh and her colleagues conducted a study that showed bonding with pets strengthened human resilience through crisis, persistent adversity, and disruptive transitions, such as relocation, divorce, widowhood, and adoption. Pets increase well-being and healing through their relational benefits, with stress reduction and playfulness, loyal companionship, affection, comfort, security, and unconditional love.

“The powerful meaning and significance of companion animals is underestimated,” says Walsh. Mental health professionals however, rarely consider the value and implications of human-animal bonds. Deep pet attachments after the loss of a pet are often marginalized, seen as abnormal, or ignored in theory, training, and practice.

Money Boosts Satisfaction But Other Factors Create Daily Happiness

Money can buy happiness, sort of.

Ed Diener PhD and Robert Biswas-Diener, a father-son research team, conducted research on the origins of happiness and found that a large income was more directly related to a strong sense of happiness than any other factor. Overall, people who said they had a great life reported higher income.

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Yet, having a larger salary did not mean people felt happier on a day-to-day basis. Possessing “psychological wealth,” the ability to adapt to both good and bad events in order to move forward in life, was a key factor. “Essentially, we have two forms of prosperity: economic and psychological,” said Diener. “I don’t know if one is better than the other. But what we’ve found is that while money may make people lead more comfortable lives, it won’t necessarily contribute to life’s pleasant moments that come from engaging with people and activities rather than from material goods and luxuries.”

In a follow-up study, the team looked at a long list of attributes of respondents, including their income and standard of living. Participants answered questions about positive or negative emotions they experienced the previous day, whether they felt respected, whether they had family and friends they could count on in an emergency, and how free they felt to choose their daily activities, learn new things or do “what one does best.”

Like previous studies, the researchers found that life satisfaction rises with personal and national income. But positive feelings, which also increase somewhat as income rises, are much more strongly associated with these other factors:

  • Feeling respected
  • Having autonomy
  • Having social support
  • Working at a fulfilling job.

This was the first happiness study to differentiate between life satisfaction, the philosophical belief that one’s life is going well, and the day-to-day positive or negative feelings that one experiences, Diener said. “Everybody has been looking at just life satisfaction and income,” he said. “And while it is true that getting richer will make you more satisfied with your life, it may not have the big impact we thought on enjoying life.”

The “secrets” behind happiness are likely the intersection of psychological, physiological, spiritual and meta-physical occurrences in an individual. Yet, the answers behind feeling positive emotion, behind experiencing daily happiness and joy appear timeless and universal to all humans.

Click here for: Amazon’s Highly Rated Books about Happiness 

Sources

C. J. Boyce, G. D.A. Brown and S. C. Moore. “Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction.” Psychological Science, 2010.

E Diener, Ng Weiting, J. Harter and R. Arora . “Wealth and happiness across the world: Material prosperity predicts life evaluation, whereas psychosocial prosperity predicts positive feeling.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010.

F. Walsh et al. “Human-Animal Bonds I: The Relational Significance of Companion Animals.” Family Process, 2009.

A.J. Oswald and S. Wu. “Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being: Evidence from the U.S.A. Science, 2009.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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