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The Nature Of Happiness?
January 10, 2003
8:32 pm
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Happiness is something we all seem to seek in so many different ways. Yet few of us claim to have any real understanding of the nature of happiness or how to go about attaining it. Paradoxically, it seems to me, most of us, myself included, we are the carpenters of our own crosses.

Below is an interesting cutting from a book called "The Path of Emancipation" by Thich Nhat Hanh.

He says:

"Happiness cannot be separated from suffering. Happiness is clear and strong only against the backdrop of suffering. If we have not known hunger, we cannot fully realise the happiness of having something to eat. Those of us who are from the Third World know what hunger is. Hunger is not being served lunch two hours late; that is appetite. If you have suffered, you have the conditions to be happy. If you do not know anything about suffering, you cannot be happy. Impermanence should be practiced in this spirit. When we know how to practice dwelling fully in the present moment, happiness is born against the backdrop of impermanence and suffering."

Has anyone else thought much about this topic?

January 11, 2003
3:49 pm
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Every day I think about being Happy.
I like the smile, the lift in spirits, the joy I feel in the state of Happiness.

I believe that happiness is an attitude not just a feeling. It is similar to serenity but with a more cheerful note.

January 11, 2003
4:15 pm
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Tez, I think that you are an inspiration. I had never heard of Thich Nhat Hanh so I was curious to explore out of my norm....What a truly amazing teacher.
I especially enjoyed reading Tha^y's 14 Precepts.
Do you think that practicing them will create the state of Happiness?

January 11, 2003
6:35 pm
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http://www.eur.nl/fsw/research.....happiness/

This link has a paper written by Ruut Veenhoven "Advances in Understanding Happiness". " Summary: One of the goals of social policy is to create greater happiness for a greater number. Realization of this ambition requires understanding of happiness. The following questions must be answered:

1) What is happiness precisely?

2) Can happiness be measured?

3) How happy are people presently?

4) What causes us to be happy or unhappy?

5) Can happiness be raised lastingly?

Through the ages philosophers have toiled with these questions. Since the 1960's they are subject of empirical research. This Paper takes stock of the progress in answering these questions."

Reading it made me think.

January 12, 2003
12:51 am
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I've wondered sometimes... my life has had many peaks and valleys of happiness and sadness, and I've often wondered if I would be "happier" with a flatter line. I can't say for sure either way. But I agree, you cannot know or appreciate happiness to its fullest extent without understanding misery, sort of the flip side of not knowing what you've got until it's gone.

January 12, 2003
4:53 pm
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mj.

Taking the questions one at a time:

1) What is happiness precisely?

Here's my feeble effort at expressing what I think is happiness:

I think that happiness is a feeling; that is, an awareness of the deep realization that there only ever this moment.

Perhaps it is the realization that this present moment is only moment in which I can really live. I cannot live in a future moment any more than I can live in a past one. Both are not reality but either imaginary constructs or reconstructs based on highly subjective memory.

Perhaps happiness can be defined as living out the realization that each moment already contains within it all the potential to be who we are to the fullest. All we have to do is to let go of our self-imposed ego boundaries.

Perhaps, happiness is the experiencing of our corner of this fabulous universe with total mindfulness of every facet of this sparkling jewel called life. It is the exuberance of the child's expectations seeing the parcels under the christmas tree. It is hearing the birds singing. It is seeing the multiple shades of green as the sun rays fall on the trees. It is feeling to the fullest one's fears and knowing that everything is going to be alright no matter what. It is feeling complete within the stark context of one's shattered dreams.

I was staggered to see the genuinely happy faces amongst the poorest of the poor in the cities and countryside of Rajastan, in India. I was amazed to see the misery on the faces of the affluent people in Australia when I returned.

Happiness is to go beyond neediness of all kinds - I suspect. Perhaps, happiness is to be found within the moments when we go beyond self and other to become at one with all that is.

In writing this with a full belly, what a pathetic effort this is - yet it is my best shot at the moment. Maybe it will act as a trigger in that others will add far more facets than I can possibly think of.

How about it, netties; precisely what is happiness? Will you define it for me in your own words and experience?

January 12, 2003
5:05 pm
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Gingerleigh.

You said, "I've often wondered if I would be "happier" with a flatter line."

I had some 'flat line' experiences over a decade ago. They were chemically induced under a very wealthy psychiatrist's prescribed drugs. I abhorred the experience. I preferred my emotional pain any day to that 'emotionally neutral' experience and dumped both the psychiatrist and his drugs.

However, if you mean by 'flat line' the attaining of more balance in one's life, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. You write some good stuff.

Can happiness be defined in terms of its opposite - unhappiness. What is unhappiness?

January 13, 2003
10:09 am
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It's early but the snoopy dog picture popped into my head....
Happiness is......

planting a rose bush, fertilizing it, watering in, watching it grow day by day, seeing it's first buds......

along comes a doe and it's two fawns who savior each bite of it's precious sweet petals to nuritious oneself....

and the hunter who comes along and takes home his trophy to feed his family of five.

January 13, 2003
4:51 pm
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Recently I read a book by Erich Fromm (dunno if he's ever been translated into English). He thinks that there a two basically different approaches to life: You can live life 'as if' it's all about Having. Or you can live life 'as if' it's all about Being.

I think that 'having' happiness is a very precarious and insecure feeling. Because you have 'to earn' the things you want to have, because it could go away.... so from a 'having' perspective, hapiness seems to be an uphill struggle, always connected whith the fear of loosing it again.

I'd rather reach a place of mind where I can 'be' happy. If I am something, this is nothing to be afraid or anxious about, it's a state of mind, not eternal, not earned, can't be lost (maybe I forget to go there, because I'm too busy whith other things, that would be sad - but nothing to be fearful of). Nothing to be judgemental about, nothing that I'd be entitled to. Just 'being' happy.

Happiness is a bottomless ground to stand on.

January 13, 2003
6:46 pm
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What excellent responses I'm reading from everyone!!! And yet they are so different.

mj.

What you wrote reminded me of the saying:

"Ecology is the who's eating whom in life. Everything is either eating or being eaten." - Movie:Artic Blue - Rutger Hauer.

Perhaps we are all 'eating' and 'being eaten' all of the time until the final capitulation wherein we are ultimately only being 'eaten'.

Is it OK to be ultimately 'eaten'?

Or somewhere along the line is the choice ours to make whether or not to play this game of life at all?

Eve:
Is Eric Fromm still alive? I have read The Art Of Loving, Fear of Freedom, and Escape from Freedom, al three authored by Fromm and published in English.

You put forward a very powerful juxtaposition of two different approaches to life; namely whether life is about 'having' or 'being'. I suspect that happiness is to be found in a life of just 'being'.

Yet... this 'just being' approach to life would seem to require a solid foundation of unconscious mental formations such as 'all is going to be OK no matter what', underpinning it in order not slip back into the 'having' approach when life threatening events occur.

On what can one base such an unconscious mental formation, do you think?

January 14, 2003
10:24 am
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Tex,
I happily ate sushi yesterday 🙂

Eating can be an art into itself.
The presentation, a work of art. Each delectable morsel, exciting ones taste buds, appreciating, chewing, savoring the flavor, swallowing. The utensil a tool to aid the art of table manners. Smooth, balanced, and precisely aligned.

To be eaten.....or to eat...
A choice. Just as to be happy or sad...a choice. To live or to die....a choice.

January 14, 2003
5:07 pm
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mj.

Yep! We do have choices. However it seems that many times we delude ourselves into thinking that we don't have any choices. They we feel trapped and suffer. How dumb, eh!

The choice to 'be' or to 'have' in life; that is the magic question!

Will it be happiness or suffering - 'being' or 'having'?

January 15, 2003
1:52 pm
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iiieek, not only did my computer eat my worksheets today and glued a sticker into the printer so that I needed half an hour to get it out again, no - the internet ate my response from yesterday.

I'll try to remember.

Tez,
I think that Erich Fromm died in the 80ies. So his book is not new, just new to me - I found it at my sister's place during christmas.

I think I also wrote something like - we should try to train happiness, like we can train our bodies for endurance. It does feel more comfortable, when you do it more often (feel happy, I mean). And when you begin to train you often can't even imagine that one day you could run the whole 15 kilometers - or be happy and content for a whole week nonstop. I think that it could work.

Today I also learned about choices.
I hired a new employee last monday. She had lots of things to train on, so we showed her how it should be done. Frequently asking her, whether she understood, or let her try out things and then went over the results together. Because she is not the first one I train on the job, I know that this is exhausting and it's a lot of effort, so I quite often asked her if she was ok whith the 'speed' of training (which was amazingly fast in my opinion). Yesterday afternoon she called and stated that she had enough of that job, and that she woulnd't be coming any more (her contract has a 4 week period of notice). When I asked her why, I realized that she was close to tears, that she felt overwhelmed, stressed and whithout a chance do do things right, in one word: devastated.

Yet she never ever let on that she wasn't feeling ok. She wouldn't discuss it, yet she clearly had spun this round and round in her head for several days. She choose to decide for herself that she 'is not one to put herself forward' that she 'could only do as she was told' that 'it would be ridiculous of me to expect an honest answer, to my question whether she understands things, or ask for more time or more explanations while training on a new job'.

She had come to the conclusion, that we were overstressing her out of a combination of malvolence and greed, and that she wouldn't discuss any of it whith us. She also very clearly saw no necessity to honour her contract. Today I'm quite unhappy, because I see that we (and that mainly means *I*, since I'm the boss) have hurt her a lot. But it was virtually impossible to get what was going on inside her. I've learned some things for the next trainee, that I'll do different next time. But I'll need some time to get over the point that she never, ever tried to sort it out. I guess it would have been quite easy to do things differently, better aceptable for her - and still very ok for our team and the company. But we didn't really get a chance.

Oh dear, I notice how upset I am about this. Well. Learning is not always fun.

January 15, 2003
4:28 pm
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Eve.

I resigned from the presidency of an incorporated club about 10 months ago. I put my reasons forward honestly in writing and read my resignation letter to the whole club at a social function. I wanted to squash any scuttlebutt once and for all. I incited blazing resentments in the whole management committee. The club had never been running better and was on a sharp incline in membership numbers.

Why I resigned and what I realized was that some people are just unable to cope with responsibility. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my committee to accept responsibility for their designated management committee roles and to address themselves to the clearly defined duties injvolved in these roles. I could not get them to rise above their petty squabbling amongst themselves, petty jealousies, etc. etc. Working as a cohesive team was a totally foreign concept to them. No matter how hard I tried to help each and every one of them, I always ended up doing their job for them in the end. Then I realised that you cannot make a 'silk purse out of a sow's ear'.

I resigned and a new president was quickly found. He is the authoritarian father figure that they all wanted - someone who would make all the decisions for them and tell them exactly what to do from minute to minute. Do they like him? NO!! They are all in revolt, he is exasperated and running around like a chook with its head cut off!! The club attendances have plummeted and a huge loss is predicted for this year of his stewardship.

I have this overwhelming urge to step back into the ring and 'save' the club as I did once before. But I can't get rid of these old guard intransigents who blindly cling to their little bit of self-importance at the expense of the club. Since I can't get them to work as a team to perform their own duties, I have to keep out of it - but it is so frustrating not being able to be a successful pupeteer! I guess I will have to accept that which I cannot change.

My conclusion is that some people just have not got the abilities, intelligence, life experiences, insights, realizations, knowledge, ethics, commitment, fortitude, courage, honesty, integrity, maturity, etc, etc that is required to perform the duties that are expected of them. What's more for most of them, they never will while 'their ars...les points to the ground'.

I suspect that acceptance of that which we cannot change is a partial prerequisite for happiness. It would seem to involve a 'being' approach to life as opposed to 'having' things the way I 'want' and 'will' them to be. 🙂

January 16, 2003
10:04 pm
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Tez,

good to see you're still living and sharing what you believe. I loved what you said about our choice to play this game of life or not. I spent SO much energy trying to NOT live, not play the game, it makes me sad. Mostly because I know so many others are making the same choice.

Perhaps the most helpful thing I learned, was that I have what I want. That I can think anything I want to think, feel anything I want to feel, and do anything I want to do. Is that controversial? I was SO angry when I was first told that!!!

January 17, 2003
5:03 pm
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Sal.

Hi - it's good to hear from you again. Your the Sal who's been here for quite some time now - some years? Am I right?

You said, "... I can think anything I want to think, feel anything I want to feel, and do anything I want to do. Is that controversial?"

I don't think it is controversial at all.

Of course what you said is certainly conditionally true.

One of the conditions is that we are to some extent aware of the functioning of our psyche. In particular, 'seeing' the interplay between our emotions and our cognitions. Understanding the underpinnings of both, at least to some degree, is both liberating and empowering.

The converse is also true. Ignorance of this interplay, when combined with past baggage, is both disempowering and imprisioning.

In this regard you said, " ... I was SO angry when I was first told that!!!"

I can understand your anger. The abovementioned ignorance leads to a 'victim mentality'. Being told the above leads a 'victim' of life's 'unfairness' to think that he or she is being unfairly 'blamed' once again for their own unwarranted 'misfortune'. 🙂 Been there - done that! 🙂

Such misunderstandings and ignorance are, I believe, at the core of many of the flame wars that erupt on this site. I refuse to participate in them, point blank, for that reason. 🙂

Perhaps if:

Unhappiness = self-ignorance + emotional effects of past baggage,

Then:

Happiness = self-knowledge + emotional effects of past baggage

For those fortunate people who experienced good parenting and felt loved as children, their 'baggage', being so light, is of no consequence. Therein, self-knowledge would not be necessary to negate the effects of non-existent heavy baggage. To these accepting 'fortunates', ignorant or otherwise, happiness probably comes 'naturally'. Of course some people would say that such fortunate people earnt their 'good karma'in some previous lifetime. 🙂

January 19, 2003
10:13 am
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Abraham Lincon said that people are as happy as they make their minds up to be!

I like being happy. Sometimes, I feel sad but then I can turn it around by choosing a different path so that happiness is mine again.

January 19, 2003
4:52 pm
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mj.

How do you "turn it around"?

January 19, 2003
5:33 pm
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Hi Tez,
I turn it around with the thoughts that I think. 🙂

January 20, 2003
4:19 pm
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mj.

Are you implying that you have developed the ability to consistently think positive, loving thoughts about yourself and others at any instant independent of the state of your emotions? 🙂

January 21, 2003
10:05 am
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Hi Tez,
Are you testing me here:)
Yes, I can choose what ever thoughts that I think. I like to choose thoughts that make me happy!
For instance, My hubby tells me I need to lose weight....I can choose to laugh and poke him in the belly and tell him to concentrate on oneself or I could choose to dwell on his low opinion of me.
Another example, I can focus on what's good in my life and smile or I can focus on the negative and worry.
I think we all choose the thoughts we think.
If we pick a negative thought then we can turn it around by thinking about something positive. I think Happiness falls into the positive realm don't you?
Consistently turning to the positive thoughts changes my state to Happiness! No...I am not always Happy but Most of the Time when I choose to think positively, I am!

January 21, 2003
11:02 am
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Does anyone of you think that it is possible and would be a good thing to be permanently happy?

When I try to picture permanent happiness, I don't like what I see in my mind. I think that a healthy life contains more that one state of mind. I mean, being angry about something can be extremely helpful, feeling fear can safe your life, being sad ca be the appropriate thing to feel.

Just think about somebody peing perfectly happy at the funeral of their Parent, or child!

Nah, happiness is a wonderful thing, but permanently - no thanks!

January 21, 2003
3:28 pm
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Eve.

So you think that being human to the fullest extent means experiencing the full spectrum of human experiences including suffering in all its categories and degrees?

Perhaps Thich Nhat Hanh was right when he said, "Happiness cannot be separated from suffering... "

I wonder if anyone can finish this sentence?

"Happiness is a state of mind wherein ... ..."

January 21, 2003
4:02 pm
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mj.

Testing you? No. Seeking clarification of your intended meaning and the level of your achievements - yes.

You see mj, it is my belief that few people are even aware of the interplay between the emotional self and the cognitive self.

Even fewer, in my opinion, have gained any real control over the emotional self.

Most people, I believe, seem to think that the fast firing emotions somehow validate their perceptions of reality without much critical cognitive appraisal of the actual threating or well being enhancing nature of an external occurrence.

There are very many violent acts and overweight people in the world that bear witness to our inability to cognitively master or nurture into harmless quiescence our negative emotional responses.

"The good that we would do, we do not. The evil that we would doest not we do. Oh miserable man, who will save us from ourselves." - a rough quote from the writings of St. Paul(I think) In other words, this is a lamentation of how in emotional and cognitive conflicts, cognitions seldom win the fight to determine how we behave!

We eat and drink harmful foodstuffs to pleasure ourselves out of unfulfilled emotional states. In the most subtle and gross ways, we consciously and unconsciously invoke fear in others to manipulate them into doing our emotionally driven bidding.

No wonder happiness is short lived. Yet most of us seek happiness in a myriad of harmful ways without giving it a moment's thought.

If you have gained control over your emotional self by objectively controlling what you think independent of and not subject to your emotional state, then I would be very interested in the techniques that you employ.

January 21, 2003
6:17 pm
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Hi Tez,
Are we not in control of the thoughts we choose to think? I say "Stop" when I realize that my thoughts are not bringing me happiness.

Our emotions are created by the thoughts we think.

If we were emotionless, I don't think we could be happy.

Happiness is a state of mind wherein we have found our bliss.

I have suffered in my lifetime but have found most of my suffering is caused by my own thoughts. Each individual is responsible for their own thoughts and behavior and reactions to stimuli.

I am not a master of my emotions, I am just a seeker of happiness.

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