Recommended reading for upcoming Legacy Letters Workshop

In the Pursuit of Happy
December 15, 2010

by William B. Stewart, MD
"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Second section of the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Second Continental Congress, July 4, 1776.
During this season greetings such as "happy holidays" and "happy new year" are commonly heard or read in casual conversations, greeting cards and advertisements. These wishes for our happiness during the holiday season and in the new year may be well intentioned and sincere or may be nothing more than mindless seasonal discourse like saying "how's it going" or "what's up".

Since being codified by the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness has become a national pastime and presumed natural right. A germane question might arise as to what is happiness? And if and/or how it can be pursued or more accurately cultivated? Rather than being chased and hunted like prey, happiness is more ephemeral and elusive. To find it we must create the proper conditions to attract it to us. We must be more like the flower attracting the bee than the hunter stalking his prize. Happiness must find us.
"Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness." – Chuang Tzu, circa 350 B.C.
What makes you happy? Where do you find your happiness?
You have been warned that you can't buy happiness. So don't count on the latest -phone, -pad, or -pod to bring you lasting happiness. The next trip to the mall won't do it. The racy automobile, coldest brew, new job, mate, home or adventure are unlikely to provide sustained happiness. Alas, neither major triumphs (e.g. winning the lottery) nor catastrophes (e.g. health crisis or natural disasters) seem to result in long term (i.e. beyond one year) changes in the level of one's happiness.
Happiness is defined as a sense of well being, a feeling of joy or delight, and a state of balance and contentment. However, it is easy to confuse intensity, pursuing pleasure, and thrill seeking with joy, delight and contentment. The qualities of happiness include having a sense of freedom to make choices; being loved and giving love; acting in kind and compassionate ways; and seeing life in a context greater than oneself and being connected to the "big picture" and/or "greater good" through purpose, meaning and service.
True happiness seems to be more related to one's state of mind than to your circumstances or the impact of transitory, external events. That is why you can impact your level of happiness by your thoughts, emotions, attention, awareness, and actions. That is why acts of kindness and giving gratitude bring you happiness. That is why what and whom you surround your self with can enhance or diminish your happiness. Neuroscience has demonstrated that a "neural resonance" is generated in our brains which draws us to or repels us from people and situations. Your boss's bad mood might be "contagious" via this phenomenon. This is why watching sensationalistic television shows or news disrupt your night's sleep. And how you know the instant you enter the door to the next holiday gathering you attend that is or is not a place where you want to be.
Minding your inner landscape is much more important for your state of happiness than mining your external landscape. Rather than seeking external solutions to an internal issue, let's make our path to happiness an "inside job". Focusing your attention (i.e. not multitasking) on the task at hand; practicing meditation (non-judgmental presence in the moment); choosing to fully show up in the present, rather than being stuck in past memories or future worries; being in the presence of people you love and who love you — all contribute positively to your state of happiness.
Happiness comes from feeling good (health), doing good (compassionate service) and being good (building awareness, character, and meaningful purpose). Growth in happiness will also be associated with growth in self-worth, self-respect, and self-love. As you find direction through quiet introspection and constructive contribution, you will be appreciated for who you really are, and then happiness will find you.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!
Boorstein, Sylvia. 2007. Happiness Is an Inside Job. New York: Ballantine Books.
Baker, Dan and Cameron Stauth. 2002. What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books.
Stewart, William. 2009. Deep Medicine: Harnessing the Source of Your Healing Power. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Leah Dobkin
PO Box 71222
Shorewood, WI 53211
(414) 238-1577