Contemplating Happiness

Fast on the heels of my contemplation of Luck, I am now thinking about Happiness. This was prompted by watching an interview with Gretchen Rubin, author of the book The Happiness Project, and the blog of the same name. The great thing about Gretchen’s Project is that it focuses on ordinary things that we can do in our everyday lives to help us to experience more happiness. Gretchen acknowledges that there is a significant element of heredity in our personalities which has a strong influence on how we respond to life. However there is a proportion of our experience that is within our control, based on what we choose to think and do. The idea of the Happiness Project is to operate at the top of our available range – to be as happy as we can be.

Gretchen focusses on everyday choices which can improve our day to day experiences. Its about increasing the things that make us happy, and reducing the things that make us unhappy. However its not a simplistic approach. Gretchen is conscious that sometimes what makes us happy in the long term might be uncomfortable in the short term. She also points out that people need to feel that they are growing, and happiness can be derived from a context of growth.

Gretchen outlines Twelve Commandments which she aims to follow. The first of these is Be Gretchen. Of course we can all substitute our own names here, although I do see some similarities between myself and Gretchen. We are both serious minded, methodical, thoughtful types who feel the need to give a bit of time and thought to happiness. Gretchen is very generous in her description of her own journey, and the things that she struggles with. I can certainly relate to her descriptions of the difficulty of trying not to over-react to frustrating situations.

Thinking about everyday happiness reminds me of times when I have come across rare and exceptional people who radiate happiness. I am not talking about people who are upbeat or jolly, but people who seem to radiate pure joy. I can think of two instances when I have been stopped in my tracks by people who have this quality. They have both been experienced meditators. The don’t seem to be doing anything consciously, the joy just radiates from them. Its as if the barriers to an intrinsic inner joy have fallen away. This is another order of happiness to the everyday happiness we generally strive for. It has a spiritual, transcendent quality. I am fortunate to have been in the presence of these people, because they demonstrate the possibility of a deeper and more abiding type of happiness which is independent of our day to day experience.

I can see many similarities between the descriptions of what we can do to be more “lucky” and what we can do to be “happy”. I imagine there is a significant overlap in between people who see themselves as happy or lucky. Both involve being engaged with people and taking a positive, proactive outlook on life.

Even when it comes to that special form of happiness, I can see that people who take their spiritual development seriously, and devote significant amounts of time and attention to their faith or spiritual practice are following the lucky principle of expecting good things. They bring a deeper spiritual dimension into their lives because they expect that devoting themselves to their spiritual wellbeing will bear fruit. Thats something to think about.

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