A woman was doing some research on Happiness for a school project and had a few questions for me. I typed up the answers to her questions on happiness and thought I would post them here.
What is your definition of happiness?
Happiness is a state of emotion. Happiness can be experienced in many different variations such as euphoric laughter, the spiritual bliss of overwhelming love, or just a calm quiet peace. One indicator of happiness is how little chatter there is in your internal dialog. In the happiest moments of your life, you are not thinking. You might have been keenly aware of what was going on with your self, or fully engaged in the situation around you, but your mind was probably very quiet.
What are some important factors in achieving happiness? Why?
The most important factor in achieving happiness is the expression of your love coming out of you. It is expressing the emotion of love that creates the various forms of happiness. That’s a very simple answer, and very natural to do as a child, but as one grows older it becomes more difficult. As people grow older they acquire many fear based beliefs in their mind.
If you are not happy, and you want to be, then the important thing is to identify and dissolve the fear based beliefs in your mind. This is not a one step process. It will require that you develop and practice skills of identifying false beliefs in your mind, and detaching from them. Once you detach from your fears it will be easier to express your love. One of the skills you will need to do this is the control over your attention. Some people learn this from meditation, but there are many other ways.
Do you believe that money can buy happiness? Why or why not?
Money can buy a very basic level of happiness. In this society money is the means for your basic physical needs, such as food and shelter. It is very difficult to be happy, peaceful, and calm when your body is hungry, and without shelter. It is possible but very difficult. There is usually too much primal and instinctual survival fear to overcome in order to be happy.
Once you have enough money to address your basic needs, then money has very little impact on your happiness. That is why many people are still unhappy even though they have everything they need. There are many wealthy and even successful people who are depressed, some even to the point of being suicidal.
After supplying you with basic survival, money doesn’t dissolve any of the fear based beliefs in the mind that interfere with expressing love.
If you were given $500,000 dollars to spend on ANYTHING to make you happy, what would be the most effective choice to use the money on? Why?
The love coming out of me is independent of the activity of trading cash for material things. I’m already happy. Spending money wouldn’t do anything for my happiness. I’d much rather invest it. I have everything that I need. If I invest it wisely I will have what I need for a rainy day as well.
How would you spend the $500,000 if it were entirely up to you? (Regardless of how your happiness would benefit?) Why?
Again, I would invest the money. If you told me that I had to spend it, I would buy stocks or real estate.
If it does, what role does religion (having faith in a God) play in achieving happiness?
If you perceive yourself as one single human in the world and look out at the immensity and the apparent chaos of the world, you can easily feel overwhelmed and powerless. There’s a comfort in believing that there’s a force out there orchestrating it all in a sensible way. This is just one way.
What does having a religion benefit in terms of self happiness? What does it take away?
Religion or spiritual groups can be very supportive for people when they are in need. A community of people is our human nature and we are generally happier interacting with a community. Churches and religions can provide this community that much of society is without.
Religion also impacts people in other ways. One of the dynamics of the mind is that it asks a lot of questions. The mind wants to know an answer all the esoteric questions that it generates, such as, Why are we here? or What happens when the body dies? Religions provide people answers to the many questions that the mind asks. When the mind has an answer its’ “need to know” is satisfied. This satisfaction of the mind can help a person to feel better. However the part of the mind that has a “need to know”, doesn’t care if the answer is the truth or not. Because of this many people accept answers and walk around with religious beliefs that are false.
For instance one of the beliefs that people can have is that God might punish them in Hell after their body dies. This is a lie. If people believe this lie, then they live in fear and unhappiness their whole life for something that will never happen. In spite of this fear, their mind feels secure that it knows what will happen. The real comfort from all of this is the Truth and Love. Truth and Love transcend that mind’s need to have an answer.
Do you believe religious people are generally happier (or unhappier) than non-religious people? Why or why not?
Studies have shown that people who participate in a religious organization are statistically happier than those who don’t have any spiritual affiliation. One of the reasons for this is that it creates an environment where they can express their love in numerous ways. It is the expression of love that creates happiness for a person, not the religion. A person without religion can take a walk in nature and love all the beauty in nature. Just by walking in nature they can achieve happiness with no beliefs at all.
If it does, what role does having healthy relationships (friends, family, coworkers) play in achieving happiness?
The more people you have around you that you can express your love to the happier you are. Your friends and your family won’t make you happy, but expressing your love for them will. If you are an judgmental and angry person then having more people around will give you more opportunities to be judgmental and angry. It’s really not about the people around you, but how you express your self with them.
What is the ideal background/environment to grow up in to being a happier person in the future?
The ideal environment is to grow up in an environment where your parents are happy, unconditionally loving, and accepting. Even then, they will still have to give you boundaries and teach you about punishment and reward. Very few people have this experience. Even if you have this from one parent it is very rare. I haven’t met anyone who has had that perfect childhood. The truth is that at a certain point you realize it doesn’t really matter how you grew up. What matters is right now, and what you will do about being happy in your life now. At a certain point everyone leaves behind the guidance of parents and has to take responsibility for their own emotions.
What is your view on married couples being happier than people who are single? In a general sense, do you believe it is true or false? Why?
The studies have proven that married people are statistically happier than single people. However this is a general statistic and marriage is no guarantee. The Dalai Llama is a single man, and he is a master of happiness. There are also married couples who then get divorced, and that break up can be very painful.
In intimate relationships you have an opportunity to express your love in so many ways. It is the expression of your love for your partner that will make you happy. A single person might not have as many opportunities during a regular day, so a married person that you love and see often is a big advantage to being happy.
However a person can also use their relationship as an opportunity to be selfish. They will attempt to get their partner to satisfy their emotional needs and needs for attention. If you are with a partner like this then you might be happier being single.
Clarification – The Happiness of Children
The point here is that there is no magic formula for happiness. These questions about marriage, money, religion, and God assume a relationship between your emotions and something other than your self. The questions assume that happiness is associated with something external to you. It’s not that complicated. Emotions are something that you create. It only looks like your emotions are determined by external things because of the habits of emotional reactions you have learned to external things and people.
Children don’t know about God, religion, money, or marriage, however children are naturally happy. They are happy because their mind is not filled with fear based beliefs. They have little or no judgments, they don’t believe they are right, they don’t blame others, and their mind isn’t filled with worries of what others will think of them. They have very few or no habits based on these beliefs. Because their mind has very little fear they are free to express their love in whatever they are doing. For them it is easy to be happy. They don’t need money, but they do need their physical needs met. They don’t need marriage, or a religious group, but they do need someone to express their love to.
Wisdom and Awareness for Lasting Happiness
As an adult, if you really want to be happy, you will have to dissolve the fears, and fear based beliefs in your mind. As adults you do not have the choice to be innocent like children, but you can be free of fear. To do this you will have to control the opinions and knowledge in your mind instead of letting it control you. To free your self from fear, you will have to become wise. It is through this wisdom, or what I call awareness, that you can live in a vast, unfathomable world, and be happy.
What got you interested in studying happiness and your journey? What made you want to share your knowledge?
Being happy became my number one priority in 1994. I had just broken up with my girlfriend and was miserable. I had also just left my career where I had been overworked and was burned out. My career and relationship had left me disillusioned. I realized that I had made my happiness dependent on these two external sources. I let both of these sources be driven by other people, and they drove them into misery.
I decided that I wanted to be happy no matter what. It became my number one priority. I decided that I would figure out what was in my unconscious decision making process led me to be unhappy and I’d change it no matter what. Two weeks later I met my mentor, don Miguel Ruiz. He taught me how to find and dissolve false beliefs and the fear in my mind. He taught me to open my heart and love with no conditions.
Several years later, I took time to thank him for all he had done for me. I asked if there was anything I could do for him in return. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said “No, I’m already happy.” Then after a pause he said, “But if you want to, you can go and share what you have learned with other people so that they can be happy too. If you want to of course, it’s just a choice.”2