I have enjoyed reading some of the posts on happiness over at William Harryman’s blog.
As with so much else, it can be look at from a few different perspectives and levels.
Happiness at the belief level
All the ancient wisdom on happiness, now gradually rediscovered in modern psychology, are of course valid. They work… at least for some people some of the time. But it works because the practices themselves work with our belief systems.
For instance, creating a list of things we are genuinely grateful for does, usually, bring a sense of happiness. And it does so because is brings attention to things in our life that makes up happy. Or rather, we have beliefs about what we want and what would make us happy, so when the existence of those things are brought into the foreground, it tends to trigger happiness. Or even more bluntly, gratitude inventories trigger stories which in turn triggers a sense of contentment and happiness.
I believe friendship, reasonable health, shelter, good food, free time, and opportunity to pursue interests, is what I want and would make me happy, so when I bring attention to the presence of all of these, it triggers happiness.
Similarly, acting kindly triggers happiness, at least partly because it gives us a sense of intimacy, connection and supporting life. We believe intimacy and connection would make us happy, our actions bring up a sense of intimacy and connection, so happiness is triggered.
This all works at the level of beliefs.
What this practice, and similar ones, do not do, is help us question the beliefs themselves.
The limits of conventional happiness practice
As useful as conventional happiness practice, as promoted by Seligman and others, can be, it also has its limits. The most obvious one is that it is dependent on circumstances, on content of awareness… and so, is precarious. It also functions at the level of the personality, so is dependent on the personality being happy (which sometimes is a tall order…!)
Happiness beyond beliefs, as appreciation for life as it is
It may sound radical, even cold, when put this way. But there is a far more rich happiness to be found if we question the beliefs themselves. A quiet happiness, an appreciation for life as it is, not dependent on circumstances.
So far, the most effective tool I have found for this is The Work…
It releases beliefs from stories, even the most ingrained ones such as happiness depends on…, revealing a free mind receptive to what is, appreciating what is… loving what is, independent of the content of what is, including independent of what the personality is up to.
It reveals the current of quiet bliss that is always there, and some times covered up by dust kicked up by beliefs.
In real life, it is of course good to do both. The gratitude inventory and other tools are great for allowing happiness to surface when we are still caught up in beliefs. And the exploration of the beliefs themselves reveals what is there behind the dust from wrestling with life and stories… the quiet current of bliss, joy, appreciation… the bliss of simply being… experiencing… of life, exactly as it is, independent of circumstances, independent of content…