Happiness has been the new big research subject in psychology for a while now, and it is interesting to see how it fans out in the spectrum from correlating happiness with external factors to seeing happiness as entirely internal. Of course, it is all valid in different ways.
There is a correlation between some external factors and happiness, because we all tend to have the same stories about what is desirable in our lives and what is not desirable. There is obviously also a correlation between physiology and biochemistry and a sense of happiness.
How we deal with life
There is a stronger link between how we deal with life and happiness. In western psychology, this is the area of cognitive therapy and similar approaches. This is about as far as western psychology takes it currently, unless it is influenced by Buddhism or similar traditions.
Here, we find an emphasis on coping strategies, how we interpret situations (cognitive therapy), our expectations (cognitive), how we find meaning in life (existential and humanistic psychology), and similar.
Gratitude and being with
Somewhere between these more conventional western approaches and the more sophisticated – mystical – ones, is the mid-ground approaches recommended in some spiritual traditions, such as gratitude and being with whatever is experienced.
Gratitude is recognized as a way into happiness, as promoted by Tibetan Buddhism, some western psychologists, many self-help books (they do often have valuable suggestions), and even Oprah Winfrey(!).
And then there is the unraveling that comes from being with whatever is experienced. This is another way into contentment and a sense of bliss, independent of the content of experiences.
Finally, we find the strongest link between beliefs in general and happiness, or rather a link between unraveling beliefs and contentment and appreciation.
When I look into it, it seems to really be about contentment – being content with what is, finding peace with what is. And also about appreciation, of what is – of how life, God or Spirit unfolds. This is the area of the mystical traditions and of approaches such as the Byron Katie inquiries.
As we unravel beliefs, we first find contentment with what is. We find peace with our life. Then, as we go further, we first taste and then may realize selflessness, and realize that it is all God, it is all Ground manifesting. And in this is a new appreciation for all there is, no matter how it shows up.
This form of contentment could be called happiness, although it is not dependent on life showing up in a particular way. And this form of appreciation could be called bliss, although that too is steady and not dependent on circumstances.
From dependence on how life shows up to not
This list – from entierly external to entierly internal, also mirrors the path as it may unfold for us as individuals.
The general progression here is that of dependence on how life shows up to an absence of this dependence.
Initially, our happiness is at the mercy of how life shows up externally.
Then, we develop various coping skills which modifies the impact of these circumstances – including gratitude and being with whatever is experienced. These typically need some effort or attention to be developed and applied.
Finally, in the realization of selflessness, contentment and appreciation is independent on how life shows up. It is all manifestations of Spirit or Ground, emptiness dancing, it is all God. The only condition here is that of the realization of selflessness, which – when it finally pops into the foreground – is free from any need of effort and attention.
Here is a selection of articles on happiness, from Psychology Today only…
Grateful for Today – Living in the present
The Hidden Side of Happiness – happiness through adversity
Opening to Happiness – Buddhist view
Secrets of Happiness – meaning
Happiness in East & West – cultural differences
Buying Happiness – money
Prescriptions for Happiness – chemistry
And more – keyword search on happiness
And from BBC…