Our brains and this world are not made to make us happy

In evolutionary psychology, it’s common to point out that our organism and nervous system is not made primarily for lasting happiness. It’s made to help us survive.

Of course, we experience happiness in periods, and some seem to have a higher set-point for happiness than others. Also, we can certainly experience a more stable contentment or a sense of gratitude, and that may be as good or better than happiness.

Perhaps this also goes for the world in general. It’s not created to make us happy.

If anything, it’s made for adventure. This world is the universe, existence, or life expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

And, if we have a spiritual orientation, we can say that this world – this universe and all of existence – is the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. Some call this lila.

Personally, I would take survival and adventure over happiness any day. If our human organism and brain were not made for survival, none of us would be here. To me, adventure is far more interesting than happiness. And as icing on the cake, we can still find contentment and gratitude, and even receive periods of happiness.

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Happiness, meaning, contentment

There is a difference between happiness, meaning, and contentment.

Happiness tends to come from events matching our desires and wishes. We get what we want. The good thing about happiness is that although – or since – it’s fleeting, it’s often pretty easy to come by. A good movie, a nice walk, a delicious meal, a beautiful sunset, spending time with people we like, getting anything we want, and much more can trigger happiness.

A sense of meaning may require a bit more work. It’s requires some engagement, intention, and clarity about what’s meaningful for us. It can be contributing to society or life, creating and sharing something, developing connections with loved ones, bringing up children, a spiritual path, and much more. A sense of meaning tends to be more lasting and less dependent on circumstances. (Apart from what we “pay into it” through our engagement).

Contentment is a bit different from both happiness and meaning. There are many ways to talk about or explain contentment, and here are some that come to mind for me. It can come from integrity and following the inner guidance, the quiet voice. It can come from a sense of wholeness as who (as a human being) and what (Spirit, Big Mind) we are. It can come from a basic (stable) awakening. It can come from having healed whatever temporarily covered up the contentment that’s always here. As with meaning, contentment is somewhat independent of life circumstances. And to the extent there is awakening, embodiment of that awakening (realignment of our human self), healing, and maturing, it’s more independent of life circumstances.

We are born with a certain baseline for respectively happiness, sense of meaning, and contentment. And at the same time, we can invite in each of them. We can arrange our life so we have more moments of happiness. We can engage in meaningful activitites and bring more sense of meaning into our life. And we can explore healing, maturing, awakening, and embodiment and find a deepening sense of contentment that way.

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Highs, happiness, and contentment

There is a distinct difference between highs, happiness, and contentment.

A high is euphoria triggered by a number of things including entertainment, good news, sex, an opening or awakening, caffeine, or a variety of drugs. It makes us temporarily feel good, partly because it distracts us from uncomfortable feelings, painful thoughts, and in general anything unresolved in us. There is nothing wrong with feeling good but it’s helpful to see if we seek it or latch onto it in order to avoid something uncomfortable. If we do, it’s something we can look at so we can find more freedom and fluidity around how we feel, and welcome more wholeheartedly and be more OK with a wider range of feelings and states.

Happiness is similar, and it can perhaps be seen as a mild high. Again, it’s a perfectly natural state. And occasionally, it may be good to check in to see if we seek or try to hold onto happiness in order to avoid something.

Contentment is different. It’s a fundamental OKness with what’s here, with our experience as it is right now. That may seem a tall order, although it’s very much possible to taste that fundamental OKness in more and more situations. How do we find this OKness with our current experience? Through shifting into noticing and allowing. Through noticing that this experience is already allowed as it is (by awareness, space, mind, life). Through allowing and resting with our resistance (fear) to it. Through inquiring into our fear about it, and how our mind creates its experience of it. Through cultivating kindness towards it – for instance by using ho’oponopono, tonglen, or another kindness practice.

I personally prefer contentment since it allows me to find peace with whatever experience is here. If there is one thing we know from experience, it’s that our experience changes. States, emotions, thoughts and any other flavor of experience changes. It comes to pass, not to stay, as Byron Katie says. And that means I welcome and enjoy happiness and natural highs. I can even enjoy them more because they are less marred by a wish to make them stay or to seek the next high or a more permanent happiness (which may never happen).

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Compulsively happy

We all try to find safety in different ways. For some of us, it is to be compulsively happy. We insist we are happy most or all of the time. We act as if we are happy. And what we are really doing is escaping an uncomfortable feeling.

This may work for a while, but it doesn’t work in the long run, and it doesn’t really work even in the moment.

Whatever we try to escape is still here.

This is just another unfreedom. Another way of leaving ourselves.

There is of course nothing wrong with feeling content or happy.

There is not even anything wrong with trying to escape uncomfortable feelings by seeking happiness, or acting as if we are happy. It’s just that it doesn’t really work, and there is another way.

That way is to feel what’s here, and look at any images and words associated with it. When sensations are felt and recognized as sensations, images are recognized as images, and words as words, there is a release of the charge that initially seemed to be in it. And here, there is a freedom to allow happiness, unhappiness, and whatever feelings naturally come through. There is a deeper and less effortful contentment. We are more consciously aligned with what’s already here: an effortless and built-in noticing of what’s here, and an effortless and built-in allowing of what’s here.

Note: We all have our habitual ways of escaping feeling certain feelings. For me, it’s more going into understanding, seeking feeling loved, and the usual distractions of modern life (reading articles online, talking with friends etc.). I think I did the happiness one to some extent in my early twenties, but not so much anymore.

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Katie: Would you like to know the secret to happiness?

Would you like to know the secret to happiness? Kindness and Gratitude. Nothing else is required.

– Byron Katie

Yes, and that includes kindness and gratitude towards everything in our experience. The whole field of experience. Any image. Any word. Any sensation.

Since most of us are trained to not do this, at least not consistently or universally, it can take time. We are retraining ourselves. We are forming a new habit. A large oil tanker needs time to slow down and turn, and that’s how it often is with us too. But with intention and dedication, it is possible. It can be done.

Scott Kiloby: People ask me, “Scott, are you happy?”

People ask me, “Scott, are you happy?”

Not in the way happiness is often defined in our culture, where I have to think happy thoughts all the time to bring about happy feelings.

But yes, I’m happy, more like the way my dog is happy, who simply lives and enjoys life without having to ask herself “Am I happy yet?” It’s a given, without having to think about it.

Now, excuse me while I go outside and play.

– Scott Kiloby on Facebook

I need…. to be happy

I need…. to be happy.

A good relationship. Awakening. Good friendships. Admiration. Love. Meaning. Purpose. Satisfaction. Clarity. Energy. Good health. Intimacy. Fun. Money. A nice house. Community.

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Not happiness

As they like to point out in evolutionary psychology, we are designed for survival and reproduction, not for happiness. Happiness is just one of many emotions and impulses that guide choices and action, and have been selected for through the generatons. It is one of many “modules” that has a survival and reproductive value for us, and is not a goal in itself – although it certainly may appear that way for us at times.

And it seems that it is the same from the perspective of the universe as a whole, or reality, or God. The universe express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways, in its infinite richness, and one of the ways it does this – at an obvious level – is through evolution. The universe evolves from energy to matter to galaxies to solar systems to living planets to ecological systems to social systems to technology, science, and art, and the everyday experiences of any being – and in all of these ways it express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways. Happiness is one of innumerable facets of how it explores and experiences itself.

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Some forms and flavors of happiness….

Pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure in sun, beauty, food, friendship, touch, etc. This has obvious evolutionary roots. We need food to survive, so find pleasure in good food. We need friendship and social connections to survive and thrive, so find pleasure in friendships. And so on. This is also a form of happiness in meeting goals, in having life align with simple shoulds, hopes, and expectations. The sense of happiness tends to be immediate and fleeting, although still very enjoyable and an important part of our everyday life.

Meaning and engagement. We can find a sense of meaning in many ways, perhaps most often through a sense of connection with something larger than ourselves. We can have a sense of meaning and purpose in existence itself, and in our own existence. A sense of belonging, of connection with a larger social, ecological, and cosmic whole. And a sense of meaning and purpose in our personal life through relationships, activities, work, study, engagement, and more.

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Research: Meaningful conversations make people happier

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject….

But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people…..

Next, Dr. Mehl wants to see if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations.

“It’s not that easy, like taking a pill once a day,” Dr. Mehl said. “But this has always intrigued me. Can we make people happier by asking them, for the next five days, to have one extra substantive conversation every day?”

– NY Times blog, Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

It may be that happiness prompts us to deeper and more meaningful conversations. Or, as the researcher suggests, that deep conversations leads to happiness. They help us find meaning in our life, and connect with others in a more meaningful and intimate way.

And it may well be that this is another tool for happiness: A prescription of one more meaningful conversation in a day.

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Happiness and satisfaction

Happiness research is hot these days, and it is good to see this topic finally getting the attention it deserves. After all, what do we want if not happiness?

When I explore it for myself, I find two or three layers of happiness or satisfaction.

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Book: The How of Happiness


I am reading The How of Happiness, and it seems to be an excellent book. Practical, simple, science-based and effective. I especially appreciate the emphasis on finding practices that fits ones own circumstances and interests (chapter 3), and the pointers on why the preactices work and advice on how to go about the practices (chapter 10).

The author has a column in Psychology Today, and here is a video interview with the author.

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Happiness and appreciation

A few things about happiness and appreciation…

Happiness, as commonly defined, is dependent on external circumstances. I have stories about what I need and want and what would make me happy, so when life aligns with those stories I experience happiness. But it doesn’t last. It is the peak of waves that also have valleys. It is a guest, that lives its own life. We can do things to invite it in, of course, but it still comes and goes on its own, and on its own time.

Appreciation is a little different, and can happen from who and what we are. From who we are, as individuals, it comes from a wide embrace of life, and a deeply seen and felt realization that everything that happens here in my life is universally human. No matter what happens, I can appreciate it for that. From what we are, as spirit, it comes from the joy of experiencing itself, independent of its content.

And then there are related aims, such as finding peace with what is (which invites appreciation), and being with what is (which invites finding peace with it). And the being with includes being with anything that arises, including resistance and whatever else may be going on. It is a being with any visitor, independent of who or what they are. It is the ultimate hospitality, which mirrors (and allows us to recognize ourselves as) the Ground of awake emptiness which already and always allows any content.

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Happiness and appreciation

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…