Module One - True Happiness


Why do you do what you do? What motivates you to be successful, have relationships, go to work, to take up hobbies, spend time with friends or go on holiday? What is it that you are really looking for?

 

The answer given by at least 90 per cent of the people I ask is happiness. As William James, the father of modern day psychology said, ‘how to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do’. Happiness turns out to be one of our deepest longings. Take Maria, for example. She came to me for help to overcome anxiety and low self-confidence so that she could perform better at work and develop a closer relationship with her partner. I asked her why she wanted these things and her answer was that she wanted to be happy and at peace. Put another way, Maria – like most people – wanted to experience less pain and suffering and more happiness and fulfilment.

 

Happiness Matters      

 

So why are so many of us seeking happiness? Well the obvious answer is because it feels great. Think back to a time when you genuinely felt happy and at peace with yourself? As you recollect this time, notice how you feel lighter, more expanded, more alive. Notice how the world and your life situation, appears to be so much brighter and better. It feels good doesn’t it? Happiness also turns out to be one of the keys to good health. A nine-year Dutch study into the elderly, for example, found that those who were happy, optimistic or generally satisfied with life had around 50 per cent less risk of dying over the period of the study than those who were unhappy or pessimistic. 1 Other research has found that happy people tend to be: healthier and more fulfilled in their work, life and relationships, more creative and better able to come up with solutions to work and life challenges, more likely to contribute to the well-being and happiness of others and to society as a whole, have more satisfying, longer marriages, have greater productivity at work and higher quality of work, better able to respond to life’s challenges effectively and creatively and more likely to treat others with respect, care and kindness. 2

 

Professor Barbara Fredrickson a psychologist and happiness researcher discovered with her research that when we feel happy we are better able to broaden our capacity to engage more creatively, expansively and more fully with life and build and grow our potential for increased success on all levels. This includes at the physical level: improved co-ordination, strength and cardiovascular health, intellectual level: problem-solving and learning, social level: developing and deepening relationships and the psychological level: developing resilience, broader scope of attention, optimism, sense of identity and goal orientation. 3

 

Happiness, it turns out, is the key for health, well-being, relationships and success. It provides us with the ‘fuel’ to help us evolve, thrive and flourish.

 

The Quest for Happiness

 

So if happiness is what most of us are seeking to experience – how are we getting on with discovering happiness? Well despite considerable advances in overall standards of living and income, there has been no appreciable improvement in people’s life satisfaction and happiness in the UK, US and many other countries in the last fifty years.

  • Indeed, one poll found that the proportion of people saying they are very happy has fallen from 52 per cent in 1957 to just 36 per cent in 2005.4
  • The World Health Organization reports that worldwide 121 million have depression and an estimated 5.8 per cent of men and 9.5 per cent of women experience a depressive episode in any given year.5
  • The prevalence of depression is rising every year and it is now regarded, according to one report, as the world’s most disabling disease – even more so than angina, asthma and diabetes.6
  • Fifty-six per cent of adults are classified as having moderate mental health (meaning they are mentally ‘OK’), while 12 per cent are languishing (neither mentally ill, nor displaying signs of positive mental health).7
  • Addictions are also on the increase: worldwide there are 1.5 billion smokers, approximately half of whom will die from smoking-related causes. (Currently, about 5 million smokers die each year.)8
  • About 2 billion people worldwide consume alcoholic drinks and an estimated 76 million have an alcohol use disorder, such as alcohol abuse or dependence.9
  • Worldwide, about 200 million people use some type of illicit drug, most commonly cannabis, but also amphetamines, opioids and cocaine. 10

 

In a nut shell many people are not happy. What’s more I also believe that many people who say they are happy, actually aren’t truly happy. They are just good at sedating, avoiding and distracting themselves from their unhappiness. As a medical doctor and workshop leader I have seen how many of my patient’s behaviours (and admittedly many of my old behaviours) are at their heart unskilled, misdirected strategies to avoid the unhappiness and emotional pain within them. These strategies and behaviours (which are explored more fully in module three) include blaming others, excessive busyness, caretaking, overeating, compulsive judging of others and oneself, excessive control, manipulation, lying, using food and sugar to change the way we feel, drinking alcohol, people pleasing, overachieving, gossiping, excessive TV watching, comparing, over thinking, avoiding intimacy and overworking. Left unaddressed they increase our feelings of being isolated and alone, put us at risk of health problems, restrict our capacity for rich and satisfying relationships and stunt our emotional, psychological and spiritual growth. In a nutshell we want happiness but we aren’t experiencing it in a lasting way, because the choices we are making and strategies (behaviours) we are using are the wrong ones. But what exactly do we mean by happiness?

 

What is happiness?  

 

At the most basic level, happiness is an umbrella term to describe a range of pleasant emotions that include contentment, pleasure, joy, enthusiasm, serenity and delight. Generally, when someone says they are happy they mean that they are satisfied with their life and that they are experiencing a preponderance of ‘pleasant’ emotions (and relatively few ‘unpleasant’ emotions). I refer to this type of happiness as ‘normal’ happiness.

 

Normal happiness is very much connected to what is going on in your life. If your relationships are going well, you have money in the bank, your health is good and you are successful at what you do, the chances are you will experience normal happiness. The clue that it’s normal happiness is that it is conditional upon certain things being the way you want them to be. If you are made redundant unexpectedly or your partner is upset with you and your sense of happiness and well-being disappears, you know that the happiness you were experiencing was normal. The other hallmark of this type of happiness is that when we pursue it we often focus on short-term gains at the long-term expense of our health, relationships and personal growth; for example, working round the clock in pursuit of success and money, but neglecting out health and intimate relationships.

 

What is true happiness?

 

True happiness is worlds apart from ‘normal’ happiness. Unlike ‘normal’ happiness, which is dependent on what is happening in your life, true happiness is independent of what is happening. True happiness describes a deep sense of inner well-being, peace and vitality that is with you most of the time, in most circumstances. People who are truly happy typically experience a deep level of connection to themselves, other people and the natural world. They perceive everything as being alive and animated by an intelligent, benevolent life force. Their hearts are full of gratitude; they love life deeply. This is a difficult concept for many people – particularly when they are far from happy – but it is available to anyone who is willing to work on transforming their ‘inner’ life, as opposed to their outer circumstances. In fact, if you are committed to living with awareness, actively realising your physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual potential and living a life that is aligned with your deepest potential then true happiness is inevitable.

 

So what is getting in the way?

 

When I ask in my workshops and lectures just what it is that’s preventing us from experiencing our potential for true happiness, the answers are usually along the lines of time pressure, stress, lack of knowledge, information overload, perfectionism, keeping up with the Joneses, negative thinking, lack of role models, poor diet, mental illness, disease and so on. Of course, all of these can influence the way we feel and our mental health and well-being, but I believe there are two underlying factors that prevent many of us from experiencing our fullest potential for happiness and emotional health: the failure to emotionally and psychologically grow up and our failure to ‘wake up’ and live with greater awareness and acceptance of the present moment. Essentially, if we are to fulfill our potential for happiness, we must grow up and wake up.

Growing up 

Growing up is about developing a high level of emotional and spiritual maturity. Whilst so called adults may have the physicality of an adult, at an emotional level many are still feeling and acting at times as adolescents. Their emotional development has become blocked. Growing up involves taking the actions to address the underlying physical, psychological and spiritual blocks to maturity.

Waking up

Waking up is about living with greater present moment awareness and acceptance, living in alignment with, not in resistance to reality. 

It’s about discovering and embodying the True Self (our true nature) and bringing forth its gifts, talents and potentials into the world in a way that enriches and enhances the world. Being in alignment with the true Self enables us to access our deepest creativity, experience a deep sense of inner well-being, peace and vitality and to actualise our personal and professional potential. It’s about awakening to and embracing fully our divinity and humanity.

 

Let’s now dive deeper

 

Growing up

 

Most of us who are essentially physically normal will, given a healthy environment and caregivers who are responsive and nurturing, evolve naturally into an adult who is emotionally mature. There is a strong creative, evolutionary instinct within us to do so. However, developmental psychologists believe that in the absence of an optimum loving environment, this maturation process doesn’t happen. The majority of adults haven’t completed this process and are, therefore, living, acting, thinking, feeling and relating as adolescents, rather than as mature adults.

 

Think back to a time when you were arguing with someone, judging someone or using food to change the way you feel. How old did you feel in that moment? Quite often people will say I felt like a five-year-old, or a thirteen-year-old!  Most of the time, when we when behave in this way, we have emotionally regressed. This is quite a revelation, but goes a long way to explain why so many of us suffer unnecessarily and, in turn, create so much suffering for others, society and even the planet. We are simply not functioning as emotionally mature adults on a consistent basis. Instead, we are living in alignment with our immature ego.

 

Say hello to your egos

 

Most of us spend a great deal of our time identified with and operating from our ego. What is the ego? It’s a bundle of thoughts, beliefs, emotions, conditioning, fears, desires and needs. The ego is the ‘I’ that we identify with and take ourselves to be. However, it’s important to recognise that there are two versions of the ego – the emotionally immature and the emotionally mature ego. In order to understand the process of growing up, let’s take a look at each.

The emotionally immature ego

 

This version of the ego is focused on what it can get from life. When we are identified with and living from an emotionally immature ego, our thoughts and actions are driven by the emotion of fear and two core beliefs: ‘I don’t have enough’ and ‘I am not enough’. As a result, we tend to be self-centred and focused on getting and acquiring ‘things’ in order to feel as comfortable and safe as possible. The list in the box below provides some of the most common indicators that our emotionally immature ego is in charge of our life. You will probably find you have some of these characteristics but don’t worry, that’s common. The point is to acknowledge that this is so and to realise that being identified with and operating from your emotionally immature ego is preventing you from fulfilling your potential and experiencing true happiness. The purpose of this personal development course is to help you change that by revealing how to evolve and ‘mature’ your ego.

 

Indicators of low/moderate maturity        

 

  • Fighting, avoiding and resisting reality
  • Tending to avoid anything that has the potential to cause discomfort
  • Wanting to be right, wanting to be special
  • Not being aware of what you are feeling and/or finding it difficult to share what you are feeling with others
  • Focusing on feeling good and avoiding pain/discomfort
  • Taking most things personally
  • Struggling to experience emotional intimacy and/or having a history of multiple relationship breakdowns
  • Giving to others in order to get something from them
  • Feeling stuck in your life
  • Not proactively addressing addictive behaviours or mental ill health
  • Blaming others for the way you feel
  • Excessive amounts of comparing, defensiveness, worry and judgment (of self and others)
  • The need for immediate gratification
  • Controlling or sedating your feelings with alcohol, caffeine, sugar and food, perfectionism, drugs, excessive busyness or compulsive working, TV, gossip, controlling and manipulating others
  • Emotionally over-reacting or under-reacting to various situations and people
  • Having little or no awareness of your values

 

The emotionally mature ego

 

The second version of the ego is the emotionally mature ego. Someone with a healthy, mature ego has a high level of self-acceptance, they take responsibility for their life situation, they take good care of their health, they are committed to fulfilling (or realising) their potential and they treat others as equals and with respect. Their focus is very much on how they can contribute to life.

 

In this personal development course I am going to outline everything you need to do to evolve into your emotionally mature self.  While this will enrich your life and improve your health considerably, by itself it’s not enough to help you achieve true happiness. For true happiness you also need to wake up.

 

Waking Up

 

Have you ever walked away from someone with whom you were speaking and realised that you didn’t actually hear a word they said? Or do you sometimes eat something and then can’t recall what it tasted like? If so, and I’m guessing you answered yes to both of these, where were you? In both instances your body was present to the experience but your awareness was caught up in your thoughts. Your mind and body were in two different places – they were out of sync.

 

Contrast those experiences with a time in which you were completely immersed in the moment, caught up in the flow of your experience – for example, it might have been when you were skiing or running, making love, watching a sunset or seeing something of great beauty. Really think about that time, take a couple of deep breaths and allow those feelings to get stronger inside of you – notice how much calmer, peaceful and powerful you feel. In these instances your body and mind are present to the same experience – they are aligned with the present moment. This alignment of our awareness with our experience in the moment is called present-moment awareness.

 

Present-moment awareness is a state of being awake, alert and in alignment with the each moment as it is. Rather than avoiding reality – which includes what we are thinking, feeling and sensing – present-moment awareness is a way of inhabiting our experience (internal and external) with awareness and without filtering or creating a story about our experience.

 

We spend the majority of our mental time in a state of mind in which we are either avoiding reality or just simply not aware of what is going on because we are so caught up in our thoughts and feelings. Of course that’s okay for some of the time, we do need to reflect on the past and future, analyse our situation and contemplate our experiences – that’s a highly useful thing to do and one of the gifts of the human mind. But getting caught up in our thoughts and feelings or resisting reality is not good for us.

 

Resisting reality creates suffering

 

Resistance to ‘what is’ creates suffering and unhappiness. The reason for this is that the root cause of most tension and suffering (there are exceptions) is our continual struggle with reality: most of us have a hard time letting our experience be as it is. By judging, rejecting, controlling and sedating certain areas of our experience that cause us discomfort or pain, for example by ignoring the anxiety we might be feeling in our body when we are with someone, we cut ourselves off from our true Self – the rarely accessed part of us the includes and transcends ego. We contract our body and mind around that experience in order to protect and maintain our state of balance and normality. But by avoiding and withdrawing our awareness away from these painful or uncomfortable aspects of ourselves, we progressively become disconnected from our true Self – the source of true happiness.

 

Waking up involves living with greater awareness and acceptance of the present moment. This doesn’t mean we have to necessarily like the present moment – but accept the reality that it is happening.  By accepting the reality of each moment, rather than fighting and resisting it, we open ourselves to the experience of life and our true Self.

 

The true Self

The true Self is the rarely accessed part of us that embraces all of the different parts of ourself, including ego, while simultaneously transcending them all. The true Self:

  • knows how to get in touch with and realise our fullest potential
  • is experienced as a deep sense of well-being, vitality and peace of mind
  • knows the perfect response to each unfolding moment
  • is the source of creativity and intuition
  • provides us with clarity, insight, guidance and natural confidence

Module seven explores the true Self in more depth. All you need to know for now is that the true Self lies beyond your thoughts, emotions and ego.

 

Summary  

 

• Many people are not happy and of those who say they that they are happy a significant number of those aren’t truly happy. They are just good at sedating, avoiding and distracting themselves from their unhappiness.

• Most individuals focus on creating ‘normal’ happiness. This type of happiness is dependent on certain conditions being met and fulfilled. The person who pursues normal happiness does so in a way that often limits their potential for emotional or spiritual growth and can limit their interactions with themselves, others and society.

• True happiness, in contrast, is not dependent on outer circumstances and describes a deep sense of inner well-being, peace and vitality that is with you most of the time, in most circumstances.

• In order to experience true happiness we need to grow up and wake up. Growing up involves taking actions that will enable your ego to evolve emotionally and become more healthy and balanced. Waking up involves living with greater awareness and acceptance of the present moment. By accepting the reality of each moment, rather than fighting and resisting it, we open ourselves to the experience of life and our true Self.

 

 

References

 

1.        Giltay, Erik J., Geleijnse, Johanna M., Zitman, Frans G., Hoekstra, Tiny, Schouten, Evert G., ‘Dispositional Optimism and All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of Elderly Dutch Men and Women’, Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 61 (2004), pp. 1126-35.

2.        Lyubomirsky S., et al., ‘The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?’, Psychological Bulletin,Vol. 13, Issue 6 (2005), pp. 803–55.

3.        Fredrickson, B. L. The value of positive emotions. American Scientist, 91, (2003), pp. 330–335.

4.        Gallup poll for The Happiness Formula, BBC 2 Series, Wednesday, 3 May 2006.

5.        ‘The World Health Report 2001: Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope’; this can be downloaded from http://www.who.int/whr/2001/en/index.html.

6.        Chatterji S., et al, ‘Depression, chronic diseases, and decrements in health: results from the World Health Surveys’, Lancet, Vol. 370, Issue 9590 (2007),  pp. 851–8.

7.        Keyes, C. L. M., ‘The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life’, Journal of Health and Behaviour Research, Vol. 43 (2002), pp. 207–22.

8.        Hatuskami, D., et al., ‘Tobacco Addiction’, Lancet, Vol. 371 (2008), pp. 2027–38.

9.        WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004; this can be downloaded from http://www.who.int/topics/alcohol_drinking/en/.

10.     WHO Report: ‘Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence’ (2004); this can be downloaded from www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/psychoactives/en/.

11.     Weinhold, Barry K. and Janae B., The Flight from Intimacy, New World Library (2008).

 



LinkedIn Facebook
To contact us call +44 20 3239 4118
or e-mail us at info@academyofhumanpotential.org