If you want to be happy, be kind to the poor; it is a sin to despise anyone.
I often say that three powerful ideas or attributes are Peace, Joy, and Love. Yet equally important is happiness in our lives. Although many definitions exist, the one I like best is this: Happiness is the experience of feeling good.
Happiness comes from happenings: moment to moment events. When we live in the moment, we raise our happiness level. I’ve heard it said that everything and everyone we love makes us happy. Happiness increases as we focus on the small moments during the day, each moment’s accomplishments, each small moment of inspiration, and how our lives are touched by other people. Happiness increases as we focus on our interactions with other people and treat each moment with them as important.
Psalm 68:3 reads: … may those who do what is right be glad and filled with joy when they are with him. May they be happy and joyful. This Psalm distinguishes between happiness and joy, and both sound like valuable attributes. The Dalai Lama co-authored a book entitled The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. In it he says the purpose of life is to be happy. He says that happiness is not something readymade; it comes from our own actions and intentions. “It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come.”
In happy individuals, wants bubble to the surface swiftly, easily, and enthusiastically. This is how Spirit moves through us, filling us with ideas, wants, desires, and dreams so that the most important can pass into Creation. Our wants are things we love; they bring us happiness. As we get in touch with our wants in a childlike open manner, we can then learn to prioritize them; differentiating the meaningful and important wants from the idle and mundane. Spirit then guides us, through passion, enthusiasm, and wisdom to pursue the important desires, and happiness is the result.
For instance – the dream to help people overcome illness, turned penicillin into a potent antibiotic, helping millions. From the desire to alert people to the dangers of a home fire, Randolph Smith and Kenney House invented the smoke alarm. It is through important desires stirred up in the imagination that Spirit encourages us with passion and enthusiasm, and then moves through us, creating happiness for all.
According to Aristotle: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
Happiness may mean the experience of feeling good, but the benefits far exceed this simple definition. It is the single most important quality for success in every major life category.
In the last ten years there has been a profusion of studies and research on happiness. Studies reveal that happy people more often attract a companion, enjoy stronger relationships and marriages, and are better parents. Happy people are healthier, with increased immune systems, better resistance to cardiovascular disease, and live up to ten years longer than their unhappy counterparts.
Happy people have better mental health, are more resilient to life’s challenges, and exhibit an increased ability to manage adversity, stress, and trauma. They enjoy greater success at work, performing better and generating a higher income.
Studies show that income is more a result of one’s happiness than their education. In the words of businessman author Herman Cain, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”
Companies with happy employees are more successful and profitable because happy people are more productive, more loyal, take fewer sick days, have less conflicts, and show up for work on time.
Happiness also benefits society at the broadest levels. One study showed that increasing the happiness of a country’s population also increased its freedom and democracy. So, developing happiness not only aids us individually, but benefits our families, our community, and society in general.
Science has identified the part of the brain that is associated with happiness – it is the left prefrontal cortex. Happiness alters our brain chemistry, resulting in a reduced prejudice for people that are different from us. The distinction between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ begins to fade when we are happy.
Studies illustrate that there is a connection between our personal happiness and the kindness, care, and compassion we show toward others. By increasing our happiness, we increase our compassion; by increasing our compassion, we increase our happiness. The act of concern for someone else’s well-being creates a greater sense of well-being within our self.
Not feeling happy? – show compassion and care for someone! It is how Spirit works. We are told in Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” As we open the channels for God’s love to flow through us, we are positively affected, as is anyone who gets in our love’s way.
The Buddha said: “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
And happy people understand that sharing their skills, talents, treasure, and time, in other words their service and toil, is a gift to others and themselves. Service means to give something to someone without expectation because it is the right thing to do. The giving is fulfilling and satisfying in and of itself; it is not an exchange. Happy individuals can identify personal issues they have and then use their unconditional service to others as an opportunity to work on themselves. Mother Teresa did this: she was clear to her novitiates that they were to use service to the poor as a means of learning to be a clear channel of love for God.
We do this as parents: we give service to our children, and as I recall from my childhood, like every child, I was not always real lovable or grateful, and there is no way I can possibly repay my mom and dad for what they gave and gave up for my well-being. Still, as a parent we try to serve our children and simultaneously we learn lessons – patience, compassion, the ability to cope with stress and challenges – we have many opportunities to grow as we parent our children.
When we work on ourselves through our service to others we avoid the lower ego, where we edge God out, and embrace the higher ego where we enjoy God’s omnipresence.
When we show compassion, care, and charitably serve others, we increase our happiness. A study at Cal State Riverside had a group of people perform five random acts of kindness one day a week for six weeks. At the end of the study the participants experienced a measurable increase in their happiness and life satisfaction. It seems to reinforce what we read in Ecclesiastes 3:12: I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live.
In his book, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama says this when asked if happiness was a reasonable goal: “Yes, I believe happiness can be achieved through training the mind. By bringing about a certain inner discipline, we can undergo a transformation of our attitude, our entire outlook and approach to living.”
This is the meaning of Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The Dalai Lama’s discipline is simple, although not easy: identify those influences that lead to suffering and those that lead to happiness. Eliminate the ones that lead to suffering and cultivate those that lead to happiness. By doing so, we renew our minds, as Paul described, and are transformed.
When the Dalai Lama wrote his book in 1998, there was not much scientific corroboration of his Buddhist principles on happiness. Yet despite the scientific evidence, the Dalai Lama was so convinced of his views about happiness that he said, “If science were to conclusively prove that some part of the Buddhist scriptures or basic beliefs turned out to be untrue, then Buddhist scripture or belief would have to change.”
Of course, since then there has been explosive interest in the mind-body sciences validating everything that the Dalai Lama teaches regarding happiness. But I find his statement extraordinary. It is difficult for me to imagine other religious leaders making such a statement: if our beliefs do not align with what science uncovers, then we must change our beliefs.
But don’t you think that Christ would also make that bold statement? Happiness, joy, peace, love, wisdom and all other spiritual values, if they are true, they must be true in the face of science and Spirit; earthly thinking and Godly thinking. If a religious or secular belief system does not lead to happiness perhaps it requires restructuring. If a system of thought is not compassionate, loving, and in service to all and not just a select group, then some rethinking may be in order.
And perhaps this is part of our human challenge: to spend more time trying to be happy and less time trying to be right; to spend more time expressing the Spirit of God and less time defending the thoughts of Man.
Happiness can be obtained from simple things and small moments as well as large idealisms. It is individual: what makes you happy may not make me happy. Yet, seeing you happy makes me happy, so we all can win. We can even be happy though it brings tears to our eyes: Seeing the birth of a newborn or remembering fond moments with loved ones.
Recent research confirms what many of us have known for a long time: Happiness is contagious; it is a collective phenomenon. Having friends make us happy, but having happy friend makes us happier. Additionally, our happiness affects not only our friends, but their friends and their friend’s friends. Three degrees of separation have been statistically shown to be impacted by our happiness.
Proverbs 17:22: A happy heart is good medicine, and a joyful mind causes healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Happiness is simple and complex. As Carl Jung wrote:
“There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year's course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word 'happy' would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
Still, it is worthy of our time; a simple gift of Spirit, yet valuable and complex enough to pursue and ponder and dedicate a lifetime to attaining.
I think as a species we are moving in the right direction. More and more we are allowing our light of happiness to shine. Yes, we are facing many dark places today, but the shadows cast by the World cannot stand up to the Light of God.
The Eskimos have a saying: “Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.” It is my prayer that we be living stars and allow our love to shine for all those around us, letting them know that we are happy and spreading the Joy and happiness of Christ.