31 Oct / The Long Path Toward Happiness
Clients frequently ask me “what is the secret to achieving happiness?” to which I respond matter-of-factly “there is no secret.” Happiness after all is a state of mind, and a state of mind is very difficult to measure. People do not achieve happiness but happiness happens to them. Happiness is circumstantial. It takes a hold and seethes into the core of our being.The term happy actually derives from the Middle English word “hap” which means “chance” or “good luck.” One can find parallels in words such as “perhaps” and “happenstance.” If we examine the etymological root of the word we will find that it suggests that happiness, like luck or fate, is something that happens rather than something that is intentionally created. Happiness in a sense, happens to us. It seizes us.
From an archetypal perspective, we can glean a lot about the meaning of happiness through various religious and mythological sources. Interestingly, the word happiness does not appear in the Bible. Although the word joy does frequently appear in both the Old and New Testament, joy however is not synonymous with happiness. To complicate things, happiness is derived from Middle English whereas the authors of the Old Testament wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic and the authors of the New Testament wrote in Greek and later Latin. The word “joy” appears in the bible over 180 times and seems to have a more nuanced meaning that the term happiness.
Pastor Rick Warren suggests that the “Christian” definition of joy is as follows: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation”. Warren also distinguishes between happiness and joy, saying that happiness is temporary and fleeting whereas joy is a perennial thing. It is interesting that when Jung was asked to define God during an interview, he responded as follows: “To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.” Jung seems to have held the view that god transcends good and evil. In both definitions, one is compelled to surrender himself to a greater power whether one views it as God, Tao, or Fate. Joy seems central to this equation.
From an eastern philosophical perspective, the Dalai Lama has observed wisely:
This is an interesting observation and suggests that what we put out into the universe comes back to us—reciprocated—by virtue of our own actions. A number of Eastern belief systems adhere to the idea of karma, which basically suggests that our actions create our life conditions. Thus, one could apply a form of ethical causation to the law of karma or put differently, “one tends to get out of life what he or she puts into it.” If one thing is for sure, there are no short cuts to happiness. Like anything worthwhile or long lasting, it requires dedication and a continuous effort. If nothing else, the fruit of happiness appears with the appropriate mindset. Right mindsets cannot be bought or paid for, but only earned through experience. In this way, happiness in itself amounts to nothing more than an abstraction, which in itself does not exist. One could view it as an empty container that is filled by content of experience. The path toward happiness is never a direct one but curves and doubles back throughout life.