The definition of happiness

Happiness

I wrote in another blog post that happiness is related to self-development, but neglected to define what I meant by happiness. I intend to rectify that here.

Popularist background to happiness

So yeah, a lot of people have written about this topic. It’s probably because your state of mind influences absolutely everything else in your life, and being in a good state of mind makes life better, more fulfilling, more fun, easier… etc.

Happiness slips and slides around. Everyone will have an opinion on it and yet probably no one except self-help gurus or philosophers would confidently attempt to define it.

I may be supremely unqualified to comment on the nature of happiness because proportionally I have spent probably only a small amount of my life actually feeling ‘happy’. I have however spent a rather larger proportion of my life in pursuit of this state (a mistake, naturally), so I definitely know what doesn’t work.

Recently I have begun to wonder whether being happy actually matters as much as you think it does.

However, definitions.

Dictionary.com describes it as:

noun

  1. the quality or state of being happy. [not very helpful!]

  2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.

So, it is associated with the value property “good” and the physical sensation of “pleasure”, also the mood “contentment” and feeling state of “joy”.

The levels of happiness

In this definition, happiness seems to permeate many levels of being, from our abstract awareness of principles and material possessions but also relating to the visceral experience of sensual gratification. It also relates to the positive feeling state of gratitude for one’s lot in life and also a buoyant, mental sensation of benevolent oneness with the universe (joy).

It makes me feel happy just thinking about it. Happiness is infectious, and so is a social, shared phenomenon. It is also a private feeling state that one can nurture in moments of reflective solitude.

The most accurate definition of happiness

However, all this implies that happiness is static and yet ironically immersed in fleeting feeling states, which I argue is wrong. In contrast, I believe happiness to lie in a certain mental stance that we can take towards our experiences.

I have read many things over the years that attempt to define and help cultivate happiness but the most accurate one I think surprisingly comes from Rhonda Byrne’s dubiously marketed book The Secret.

Despite a very cheesy cover and title, her central thesis is that gratitude, and only gratitude, is the most secure underpinning to happiness.

I actually agree with her (excepting the part that magical thinking can be utilised for material gain). Her contribution has been to put a profound and awe-inspiring idea into a simple and accessible form. Happiness is defined by our positive (and yet realistic) stance towards our lot in life, what we perceive of the world and within our own selves.

Whatever we may have or be, whether gorgeous, talented musician or average, moribund financial administrator, only gratitude will provide a sure and steady alternative to that ephemeral feeling state we refer to as ‘happiness’.

My definition of happiness and how to achieve it

A direction of attitude and intention towards personal growth, characterised by gratitude for all that we are and have, and will have and will be.

Thus, happiness is not a static state, but a fluid, responsive and ever-changing orientation towards life. When life moves, you move too. It can be experienced as a feeling state but is so much more: namely, a deeply held trust that ‘all is well and as it should be’.

Not everyone may agree with this definition but I would maintain that gratitude is the most universal foundation to happiness.

In my own musings, I also decided that gratitude is one of four cornerstones of the type of life that one should live in order to access that ongoing flow of what could be termed happiness.

This is the quickest how-to I will ever write, but the other three cornerstones of ‘the good life’ are:

    1. Creativity: a life permeated and uplifted by a continuous attempt to transform our experiences, express ourselves, and solve problems in offbeat ways.
    2. Connection: a fervent acceptance and knowledge that the people in our lives are what give everything meaning, we cannot and should not want to live in a vacuum, and that happiness shared is multiplied countless times.
    3. Growth: sometimes happiness is so sweet we want to hang on to it forever, but the tighter we hold on to a feeling state, the more elusive it becomes. Devoting ourselves to growth is adopting the attitude that we as individuals are not and will not ever be finished or complete, and that constant growth is what gives life its essence of meaning and joy.

I hope that makes sense. It’s a pretty long definition. I think I’m right because all the times I’ve felt happiest have been when I’ve lived by these principles, and remembered calmly that it has always been the hardest times that have made my life richer and more rewarding.

You can learn about Enneagram to help with your personal growth goals and ultimately live in a more conscious and self-aware manner, or read these 10 happiness tips.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash

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A defence of chakras

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I was wondering why everyone hates chakras so much. As far as I’m aware, no one with a negative attitude seems to know much about what they are.

One answer I got in my survey about why chakras have such a bad rap is that they are a con: but a con for what? I couldn’t get an answer.

This leads me to believe that chakras deal with issues of the self and development that are not generally recognised in mainstream mass culture. Therefore their purpose seems like little more than a swindle for the weak-minded and vulnerable.

The spinning wheels of light problem

Another answer related to the fact that chakras have a reputation for being spinning wheels of light, but the problem is that no scientist has as yet detected any spinning wheels in the body. This is true.

What I propose is that we move away from this literalist definition of chakras for the moment and try to see them for the purpose for which I think they are best suited.

What chakras are not

Chakras are not any extra reality that we need to convince ourselves of in order to benefit from their usefulness. I recognise that most of the material on the internet is rife with dubious claims about the nature of the chakra system, based on nothing more than the insubstantial foundation of Indian religious traditions.

Just because someone in the past said something was true, doesn’t mean we need to believe it now.

But perhaps we might use a different criteria for judging the value of chakras, rather than whether we can unearth physical evidence for their existence. Perhaps we could ask ourselves, are they useful? Does the system make our lives better, or worse?

Our happiness levels will soon tell us whether we have made the right decision. Perhaps if we cloaked chakras in the garb of a psychological model instead of religious authority, they might become more appealing to the modern mind.

An accurate definition of chakras

If chakras aren’t for you, that’s fine – but many people may find them a useful tool for personal growth, and as such I think they’re worth defending.

I have never come across any other self-development system that covers the same ground as chakras do. The chakra system assumes that the self is not a fixed entity, but something that should be a product of continual change and effort, including real, practical ways to improve your emotional health.

Accepting the concept of the chakras can be frightening because it essentially demands the difficult admission that there are many areas in which we are not perfect and therefore must improve. It necessitates the input of extra personal effort, when we already have limited time and energy.

However, chakras create a useful, workable model that can be applied to the challenge of self-development, by providing what is essentially a guidebook for seven emotional “centres” of the self.

Thus, chakras are a model for the self – something which we are severely lacking. Models are only as valid as they are useful, and I believe chakras are useful, therefore not to be dismissed.

As a model, they are based on a set of assumptions about the self and reality: that the self has seven facets, each of which must be continually maintained and developed in order to achieve or sustain healthy balance.

They deal with the intersection between mind and body, spirit and physicality, and as such deal with the balance of the emotions which are both physical and mental.

The seven chakras

If you take a moment to just to find out what chakras are, you may see that they are based on perceivable inner realities that can be verified by common experience.

Let’s move through the chakras to see how they might have a more tangible basis in reality.

  1. The first “root” chakra relates to stability and grounding, the right to just “be”. We all know when we are feeling unstable in this area, as we feel off balance, anxious, frightened and insecure.
  2. The second “sacral” chakra relates to creativity, femininity and flow: what could be described as our joy of life. When we are off balance in this area, life feels boring, uninspiring and stultifying.
  3. The third, “solar plexus” chakra is related to willpower and right to have things, and when this is unbalanced we feel impotent, depressed and unable to get what we really want.
  4. The fourth “heart” chakra relates to our emotions, vulnerability, and self-esteem, and when this is unbalanced we feel isolated, disconnected, and unable to experience intimacy.
  5. The fifth “throat” chakra is related to our ability speak out about what we really want and who we are, and express ourselves authentically. When this is off balance we feel frustrated, invisible and upset.
  6. The sixth “third eye” chakra is related to our perception of reality and our ability to see clearly, and when this is off balance we feel confused, overwhelmed and lost.
  7. The seventh “crown” chakra is hardest to understand, but can be understood as our connection to the universe as a whole: as an individual in the web of totality. When this is off balance, we feel depressed, overwhelmed and terrified. 

The problem with spiritualism

Anything vaguely spiritual tends to be downplayed as fanciful in modern materialist culture, lest we be thought irrational, mentally inferior or weak for needing to believe in something “beyond” what can physically be proven.

While this may be true, sometimes when we find ourselves in a deep well of seemingly incurable unhappiness and emptiness, a need for a certain “spiritual” belief system becomes hard to ignore.  

How many people are willing to abandon their rationalist principles in favour of what I like to think of as spiritual pragmatism?

Perhaps – and this is controversial – it is more logical to adopt a belief system that actually works and can make us happy than to cling to a rationality of misery and desolation. What is truth if we live an unfulfilled life that we hate? Possibly only a shadow of true potential.

How to balance the chakras

First, take a chakra test to find out the health of your chakras. Then, there are many resources on the internet that deal with balancing the chakras. A good place to start is by googling “root chakra balance” and trying out some of the suggested practices.

And don’t worry. It is possible for all the chakras to be imbalanced at once, which can be a bit depressing at first! As with all things, chakras are interconnected and if we work on root chakra issues (the foundation of the other chakras), things will start to flow more easily from there.

Everyone has to start somewhere.

crop-catherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash

The true meaning of creativity

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If there’s one abuse of language prevalent  in the working world that I resent the most, it’s the word “creative”. This is specifically when people refer to others (and themselves!) as “creatives” or “creative types”.

Now, I know this term originates from the advertising industry in reference to those coming up with the advertising concepts, and as such in that context it is probably okay. However, I believe that the word “creative” has been bastardized and is now little more than a euphemism for “lazy and disorganised with an inflated sense of self-worth”.

The common definition of creative

Now, this in itself is kind of annoying but not a huge problem, because you can just ignore those people or work in the public sector. However, what annoys me is the knock-on effect that such language can have.

In truth, the meaning of the adjective “creative” is:

  1. having the quality or power of creating.
  2. resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.; imaginative: creative writing.
  3. originative; productive (usually followed by of). (Dictionary.com)

I think the problem arises from the related meaning of the noun “creative”, in common parlance, which is:

‘A person whose job involves creative work:the most important people in the mix will be creatives and direct marketing specialists’ (Oxford Dictionaries)

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The problem with this definition

Now, this may seem petty but I believe this confusion is the cause of a big problem: many people abandoning (or not even attempting to achieve) creative goals out of a mistaken belief that they are not part of this imaginary elite group of “creatives”.

This abuse of language devalues the creativity of those working in less typically “creative” roles and implies that creativity is a quality bestowed on some but not others (usually those lucky enough to know people in the right places).

I believe this is fundamentally untrue, for several reasons.

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The real meaning of creative

As stated above, the actual definition of the adjective “creative” is using one’s imagination and coming up with original ideas – which can be applied in a multitude of contexts.

Being creative is just a state of mind, defined as being open to the nature of reality and making connections, as opposed to just blindly and uncritically accepting what has already been established.

Creativity is looking at a problem and coming up with an appropriately crafted solution. It is observing what is really happening and actually seeing it. 

How this relates to personal growth (of course)

As Riso and Hudson say in Personality Types:

“Being creative is not limited to artists, but is an important quality which everyone should try to awaken within themselves. The most important form of creativity is self-creation – renewing and redeeming the self by transcending the ego. It is the process of turning all your experiences, good and bad, into something more for your growth as a person.”

Creativity is continually seeing with fresh eyes, making each passing moment something new and exquisite.

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We are all creative

Human beings are all essentially creative. The act of procreation itself is creative: producing something from nothing, or rather, previously separate parts achieving unity (creation). Creativity is not some ephemeral magic restricted to the gifted few, but exhibited in children, old people, men and women, averagely intelligent people and the fearsomely gifted.

Once you understand the basic concept of creativity, you can see its beauty everywhere.

I believe creativity is one of the cornerstones to a happy and fulfilling life, and that’s why I want everyone to understand that they can and should be creative.

Ideas for being more creative:

  • Make a creative goal that is easy to stick to, such as taking one beautiful photo a day and posting it on Instagram.
  • Writing one line in your journal per day, about anything.
  • Cooking one new meal per week.
  • Trying out a new fashion style, or combining different types of clothes together to produce an interesting look.
  • Rearranging your bedroom to have better feng shui.
  • Listening out for interesting words and trying to use them in everyday speech.

Nearly everyone is capable of trying these things. Try one now and see how it feels.

This is a really cool example of something astonishingly creative that combines art and mental health.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash

A new language for self-development

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I’ve been thinking about the subject of self-development. I think being in a state of steady growth tends to give rise to that feeling we call ‘happiness’, in some form, because happiness is a direction, and not a static state.

That’s the reason no single self-help book can ever provide an answer to one’s problems. And yet, there are so many self-help books and New Age practices out there because we are seduced by quick fixes. It is painful to address the real problems in our lives, and most people would rather not leave the safety of the Waterstones book shelf.

But the niggling feeling persists.

The reason that no self-help book ever makes you happy is because happiness is determined by rate of personal growth and therefore you can never achieve it. It is always a work in progress.

Despite the proliferation of books on the subject, most people remain blissfully unaware of the issue of self-development, despite the universal desire to be happy.

It seems to belong to the realm of the psychoanalyst’s chair and most people consider themselves to be already “made”, finished, perfect. Any self-critique is shamefully labelled as insecurity.

I think this is wrong.

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The New Age “self”

A big problem in that all-important struggle for happiness is the lack of tools and language that we can use to achieve and maintain this elusive state.

In common usage, there is no appropriate definition or spectrum of words to describe the notion of having a self, along with the way to develop that self. In general, all we have are words that approximate aspects of this area of knowledge. They are at best piecemeal, at worst woefully inadequate.

The only word we really have to use to describe this self that I am referring to is “spirit”, but since it sounds religious and ethereal, this makes many people switch off when it’s brought up.

Even the term “holistic” health – which refers to mind, body and “spirit” – is ironically deficient because it is so overused. Words lose meaning as soon as they are used mindlessly and habitually.

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Clarity of expression

The problem is that many people interested in alternative practices don’t express themselves clearly or convincingly. This is either because they don’t know how to or lack an interest in doing so, usually because they are only interested in preaching to the choir, to the converted.

There are a lot of things wrong with the New Age community, including a lack of interest in providing evidence for bold claims, but an attempt to develop and transcend the self is still commendable.

Sometimes we don’t have words for things because their existence is so implicit that we don’t think of naming them, but I think we can achieve our goals a lot more efficiently if we learn the appropriate language.

What is the self? What are its characteristics? How can we define it?

I really don’t know, but I know it has to be independent of the environment. Perhaps it’s your values, your memories, that core sense of being based on continued existence. I don’t think many people know but it’s worth exploring.

Some existing systems and languages can help us explore the self.

How to achieve happiness

Psychoanalysis goes some way to addressing the problems of self, but as with many systems, it seems to mainly focus on the sick, without concerning itself with the general maintenance and growth of basically functional individuals.

Enneagram is the best system I have found so far that addresses the self and it’s multi-faceted issues, all the while honouring the variety of experience among the vast numbers of individuals in existence. Enneagram theorists call the self “the ego”, echoing the psychoanalytic tradition.

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Enneagram definitely looks off-putting to the uninitiated, because it uses unfamiliar words and concepts that most people reject because of a lack of understanding.

It seems self-indulgent and fluffy to be concerned with the development of the self because there are better things to be doing, like getting drunk, having sex, earning money, going on holiday, finding a partner, settling down, having kids.

None of these things makes us happy in the long run. We often fall for the illusion that they can, but happiness can only be achieved by cultivating an attitude of open-minded growth. Then, whatever happens, you know it’s for an ultimate good.

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But how can you maintain a mindset of quiet curiosity and equanimity in the face of so many distractions, and general life?

Generally I think this covetable mindset can only be born from existential agony, after you’ve faced things that you thought were beyond you and you nearly gave up, but you didn’t, and eventually you came out the other side.

The purpose of self-knowledge

Achieving self-knowledge is hard, and it hurts.

People are afraid to stray from the beaten track because they know that others may laugh at them, or reject them, and I think this is a shame because it’s a roadblock to true knowledge and insight into the self.

We can be happy without self-knowledge, but only for a while. Soon, you reach the limits of your happiness because it life appears to be governed by the laws of growth, expansion, and going beyond limits. Oblivious contentment cannot exist for long in such a universe without some serious effort.

I’m probably just describing maturity and taking responsibility for yourself. You also realise you can’t make this journey alone, and that helping others (plus letting them help you) is the natural next step. This keeps you open and changing, because you can’t choose the demands that others will make of you.

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If you want to develop your self, ego, spirit, I recommend learning about Enneagram. A really great book to read about personal growth is called The Road Less Travelled, by M. Scott Peck.

crop-catherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash