Happiness – What do you think makes you happy?

happinessHappiness is a fuzzy concept and can mean different things to many people. It can mean for example a state of fulfilment, enjoyment of pleasure, or a sense of well-being.

Not everyone is born with a sunny disposition, but commentators tend to suggest we can all learn how to bring more meaning and satisfaction into our lives. From an academic perspective you have some control over your own emotions because personal choice, genetics and life circumstances all interact. It seems to be generally agreed that as long as one’s basic financial needs are met, any increase in wealth is not an important factor in making you happy.

“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.” (Clare Boothe Luce)

So what does make us happy?

Praise and happiness

Who doesn’t like being well thought of by others. Take this to the extreme and you find vain people basking in the praise of others. For example there is the celebrity who craves the public gaze for the pleasure of being admired. There are those who are happiest when their ego is massaged in ways you might find objectionable like the inner-city gang leader who is pleased when followers show  “respect” by kow-tow-ing and giving subservience.

“If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.” (Richard Bach)

Other people in the limelight recognise they need the esteem of others if they are to be successful: like film actors who are cast in productions because of their reputation and popularity. For some of them, the praise they get may simply be a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

Power and happiness

There are people who enjoy getting their own way and, in whatever walk of life they happen to find themselves, strive for a position of power over others. History is full of tyrants who have taken delight in being cruel, expressing contempt or getting revenge towards those who oppose them.

Yet, are there not also some politicians and leaders of industry who enjoy the power they wield mainly for the sake of getting useful things done?

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Bodily pleasure and happiness

Who does not enjoy good food and drink, sexual pleasure, rest and comfort? However an addiction to these pleasures can mean they no longer provide relaxation and refreshment for living one’s life to the full in valued roles. The enjoyment of the addict only lasts until the next fix.

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg comments that a deeper happiness that lasts does not come from external pleasures of the world which of themselves are lifeless and soon dull the senses. Instead it comes from doing something useful for oneself and for others. Unless this is part of one’s life, pleasurable leisure alone becomes empty and wearisome.

“True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” (Helen Keller)

Swedenborg goes on to point out that what makes us happy depends on what we most love – what we most want in life. In line with his writing, I would suggest there are four main types of motivation which can be thought of in terms of:

1. attachment to the physical side of life,

2. self-centred love,

3. concern for others

4. love of the Divine spirit of what is good and true.

Attachment to the physical side of life

By this Swedenborg means being worldly: setting one’s heart on wealth, excessive consumption, and neglecting loving commitment in favour of the pleasures of sexual infidelity, and sacrificing moderation in favour of greed. In Buddhism, ultimate happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms.

Self-centred love

We might think we can be happy by thinking first about oneself: asking “What’s in it for me”. This might mean not caring about anyone unless they are your ally: not really being concerned about the business at hand except in terms of what one wants for oneself: helping others solely for the sake of one’s own reputation: and through self-pride failing to recognise the useful contributions of others.

Concern for others

A Harvard Business School study found that “spending money on others actually makes us happier than spending it on ourselves”. However, Swedenborg’s idea of concern for others is more general than giving to charity and also includes an interest in doing what is good and useful to the community for its own sake.

Love of the Spirit of good and truth

I would suggest that insofar as we are doing things for the sake of what is good and right for our community then we are being led by the Divine spirit. From the perspective of a religious person, the source of all that is human happiness is a God of love. And so such a person is interested in being led by God’s spirit rather than in being led by his own or her own inclinations. We might wonder if this is the reason why research shows that happier people are more likely to be religious.

My conclusions

I do believe that we cannot of ourselves create the kind of deep happiness that will endure all the hardships and difficulties of ordinary living. Happiness has to flow into us from its Divine source. But to receive it we have to face the right direction.

Happiness for the self-centered and worldly-minded person is a pale reflection of happiness experienced by the person who is concerned for others and is willing to be led by the divine spirit of good and truth.

My recommendation is that we face away from what we each  know in our hearts is bad. In so doing we will be facing the right direction to receive the inspiration of creativity, hope, and discernment and thus the spiritual gifts of peace, contentment and joy.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

HAPPINESS

HAPPINESS
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, March 10, 1991

“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146: 5).

Happiness! What is happiness? People throughout the world are searching for it, yet few find it. Why? The answer is that few people know what it is, and still fewer know how it can be attained. Usually, when we desire something we know what it is that we want, and if we have a strong enough desire for it we discover the means of acquiring it. But happiness that which people desire above all else they find the greatest difficulty in achieving. They pursue it in a thousand ways, and the more furious their pursuit, the more it eludes them.

The truth is that as long as people set happiness before them as a goal, whether in the guise of wealth, fame or security, they will not attain it. Happiness has nothing to do with objects or places, space or time. People often think: “If I only had a house of my own I would be happy.” Or, “If only I earned double my salary I would be happy.” Or again, “If I could live in such and such a place I would be happy.” The attainment of such objectives cannot bring happiness. It may bring momentary pleasure or delight, but they do not lead to lasting satisfaction and happiness. It is not the place nor the condition but the state of mind alone that can make anyone happy or miserable. And it is in this that so many people err, and it is on this account that there is so much dissatisfaction and unhappiness in the world.

The end of creation, we are told, is that people may live in happiness to eternity. This is the end of the Divine love (see Canons, Lord VII, 10a). The nature of love is that it desires to give of its own to others and thus make them happy. God therefore created mankind as the object of His love, that is, He created mankind so that He could communicate His love to them and make them happy to eternity. Since this is the Divine end and purpose in creation, it follows that happiness can be attained only by the reception of the Divine love. The angels, who enjoy happiness so great that it cannot be described, perceive that all happiness comes from the Lord (see AC 32:2).

Happiness, therefore, flows in from the Lord into the human soul. But the delights of the soul are imperceptible, for the soul that inmost receptacle of life from the Lord is above man’s consciousness. As the love descends, it becomes more and more perceptible. The delight of the soul is felt in the mind as happiness, in the sensual degree of the mind as delight, and in the body itself as pleasure. Internal happiness the happiness of heaven consists of all of these, but not from the last alone, for it is transitory, and when sought as an end in itself, inevitably leads to unhappiness (see CL 16:2).

The fact is, while people live in this world, they cannot experience heavenly happiness in its fullness, not even if they are regenerating. But they can experience a general delight which we call happiness. The reason for this is that while we live in the world we are greatly concerned with worldly cares and anxieties, and these prevent heavenly happiness, which is deep within us, from fully manifesting itself. For when this happiness descends, it becomes mingled with natural cares and anxieties which reside in the lowest planes of our mind, and thus it becomes a relatively obscure delight, but still it is a delight within which there is real happiness (see AC 3938:7).

It is a law of order, inherent in creation, that perfection increases toward interiors and decreases toward exteriors. For confirmation of this principle, consider, if you will, the structure of the brain and the nervous system relative to the structure of the skeletal system of the body and the muscles, or the structure of the atom as compared to that of a molecule. It is because of the operation of this law that we cannot experience heavenly happiness fully while we live in this world, for we live on a lower or more external plane of consciousness.

Nevertheless, there are three successive planes or degrees of the natural mind: the rational, imaginative, and sensual; and as we advance from the sensual through the imaginative to the rational, our perception of happiness may increase. Therefore the Writings say that intelligence, wisdom, love, and the resulting happiness are what constitute angelic perfection (see HH 34). It is from this principle also that the delights and pleasures that arise from worldly possessions, or the indulgence of sensual appetites, give only momentary satisfaction (see AC 7007:2, 6481).

In self-love and the indulgence of the bodily appetites there is something delightful and exhilarating which so affects man’s mind that one supposes such pleasures and delights are happiness itself. But happiness that depends on self-satisfaction cannot last, for concealed within self-love is hatred against all who do not contribute toward one’s own supposed happiness. Such hatred may not be consciously perceived as such, but it ultimates itself as bitterness, envy, jealousy, discontent and cynicism, which are diametrically opposed to happiness. Also, hatred, when manifested in its extreme forms, leads to revenge, deceit and cruelty, which are destructive of all happiness (see AC 1594).

We would also note the teaching that true and lasting happiness is not spontaneously received, for happiness cannot be exquisitely perceived unless one has experienced unhappiness, and one’s perception of happiness is according to the degree in which he has been in the opposite state. The perception of the contrast between happiness and unhappiness extends one’s limit or capacity for experiencing happiness (see AC 2694:2). Here is eloquent testimony to the mercy of the Lord. He turns what is negative in life to our eternal advantage if we permit Him to.

It is a fact that the Divine Providence of the Lord directs all things. All who are in the stream of Providence, who are those who trust in the Lord and attribute all good to Him, are carried at all times toward happiness whatever may be the temporary appearance; and because they inwardly trust in the Lord they have peace.

Those who do not trust in the Lord ascribe everything to human intelligence and ingenuity, and what they do not ascribe to these, they ascribe to chance, fate or fortune. Those who trust in chance, fate or fortune, or in their own cleverness, can never be sure of anything; hence they have no peace, contentment or happiness, but are restless, discontented and unhappy (see AC 8478:4).

The Lord loves all people, and from love wills good to them. As the Lord does goods, which are uses, mediately through angels and people on earth, therefore, to those who perform uses faithfully He gives a love of use and its reward, which is happiness (see CL 7:5). The Writings state that “angelic happiness is in use, from use, and according to use” (AC 548). Happiness is the fruit of love and service. It never comes and never can come by making it an end. It is because so many people fail to understand this reality that there are so many frustrated and unhappy people in the world.

There can be no happiness in idleness, nor in social interaction only, nor even in being loved, if these are indulged in for the sake of one’s own enjoyment. Such a life does not have use as an end, and is therefore not receptive of love and happiness (see SD 3617). Happiness comes from use. It consists in activity. It is a running stream and not a stagnant pond. There is a certain latent vein within the human heart which draws the mind on to do something. By activity the mind tranquilizes and satisfies itself. This satisfaction and tranquility produce a state of mind receptive of a love of use from the Lord. With the reception of this love comes heavenly happiness (see CL 6e).

Use, in the most ultimate form, is the faithful, sincere and diligent performance of the work of one’s employment. When a person loves use and expresses that love in earnest activity, the mind is kept from dissipating its energies and powers by wandering about drinking in lusts that flow in through the body. A preoccupation with sensual pleasures and purely natural delights scatters the truths of religion and principles of morality. On the other hand, earnest activity of the mind in the performance of the uses of one’s employment binds truths together, and thrusts aside illusions, falsities, and vain imaginations (see CL 16:3).

The happiness of angels arises from the fact that they earnestly desire and delight in the happiness of others. The happiness of heaven consists in the fact that all the angels communicate their happiness to others, for they desire the happiness of others more than their own. Those who seek only their own happiness, since they communicate no happiness from themselves to others, automatically exclude themselves from heaven because their sphere is contrary to the sphere of heaven (see SD 4593). Happiness comes as a twin; all who would enjoy it must share it with others.

The perfection of heaven consists in the fact that every angel is different from all others, and the happiness which flows in from the Lord is received by each according to his or her form; thus it is changed according to the quality of the angel who receives it. Since all angels desire above all things to communicate their happiness to others, the happiness of heaven increases as the number of angels increases.

Happiness may be compared to an electric current. In the case of electricity, the current proceeds from a generator as its source, and is conveyed through wires to ground. When the current is broken by turning off a switch, the electric current does not produce any effect. The fact that it does not produce any effect does not mean it is not present in the wire; it merely means it has ceased to flow. When we turn on the switch, we complete the circuit and then the desired effect is produced.

Happiness, like a current, proceeds from the Lord and is received in the interiors of every person. When a person performs uses for others from a desire to make them happy, then the current flows down from the interiors of the mind into the realm of consciousness, and then it is communicated to others. As the current of happiness passes through the plane of man’s consciousness, it is perceived variously as joy, delight, contentment, peace and happiness.

However, if one does not perform uses for others from a sincere desire to make them happy, but instead seeks one’s own happiness, then the current is stopped up in the interior and subconscious realms of the mind. The current is switched off and cannot be consciously perceived.

If we seek happiness for its own sake, we will not find it. But if we seek to be of use, if we love duty and faithfully perform it for the benefit of others, then happiness will follow as the shadow comes with sunshine.

If we would be truly happy in this world, and lastingly happy in the world to come this is what the Lord wills for us and created us for we must first of all acknowledge the Lord as the source of life, love and all happiness. Secondly, we must trust in His merciful providence, which ever bears us toward eternal happiness; and thirdly, we must perform uses for our fellow human beings from a genuine desire for their happiness. “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 146, John 13:1-17, AC 454 and 549

Arcana Coelestia

454. Some think that heaven consists in a life of ease in which they are served by others; but they are told that there is no possible happiness in being at rest as a means of happiness, for so everyone would wish to have the happiness of others made tributory to his own happiness; and when everyone wished this, no one would have happiness. Such a life would not be an active life, but an idle one in which they would grow torpid, and yet they might know that there is no happiness except in an active life. Angelic life consists in use and in the goods of charity; for the angels know no greater happiness than in teaching and instructing the spirits that arrive from the world; in being of service to men, controlling the evil spirits about them lest they pass the proper bounds, and inspiring the men with good; and in raising up the dead to the life of eternity, and then, if the souls are such as to render it possible, introducing them into heaven. From all this they perceive more happiness than can possibly be described. Thus are they images of the Lord; thus do they love the neighbor more than themselves; and for this reason heaven is heaven. So that angelic happiness is in use, from use, and according to use, that is, it is according to the goods of love and of charity. When those who have the idea that heavenly joy consists in living at ease, idly breathing in eternal joy, have heard these things, they are given to perceive, in order to shame them, what such a life really is, and they perceive that it is a most sad one, that it is destructive of all joy, and that after a short time they would loathe and nauseate it.

549. The angelic state is such that everyone communicates his own bliss and happiness to others. For in the other life there is a most exquisite communication and perception of all the affections and thoughts, so that each person communicates his joy to all, and all to each, so that each one is as it were the center of all. This is the heavenly form. And therefore the more there are who constitute the Lord’s kingdom, the greater is the happiness, for it increases in proportion to the numbers, and this is why heavenly happiness is unutterable. There is this communication of all with each and of each with all when everyone loves others more than himself. But if anyone wishes better for himself than for others, the love of self reigns, which communicates nothing to others from itself except the idea of self, which is very foul, and when this is perceived, the person is at once banished and rejected.