Choose Happiness

  Ten steps to bring the magic back into your life by Steve Wetton Aber Publishing 2007 pp 144

By his own admission, the author is no intellectual, yet neither is he a fantasist and what he reports has the ring of authenticity. He offers us the chance to create a better life for ourselves and he does this by discussing his approach to positive mental attitude and the idea that whatever we get out of life depends on what we’ve put into it.

He takes the view that many of us consistently undervalue our own potential. But more dramatically he illustrates his theme, encouraging us to learn from his mistakes. He shares his own experiences and that of others he knows – real life stories that keep one’s attention.

Wetton tells us something of his younger days – excessive alcohol consumption, womanising, and sometimes violence. Someone who hated all the numerous jobs he tried. Spiritually speaking he was lost. But he eventually found a path.

One job he had involved driving around in a little van visiting customers on a door-to-door basis selling stuff and collecting weekly payments. One particular day he was running late rushing away from a house call when he got back into his van that was parked on the driveway.

“I looked over my shoulder and prepared to zoom into the street without any obstructions to worry about. But for some unaccountable reason I found my foot lifting off the accelerator and slamming down on the brakes before I’d moved at all.”

He slipped the gear into neutral, rechecked both wing mirrors, and even turned completely round in his seat looking through the rear window thinking he was wasting valuable time. For some unaccountable reason he switched off the engine and got out to find a small child sitting very quietly just inches from the rear bumper happily playing with a toy and completely oblivious to any danger. It transpired she had come from an adjoining garden.

However, no summary by me can do justice to this or any of the string of personal anecdotes that have to be read in full before the credibility of what they reveal can be grasped.

The reader is not asked to accept that a strange spiritual power definitely exists but only the possibility that it might do so. For it is understandable that many people might tend to believe instead that things just happen by chance and because of natural causes. However, I would suggest that those who cannot put to one side an attitude of cynical disbelief, will not like this book.

Having said that, I suspect they are in a minority. If approached with an open mind this book will be rewarding. Its honest and fascinating glimpses into meaningful coincidences and helpful premonitions, can give credibility to the idea that we can all be guided by a higher power and shared psychic realm. The way Wetton puts it is to suggest

“We are all connected to each other at a spiritual level and connected to some invisible something else that’s part of the life force itself.”

Choose Happiness is drawn with a light touch and makes for easy reading. For me it does what it claims and brings a touch of magic to the meaning of life.

Copyright 2010 Stephen Russell-Lacy

How to be happy from a deeper perspective.

How to be happyYou may be wondering how to be happy — happy in a way that will last. We have only to read the newspapers or watch the television to observe a lot of unhappiness in the world.

“I grew up as this very carefree, happy kid then things turned darker for me. Maybe it was because I saw that the world wasn’t as happy a place as I had hoped it would be for me.” (Angelina Jolie)

They all sang ‘Happy birthday’ to you and wished you ‘Happy Christmas’ but they didn’t tell you how to do it.

“It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” (Lucille Ball)

Plenty of theories about how to be happy

So important is this question of how to be happy, there is even a branch of science looking at it. But would you trust science to discover the answer?

“I went to a happiness conference; researchers looked very unhappy.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

There are plenty of theories. They vary from bodily pleasure, social status, power, achievement, loving relationships, a sense of belonging, absorbing interests and more. All often thought to be the answer to the question how to be happy. You might be wondering about the money that is needed for these.  Yet:

“Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.” (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Being rich is probably not the answer.

Misguided notions on how to be happy

Emanuel Swedenborg the 18th century philosopher claimed to experience a hidden world of spirit. In an altered state of consciousness, he observed spirit people doing what they thought would make them happy.  Each group thought it knew how to be happy. One lot assumed this would be engaging in witty and intelligent conversation, another in enjoying the delights of a garden of paradise, another in feasting on excellent food and drink, and  another in having unbounded wealth and power.

Swedenborg said he was aware of following one group into a large house. In each of the many rooms a different topic was eagerly discussed — politics, morality, business, sexual relationships, religion. At one point he noticed individuals leaving to go out. Following one of them to the door where several sad-faced people sat he asked. “Why are you so sad?”

“After three days in here we cannot bear the sound of talking! We were told that one may enter this house but never leave! We must remain and enjoy the activity we had chosen how to be happy. Now we are desperate.”

He recounts that another group were led through a lofty gate and along winding paths from one lovely garden to another where they could stay among the beautiful flowers, fruit trees and fountains. Some played games, others enjoyed conversation and jokes. Some gathered and ate the many delicious fruits, sang or relaxed in small delightful summer houses. They wandered through grove to grove, through a maze of hedged avenues. All thinking they knew how to be happy. At last Swedenborg came upon a number of people sitting in a rose garden, their faces drawn and sorrowful.

“This is our seventh day in paradise. At first it was wonderful, but now we’ve had enough. We tried to find a way out, but have only gone deeper into this maze. We were told we must stay here for ever because this is our idea of heaven, but we are sick of the sight of it.”

You might think that it might be easy for any of us to fall for a fool’s paradise.

How to be happy spiritually speaking

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

In his ‘Sermon on the mount’ Jesus Christ spoke about states of inner happiness. To my mind his message is that happy contentment, peace and joy comes to those when they acknowledge their poverty of spiritual understanding, are sad about times when they have acted selfishly, are humble enough to appreciate that of themselves they lack inner goodness, and when they hunger and thirst for what is good and right, try to be concerned and caring towards others, turn away from what is seen to be impure in thought and work for the active presence of goodwill and peace.

In other words chasing happiness is like trying to grasp a shadow. You can’t find happiness, no matter how hard you look: it finds you. Like the Buddhists say, how to be happy comes as a by-product when you aim instead at the inner life — its values, principles and virtues rather than craving after the things of external life.

“Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.” (George Orwell)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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