Rituals can be seen as aiming at what Americans see as a basic human right, the pursuit of happiness. Looking for paradise, heaven, or just hoping to make this month’s rent; many people pray, light candles, go to church or perform their private rituals, using whatever ritual or magical technique.
The happiness they seek, however, is not well defined and ranges from very material to very spiritual. The word chemical is added as these days substances to enhance subjective happiness are widely available, by prescription or on the street. Nothing new there, rituals of old often used substances with similar effects.
I see the same elimination of the spiritual dimension in ‘modern’ thinking about happiness as I encountered in ritual. So this appendix about happiness offers an opportunity to try to bridge ancient and modern views of happiness. A new approach to integrate them is presented.
Happiness: interwoven with ritual
Feeling good or connected to the group or church as the goal or as the by-product of rituals makes sense. Relating happiness to the ritual process however involves more than just the psychological, again I can point at the three world approach. The magical aspect is mostly ignored in modern approaches to happiness.
This wasn’t always so. The concept of happiness has a long history in philosophy, the old Greek, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas wrote about it in the context of virtue, hedonistic pleasure and theology, but these days the study of happiness has become a fairly materialistic and rational thing.
One looks at subjective happiness scores, mostly relating happiness to success and achievement in what is now called ‘positive psychology’, writes books about how to become happy with all kinds of suggestions, positive thinking or tries to explain the biological happiness in terms of chemical processes. The spiritual is reduced to self-realization or individuation, but most studies and theories focus on very mundane things like the relationships between affluence, religious affiliation, democracy, age, marriage, and at effects of dopamine, serotonin or oxytocine neurotransmitters on subjective happiness.
The Greek knew that the body and emotions were linked. Their concept of the four humors, yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm, explained for them the differences in personalities among humans.
The Greek notion of happiness is not materialistic, but has to do with ethics, duty, virtue, living a true life.
Socrates suggested to keep interested in the truth, to make sure one’s soul is as good as possible, honoring the (mental) virtues of prudence, temperance, courage and justice/(charity).
Aristotle argued that happiness cannot be identified with pleasure. Pursuing pleasure is futile, short-lasting, and he also noted that activity accompanies pleasure. He considered eudaimonia, translated as happiness but with a spiritual (daimon) tendency, to be the absolute aim of human thought and action, not being relative to other goals or qualities like wealth, intelligence, and courage.
Aristippus of Cyrene developed the philosophy of hedonistic happiness, arguing that the goal of life is to seek (extreme) external pleasure.
Antisthenes, the father of Cynic philosophy, advocated an ascetic life lived in accordance with virtue. A modest, peaceful and natural life, listening to the soul, dissolves the inner tensions and brings happiness.
“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”
This quote from Epicurus also suggests a moderate, tranquil life, no excesses, a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends, a more rational form of hedonism.
According to Dionysus the Areopagite the human soul longs for God. This yearning can be satisfied only by the mystical union with God. Through purity (katharsis), enlightenment (photismos) and completion (teleiosis) one can reach the knowledge of God.
Authentic human happiness for the Roman Plotinus meant identifying with that which is the best in the universe. This is beyond worldly fortune and the physical world, and is open to every human being. He was one of the first to state that happiness is attainable only within consciousness.
The truly happy human being would understand that which is being experienced affects merely the body, not the conscious self, and happiness could persist even in averse conditions. Very much like the Advaita Vedanta position of the East.
Marcus Aurelius also points at this subjective aspect:
“If you are pained by external things it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that power now.”
St. Augustine wrote a whole book about human happiness.
“all persons want to be happy; and no persons are happy who do not have what they want.” (De beata vita)
He believed the ultimate goal of all human endeavor lies in happiness, but not because of worldly goods, material wealth is perpetually subject to the fear of loss. Lasting happiness is possible only by living in God. It is in our love of God that we find permanent and enduring happiness. Augustine defined virtue as our best and deepest love of God.
“Virtuous behavior pertains to the love of God and of one’s neighbor; the truth of faith pertains to a knowledge of God and of one’s neighbor. For the hope of everyone lies in his own conscience in so far as he knows himself to be becoming more proficient in the love of God and his neighbor.” (De Doctrina Christiana)
Augustine’s thought on happiness concerns our vulnerability to the material things of this world:
“It is beyond doubt that the one cause of fear is either that we will lose what we love after attaining it or that, despite all our hopes, we will never attain it at all.” (De Diversis Quaestionibus).
Arthur Schopenhauer established a system of empirical and metaphysical pessimism, but as a way to happiness. He saw the world as unhappy:
“vale of tears, full of suffering. All happiness is an illusion. Life oscillates like a pendulum, back and forth between the pain and boredom”.
Jeremy Bentham’s ethics aimed at the greatest happiness for the greatest number (greatest-happiness-principle).
Ludwig Marcuse believed that there are only some moments of happiness in life, but that great permanent happiness does not exist.
John Stuart Mill realized happiness is temporary, appreciated afterward but not experienced when too conscious:
“But I now thought that this end [one’s happiness] was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness[....] Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness along the way[....] Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.
Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning:
Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:
What is happiness? The feeling that power increases — that a resistance is overcome.
People like Dale Carnegie ad Norman Vincent Peale believed in positive thinking. These days psychology is not only the science of pathological or otherwise less optimal functioning of the mind, but with positive psychology, thanks to Martin Seligman, Howard Cutler, the Dalai Lama and Jonathan Haidt a new perspective emerged.
Modern psychology, it feels, now deals more with happiness in material sense and less with the mystical happiness.
Flourishing, success, there are different words for experiencing or achieving a state of contentment, connectedness, well being and peace of mind.
Positive psychology has opened a path toward not only seeing human happiness as the result of external circumstances beyond one’s volition, but as something that can be systematically trained, manipulated and improved.
This positive vision is not without criticism. For one I think the extradimensional has not been given a proper place, the magical effects of positive thinking are only accepted as a kind of rewiring the brain. Another objection is that it promises more than it delivers, that the wishful thinking is not enough to be happy in the real world. That reality often blocks this path to happiness is confronted by writers as Barbara Ehrenreich, who in her book “Bright sided” exposes the downside of positive thinking, like personal self-blame and denial.
In the context of ritual, achieving or rec eiving happiness seems to be one of the aims of performing ritual, in a very materialistic senses assuming worldly prosperity is a factor, or more spiritually trying to unite with the all. Again we can distinguish the three worlds, there is the mind happiness, the social happiness and the spiritual happiness.
The Happiness Tetrahaedron
The various notions about happiness are not really linked to personality types. I think this is where a better insight in what an individual can do about their happiness mechanisms emerges. I think using a scheme like the enneagram offers the possibility to distinguish between the various inclinations and if a material/spiritual dimension is added (like in the happiness tetrahaedron picture) one can see a Maslow kind of hierarchy in the vertical dimension. The illustration shows that the basic three modalities of body, mind and heart can be mapped this way, but other typologies could be used as well. The ultimate spiritual happiness like in the samadhi or satori state, or the Unio Mystica is then at the top. One could see this as being in the center of the enneagram where the ego dissolved. It seems that deep spiritual happiness is only there in a non-self-consciousness state.
I believe that the various neurotransmitters active in happiness could be classified according to this picture, and resonance between the personality type and chemical induction of emotions could be established. See below at Chemical Happiness.
The problem here, as with all current typologies, is that a person has multiple selves (masks) with each an enneagram type. By looking at one mask and finding out what makes it more happy, one might ignore deeper layers and the inner child self.
Achieving or receiving
In ‘The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World’ (2009) by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler the notion of happiness is sketched as something achievable, something we can exercise, a skill and ability related to conscious effort. That we have a genetic inheritance and actual living conditions that may or may not offer us much happiness is kind of ignored. The positive “can do” message with emphasis on good relationships, trust, a positive attitude, empathy and compassion makes for good book sales, but has little depth. The otherworldly influence, so significant in Lamaism with its rituals, saints and demons, is ignored.
Positive material happiness
Happiness experts like Ruut Veenhoven see rituals as life chances, offering advantages in psychological and social well-being and thus helping along happiness. This is a practical view, they acknowledge the positive effects like in personal (peak) experiences, group identification and the sense of meaning, see the danger of sometimes oppressive religious communities, but without the spiritual dimension. Veenhoven argues, based on his global research into subjective happiness that:
“The term happiness exists in every culture, it’s universal. Happiness, meaning the extent to which you enjoy your life, is the same everywhere".
The terms ‘happiness’, ‘quality-of-life’ and ‘well-being’ denote different and overlapping meanings, concerning values, merits or states of being.
Ruut Veenhoven’s research is mostly about the subjective quality of life. In ‘The four qualities of life’ (2000) he orders the various concepts and measures of the good life. He proposes a scheme based on the differentiation between life ‘chances’ (potential) and life ‘results’ (outcome), and between ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ qualities. He uses the indications in this scheme to clarify the various notions.
· Livability of the environment is about quality of life and well-being, welfare, level of living, the biotope.
· Live-ability of a person covers notions like adaptive potential, health, efficacy, potency, fitness.
· Utility of life covers notions like meaning of life, transcendental qualities.
· Appreciation of life covers subjective well-being, life satisfaction and happiness in a limited sense.
He concludes that quality-of-life can not be measured comprehensively, only in a very general way and he has compiled happiness statistic from all around the world in a “World Database of Happiness”.
Happiness, in his definition, can be measured only by asking people how much they enjoy life, and this brings happiness close to the idea of satisfaction. The danger he sees is that ‘quality-of-life indexes’ mix up satisfaction with possible sources of satisfaction, like income, social contacts and health. He argues that the more general question about how one feels, how one enjoys life as a whole, is more relevant and clear.
Veenhoven sees rituals as a life chance factor in the livability of a culture quadrant in his scheme.
Jonathan Haidt, in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis”, uses the image of the elephant and the rider, the conscious mind trying to steer the mostly unconscious and stubborn elephant with its own drives and needs. The elephant moves automatically and this frees the rider from a lot of routine decisions, but also limits the perception of reality.
This image feels like a combination of Freud’s image of ego and id, but it doesn’t honor Plato’s notion of the psyche as the driver of two horses. I have added some elements to Haidt’s unruly elephant and the driver on top, who only picks up part of the reality out there because of his masks and his upbringing. The drives sees a reality or rather thinks and constructs a personal and not always happy version of the reality, Haidt calls this “thinking makes it so.”
We are not able to get an objective answer about how happy we are, just how happy we think we are. This has to do with our self image, our assumed selves are our false selves, biased in many respects and with unconscious blind spots.
The study of cognitive biases maps our mental blind spots. We think we are looking for the truth, but often we are confirmation and affirmation seekers. We tend to believe what the people around us believe and we keep up with the Joneses. We are more looking for security, authority from others and simple explanations than for truth, and this constitutes a happiness trap. Unhappiness is often the result of frustrated unrealistic expectations, of misjudging reality and false perceptions.
Haidt came up with a formula for happiness, also used by Martin Seligman:
Happiness = S + C + V
The capacity for happiness is the result of a set (S) consisting of our genetics and history plus the more or less fixed conditions of our life, and then the freedom we have in voluntary (V) or discretionary activities. Happiness equals your Natal Set point (what you came with), plus your life Conditions, plus the Voluntary activities you choose to engage in.
The genetic factor accounts to something between 30 and 50%, based on twin studies, but modern insights like epigenetics indicate more plasticity in this factor. The actual result of the programmaing of the DNA is influenced by the environment.
The freedom factor V is considered the most important factor to influence our happiness. There are many suggestions and short-list like Seligman’s PERMA (in “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being”). The acronym stands for Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement.
There are other happiness formulas like:
Jimmy deMesa’s H=G + (DH + C/3) + 3R “Happiness”(H) is equal to your degree of “Gratitude”(G) plus the fulfillment of your own personal “Definition of Happiness”(DH) plus your level of “Contribution” divided by 3, plus attention to the “3 R’s” of life (3R), which are Relationships, Rules, and Regrets. Here gratitude - a focus on the positive aspects of life - is used, as inversely proportional to unhappiness. Contributing to the lives of others is an essential component of happiness for everyone.
Another one comes from Todd Kashdan whose advice is to “Stay curious, live in the moment and look after your health”. Feeling Good = (Mx16 + Cx1 + Lx2) + (Tx5 + Nx2 + Bx33). The factors are: Live in the moment (M), be curious), do something you love (L), think of others first (T), nurture relationships (N), and take care of your body (B).
Scott Adams’ Happiness Formula is :) = Health + Money + Social Life + Meaning
The ones above and some similar ones have received much attention, but are rather static. The dynamics of happiness, as being both a process and a state, are not well represented. A state of happiness doesn’t last long, we need new stimuli all the time. The Hawthorne effect in motivational studies is well known, we constantly need new stimuli or incentives for motivation.
My version of the happiness formula would therefore to use a D (delta) sign to indicate the time factor, but using the Haidt formula. I would also not add up the factors, but multiply them as they mutually influence each other.
H(t)= S x C x DV
The factors S and C are more or less stable, but of course one can change the conditions of one’s life a bit, so we could add some freedom to those factors too.
H(t)= S x DC x DV or simply that happiness is related to how much we can influence things, but the effects have diminishing returns. The first drink of water when thirsty makes you happy, the second already less.
A happiness formula like Haidt’s or my adaptation of it may work for aggregated situations and groups or even nations, but offers less for the individual.
Individual happiness is so dependent on the life scenario of the soul, the assumed selves (egos) and the sub- and unconscious factors that the very general suggestions in the happiness literature may work or not.
The situation is similar to dietary suggestions, there is some value in the general approaches, but individuals are very different and even if something works for a short time, often there are no lasting benefits.
For individual happiness suggestions I developed the happiness tetrahaedron described below.
Happiness and pleasure are related, doing what you like, hedonism, may bring happiness but it’s not guaranteed. The paradox of hedonism (Henry Sidgwick) is that pleasure can only be acquired indirectly, or inversely, that pleasure and happiness cannot be reverse-engineered. To achieve happiness, one cannot seek happiness directly, one must motivate oneself to do things one likes, seek activity and relate to pleasant others and things. like music, arts, sex. Health and happiness are mutually beneficial, and there is research (Happy People Live Longer, Bruno Frey, 2011) indicating that happy people live 14% longer, increasing longevity 7.5 to 10 years.
One of the questions concerning happiness is whether working on happiness from the outside or the inside is better. Just as in the case of health, both approaches can have positive results, but one has to be careful not to focus on symptoms rather than deep causes.
The same applies to whether one should work on individual or social happiness. Both are important and influence each other, for both there are certain minimum levels of comfort.
The concept of ‘flow’ as advocated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is part of the ‘positive psychology’ insights. Flow is a state of consciousness accompanying an activity that generates genuine satisfaction. During such intense experiences one feels strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of one’s abilities. In a flow state one is completely immersed in an activity with intense focus and creative engagement.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990)
Csikszentmihalyi argues that happiness is not a fixed state and does not simply happen, but must be developed and cultivated by setting individual challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple for one’s abilities. This is a dynamic process, one grows in skills and handling challenges. Optimal experience is something we make happen, he says.
The key to flow is mind-control: in the flow-like state, we exercise control over the contents of our consciousness rather than allowing ourselves to be passively determined by external forces. The essence of flow is the removal of the interference of the thinking mind.
There is a funny contradiction here, he mentions both control and unselfconsciousness. I think that the notion of getting into an inner me or ritual state explains better what happens in such a flow situation. In ritual there is the same paradox, the need for conscious effort to dissolve the ego and become unselfconscious.
In flow, most of the brain’s available inputs are devoted to one activity and this results in a different perception of time, ignoring discomfort, and focus. Again, the parallel with the ritual state is obvious.
Flow points or flow state can be experienced in yoga or in what Buddhists would call mindfulness, satori or deep meditation. The activity there, however, is not directed outward, but it is inward concentration with no bodily or emotional effects, but the same peak experience and self-forgetfulness.
The difference is that such spiritual practice assumes that the optimal mind is at rest and in peace, while Csiksentmihalyi believes the normal state of the mind is chaos. He writes:
Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos … when we are left alone, with no demands on attention, the basic order of the mind reveals itself … Entropy is the normal state of consciousness — a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable.
This is not exactly Eastern thinking. The Zen “chopping wood and carrying water” is not exciting or challenging and yet considered virtuous and happy.
Cziksentmihalyi identifies a number of elements in achieving flow:
· There are clear goals every step of the way.
· There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
· There is a balance between challenges and skills.
· Action and awareness are merged.
· Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
· There is no worry of failure.
· Self-consciousness disappears.
· The sense of time becomes distorted.
· The activity becomes an end in itself.
Csikszentmihalyi sees achieving a flow state as something under voluntary control. One can become autotelic (self-directed) by:
1. Setting goals that have clear and immediate feedback
2. Becoming immersed in the particular activity
3. Paying attention to what is happening in the moment
4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience
5. Proportioning one’s skills to the challenge at hand.
Martin Seligman extends Csikszentmihalyi’s work in making a distinction between pleasures and gratifications. Pleasures are states that have clear sensory and emotional components, gratifications are marked by energies that demand strengths and allow to lose self-consciousness.
The problem I see with positive psychology is it suggests happiness moments can be achieved without much effort, and that being unhappy is a matter of not taking care. One needs to built a reasonable confidence in one’s own powers to be successful or happy. This carries a hidden message. Being unhappy is your own fault, quite a verdict for those in a situation they have little control over.
Happiness (and unhappy) moments sometimes just happen, caused by accidental circumstances or consciousness states we don’t understand or control.
The chemical happiness
It is often not clear whether happiness is an emotional qualifier, a state of consciousness, a process or qualification and whether it’s a subjective or an objective description. In individual cases it obviously is subjective, but has a relationship with objective biological qualifiers like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin levels, skin resistance, brain wave frequencies, etc.
The field of neuroscience argues that happiness is the result of electrochemical reactions in the brain brought on by stimuli of the senses or drugs. Nobelist Francis Crick’s hypothesis is that :
“’you, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated neurons”
Quite a materialistic opinion, little room for the extradimensional here.
On the other hand, psyche and brains do have an intimate relationship. There obviously is a kind of reward system in the animal and human brains (in the nucleus accumbens) that regulates the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals like the neurotransmitter hormone dopamine, associated with feelings of happiness and other moods.
Some hormones are survival oriented. Endorphin, the body’s natural morphine, is triggered by physical pain and can cause euphoria. Dopamine happiness is the result of success, it’s triggered when you get a new reward and gives new energy, new stamina. Oxytocin happiness is an emotional and trust induced substance, it facilitates bonding between mother and child, and between sex partners or with like-minded people. Serotonin regulates mood, appetite and sleep and can act as antidepressant. Serotonin happiness is triggered when you feel important, in control. The hormone cortisol is the result of stress and is a negative factor, eating away at the hippocampus and attacking memory functioning. There are other hormones, like progesterone and testosterone, active in other aspects of happiness.
The brain only releases happy chemicals for specific aims and for a limited time. Of course the relation between psyche and brains works two ways. What you think makes the brains react and what the brains feels, through electric or chemical stimulation, the psyche experiences.
This means, for the materialist sciences, that we can trick our brain to cultivate positive states of mind, given the right combination of stimuli. Of course these hormones and chemicals are to be balanced, just adding one or cause more production of one of them may disrupt the balance.
This means that once we understand the neural bases of happiness, gratitude, resilience, love, compassion, and so forth, those states can be induced by external stimuli or we can exercise being in those states to train our brain. The neurotransmitter norepinephrine for instance is related to gratitude.
I have added a ring of neurotransmitters to the happiness tetrahaedron illustration to indicate that some of them resonate with some enneagram types, in combination or alone. This is the individualized chemical path to happiness. I believe that more research in what for instance psycho-active substances like psilocybin or MDMA do, would help to clarify the mechanism of happiness, especially in relation to the various personality types.
Happiness in the cyberage
In a world where practical and physical human contact, with the postman, the baker, the doctor, priest, physical friends and the political establishment is increasingly replaced by new media, virtual social networks, Facebook, Skype, chat or email contact happiness might be jeopardized. Many people now rely on often illusionary circles of cyberfriends, the old time cohesion of society and having intimate friends is replaced by superficial cloud contacts. This contact virtualization will probably increase, driverless cars and logistics, robot policemen (Google makes robot-soldiers), automated health-monitoring and treatment are on the horizon. Privacy and the learning possibilities of failure are, if you don’t want to be exposed to NSA screening, limited to computer gaming. All our social interactions will soon be public property.
I think that new cyberspace and physical rituals are important to counter this assault on happiness, but I fear rational science and materialistic economics will not easily accept this option.
Happy people, a dream
For some, and I subscribe to this notion, life and whatever it brings is a perfect and necessary lesson, but many don’t thank, but blame chaos, Fate, God or whatever they believe to be the source of all for what is bestowed upon them. Blaming God is one of the ways to escape one’s own responsibility for happiness.
I once (March 1, 1997) had a dream, in my Hilversum home, about happiness. I was in the dream, sharing a kind of vessel or vehicle pace with a group of people, some of them I knew, some not, but seemingly there was nothing special. But the vehicle was in the air and looking out I could see the earth and we were moving toward New York, as suddenly the image kind of expanded, bringing me into an altered state of consciousness, and the whole vehicle and I moved into a dark nothingness. I noticed some devilish figures, somewhat blue and laughing, not unfriendly but interested and affirmatively nodding at me. And then I got back into that vehicle, but the group energy had changed, very slight but there were other detail like a flower here or there, a bow tie, smiles, some of the group were happy now!
This was an aha-erlebnis, in this dream I saw happy people amidst the others, and they went around and mixed with the “normal, the unhappy ones. Then a game or rather a ritual started, the people dived into two groups, it had something to do with were you came from, the one group were people from Amsterdam. In the middle of the room a kind of wall of pillows and mattresses was made, and the game was that the one group had to act “Happy”, the others “unhappy”.
The Amsterdam folks were the “happy” ones, that was traditional someone remarked. The purpose of the game was to teach the participants, how to be happy in a kind of role-play, by assuming a happy/unhappy role within the group, that consisted of happy and unhappy ones. The happy ones were the ones to show the others how to be happy and there was something about fake it till you make it.
When I woke up, I realized there are happy ones among us, that I have met some of them, and they were important role models in my life. These people were “real” in a special way, not overly kind or comforting, but in touch with their soul, and recognizing and honoring the inner soul, the divine flame in me. This is why the traditional “Namaste” greeting of the Nepali always touches me, to recognize and honor the divine in the other is a sure step toward happiness.
Now those among us, who believe in life as the perfect path toward unity are the happy ones, they made this an inner truth, even as their life might look difficult for others. This “Guild of the Happy” as I like to call them, has no organization, but a clear mission and an important one. Living and radiating their happiness is their special path laid out for them. They are the living proof of the care the universe (God) has for all of us.
This is a Guild where everybody is at the same time apprentice, journeyman and master, and where it’s the task of the master to reveal this, in an interpersonal way, not as a mass event.
The transfer of this awareness, the knowing of the heart, the Gnostic truth, is less a matter of words, it’s the transference of love, inner truth, at another level than the cognitive.
Talking about happiness I realize I am getting very close to love, a subject however that is so wide and so much part of all that I trust the reader will recognize love as a perspective underlying all of this book.