Friday, March 29, 2013

Happiness Is....

I read the Daring to Live Fully blog by Marelisa Fabrega on a fairly regular basis. It is sort of a new age living the life you love motivational kind of thing, not my usual fare. However, from time to time it contains some pretty interesting insights that I wouldn’t find in any hard core financial material. Her latest post is titled “How to Calculate Your Net Happiness,” a tall order.

The first problem in our search for happiness is the lizard brain. That is the reactive part of our brain that keeps us alive when facing sudden dangers. Its functions are sometimes called the four Fs, feeding, fleeing, fighting, and….reproduction.

Seth Godin loves to talk about the lizard brain, as it keeps us from reaching our full potential as human beings. He observes, “The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny. The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe. The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival.”

I would guess the first step in achieving happiness would be keeping the lizard brain under control. I would say satisfying the lizard brain, but I have learned that is impossible. Still, we need a certain amount of food, clothing, and shelter in our quest to achieve happiness. We need stable healthy relationships with others of our species. We need at least a measure of safety and security in our immediate environment. Not all have even the basics that could satisfy the lizard brain, yet some of them have achieved a deep abiding level of happiness.

In a recent article found in Psychology Today, Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D. discusses the results of his extensive studies of happiness. He has found 5 characteristics of happy people; some of them even involve money. People who manage money well tend to be happier than people who do not control their finances. That makes sense. Money is an intrinsic and necessary part of survival in this material world. I expect the lizard brain needs a certain amount of money to feel safe. The next two indicators of happiness kind of hang together. Happy people spend money on experiences rather than things. That too makes sense. A house full of junk does not bring happiness. Believe me it causes stress, especially when contemplating a move. The next indicator for happiness is revisiting memories of those happy experiences. However, our happiest memories were seldom bought with money. The last two aren’t directly related to money. First an ability to read and properly react to the emotions of others, emotional intelligence if you will, is a powerful indicator for happiness. The last is community. I would think that people who know how to read and react properly to others would have a better standing in their community. Such a skill might also help you make more money over the course of your career or lead you to a more powerful position in your community, or not.

There must be something else to this happiness question. Ultimately neither our lizard brain nor that organ’s more evolutionary advanced components are in control. Solomon observed, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21) We were also created to relate to a higher power. I am a Christian so you know where I stand on that subject. However, Christians are not the only people who have managed to transcend the limitations of the lizard brain. The Buddhists teach unhappiness arises when we are unable to fulfill our desires. The Apostle James says pretty much the same thing.

James Chapter 4

[1] From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
[2] Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
[3] Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
[4] Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Final giving to others also seems to be an important component to finding happiness.

Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

A Hindu proverb observes, “Great rivers shady trees, medicinal plants, and virtuous people are not born for themselves.”

Hazrat Abu Zar Ghaffari reported that one evening he was walking with the Noble Prophet Muhammad (saw) when he said, "Abu Zar, if the mountain of Uhud were turned into gold for me, I would not like three nights to pass and one dinar still be left with me, excepting what I would leave for paying my debts." He would never rest until all the cash in the house was completely finished.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote, "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy."

Now go out today with the intention that you will be somebody’s miracle, see how that increases the calculation of your net happiness.

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