Joseph Campbell is famous for saying, among other things, follow your bliss.
Great! Can you point the way?
Happiness is causal. Things happen and we’re impacted. The difficulty comes in trying to replicate what produced our euphoria, our flow or bliss. The conditions by which we obtain our happiness can be artificially constructed, but we all know that anything inorganic rarely produces anything near real happiness. And quite often all the things we need to make us happy can be present, and we’re still not in the realm of joy.
One of my favorite writers on the topic is Alain de Botton. He’s a philosopher who takes everyday problems—pain, frustration, or a broken heart—and applies the consolations of philosophy in their remedy.
In his book The Consolations of Philosophy de Botton uses Epicurus to talk about happiness. Epicurus says for happiness ones needs as a necessity:
Food and shelter and clothes
Not necessary are things like a grand home, power and fame.
In fact de Botton goes on to quote Epicurus’ more or less equation for happiness:
- ID a project for happiness
- Imagine the project is false. Look for loopholes (could I be in possession of the IDed project and still be unhappy? Can I be happy with out it?)
- If an exception or loophole is found then the object/project is not required for your happiness.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sees happiness in a little different way. “…the control of consciousness determines the quality of life,” he said in his book Flow. For an optimal experience (happiness) the psychologist found that:
- The situation must be such that attention can be fully invested—few distractions, no chance of harm
- The goals are within reach and identifiable.
- Time is of no consequence.
- The person becomes so absorbed in the activity, the self is lost in the activity itself.
- A level of proficiency in the activity is important.
“The best moments (in life) occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile,” he reports.
In essence, we make happiness happen.
Further along those lines, is Jon Mundy’s The Ten Laws of Happiness. He says that happiness is a result of a deep spiritual set of laws including trust, honesty, tolerance, patience and defenselessness, to name a few…there are, um, ten of them. Faithfulness, of course, is a main tenant.
But in the end, if comes down to purpose for me. Epicurus via de Botton is more about feeling happy and poor; Flow about the momentary; while Mundy’s is about a spiritual happiness that seems all too interior for me.
My favorite set of conditions for happiness comes from a Hindu teacher by the name of Eknath Easwaran, author of The End of Sorrow.
He came up with an seven-point plan for happiness that to me is not about immediate gratification but of long-term happiness. His plan includes:
- Mantram—or prayer
- Slowing down
- One-pointed attention
- Training the senses
- Spiritual companionship
- Reading the mystics
Given that I’m not Hindu I’ve customized the practice, but then that in and of itself is the process of obtaining happiness. Customize. Happiness is personal, causal. We know what works best. We know the way.