There is more than one kind of happy

By Calvin Harris H.W., M.

With all the rants and ravings about the political election, I needed a break. I found myself a serene space to be in and even humming along to Pharrell Williams song “Happy” on the sound system. My thoughts turn to how in some circles did August get proclaimed the month to be Happy. So the thoughts swirl in my head about being Happy, then the question comes around to what kind of Happy are we talking about?  What is that concept Happy about? Is there more than one kind of happy.  Buddha’s words popped into my head (yeah the real one, wise guy) He said “Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are; it solely relies on what you think.”

Happiness is a good thing yeah; but the word happy does not seem to cover all that it means to people, it’s not just only one thing, and that is where it gets complicated. Scientists and Philosophers have explored that fascinating “WHAT” is happiness for about two and a half millennia, starting with Greek philosopher Aristotle.

He at the time, with a bunch of his Greek philosopher buddies were trying to define precisely what constituted the perfect state of conscious beingness called Happy, but even then the answer seemed to diverge into segmented groups.  I wanted to go with those philosophers that contended that happiness sprang from hedonism, the pursuit of sensual pleasure. Try as I could to stay with that conclusion, I just couldn’t leave it there. My life experience and coaching work with others has proven that wellbeing cannot be found in the pursuit of purely the hedonistic.  That pursuit produces only a transitory happiness.

Now there was this other segment of philosophers, who would argue that Happiness happened by working through the misperceptions of pain and tragedy, and that the work would lead us to our final destination of a worthwhile life and happiness.

Aristotle proposed a third option for Happiness. In his Nicomachean Ethics, he described the idea of eudaemonic happiness, which said, essentially, that happiness was not merely a feeling, or a golden promise, but a practice.  I pondered the link between a worthwhile life and its connection to happiness, as something you do.

So to focus my query to a more definitive answer I went to the on-line version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary and found the word Eudaemonism. It is defined as:  a theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being. Eudaemonist ideas seem to still be with us today, if we look around, you might see or hear some of the more simplistic or dumb down versions of it, such as playing ‘Pokemon GO,’ or the Narcissus Instagram photos, (put photo here) or that idea that only money itself will make us happy, then again for others it is just the notion of sit back and wait on heaven to come (some maybe shocked when God hands them the shovel and says get to work.)

Helen Morales, Faculty Chair of the Classics Department at University Santa Barbara, is reported as saying: “It’s living in a way that fulfills our purpose, … Aristotle was saying, ‘Stop hoping for happiness tomorrow. Happiness is being engaged in the process now.”   Personally I think that Aristotle may have been onto something.

In 2007, Steve Cole, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, among others, identified a link between loneliness and how our bodies genes express themselves. In a small study, since repeated in larger trials, they compared blood samples from six people who felt socially isolated with samples from eight who didn’t. Among the lonely participants, the function of the genome had changed in such a way that the risk of inflammatory diseases increased and antiviral response diminished. It appeared that the brains of these subjects were wired to equate loneliness with danger, and to switch the body into a defensive state of stress. In effect, according to Cole, the stress reaction requires “mortgaging our long-term health in favor of our short-term survival.” Our bodies, he concluded, are “programmed to turn misery into death.”

In early 2010, Cole spoke on his work at a conference, now in the audience was Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Cole’s talk got Fredrickson to thinking: “If stressful states, including loneliness, caused the genome to respond in a damaging way, might sustained positive experiences have the opposite result? Eudaemonist and hedonic aspects of well-being had previously been linked to longevity, so the possibility of finding beneficial effects seemed plausible,” Fredrickson and Cole joined together a team for a collaborative project to determine if there was a linking of happiness and biology.

Since that first trial test, in 2013, according to Cole, the kind of effect being found indicate that lacking eudaemonia can be as damaging as smoking or obesity. They also suggest that, although people high in eudaemonic happiness could often experience some type of hedonic byproduct too, the associated health benefits tend to surface only in those who lead what Aristotle might have called a good life.

What, precisely, is this symbolic good life? What is meant when we talk about eudaemonia? For Aristotle, it required a combination of rationality and arête— Arête for me, means, a unique kind of Love, called it unconditional love (and lordly I am not talking about the twisted moralized kind either.)  Arête, a Love that contains in its essence a pure awareness of wholeness, a formless completeness that entails a goodness that is called by many names but is in the pursuit of excellence.  You can see an example of this in great athletics. Due to their love of their sport you will watch them put forth great effort in training for their sport, knowing that the training is seldom pleasurable still they will do it, because it fulfills their greater purpose to be a great athlete and in so doing brings happiness.

Psychologist Fredrickson has gone on record in suggesting that a key facet of eudaemonia is connection. “It refers to those aspects of well-being that transcend immediate self-gratification and connect people to something larger.”.  Now to me this would suggest, an example like the Olympic games. It is an event, yet it is a symbol too, that goes beyond the act of the Olympian athlete’s winning a medal, showing his/her individual personal achievement, there is a larger symbolism. Each Olympiad is unique, but they all have a common purpose: to froster traditions that create cooperation, teamwork, as well as individual athleticism. bringing nations closer together in the spirit of peace among all nations.

I would concur from my own merger experience at producing happiness (eudaemonic well-being.) To the degree that I am successful, it has consisted of at least two qualities: 1) It must be meaningful in some way to do it, and 2) there is a consciousness to produce a difference in my world.

Going back to Aristotle saying, the idea of happiness is not merely a feeling, or a golden promise, but a practice. “It’s living in a way that fulfills our purpose, ‘Stop hoping for happiness tomorrow. Happiness is being engaged in the process now.”

I think that Aristotle may have been onto something. When you engage in a core project. Clarifying your purpose as you go along. You find the project and the purpose becomes malleable to your consciousness, as you bring it into manifestation.  Thus increasing the possibilities for social connection, based on an individual’s perspective and needs. A monk on the mountain top, won’t require the same kind of social connections as a Real-estate agent from Seattle.
Mental flexibility, or call it malleability, is the needed Aristotle’s eludes to in eudaemonia, because it makes finding happiness a real possibility. Even the most temperamentally introverted or miserable among us has the capacity to find a meaningful project that suits who they are. Locating it won’t just bring pleasure; it might also bring a few more years of life in which to get the project done. It’s not about taking our self to seriously but more about how we can be fully engaged in the discovery of life.

Another component I would like you to consider is Laughter, I don’t remember her words exactly, but Marlo Thomas was talking about Laughter, and what I came away with from what she said was – “Not only because it is an expression of our happiness, but it also has actual health benefits. And that's because laughter completely engages the body and releases the mind. It connects us to others.”

So please this August think about being Happy, and if you can’t find anything to laugh about come over to me and I’ll have a laugh.