Articles on Happiness by Gary Hayden

February 16, 2018 | Author: Tedrick Thomas Salim Lew | Category: Happiness & Self-Help, Positive Psychology, Compassion, Stoicism, Dalai Lama
Share Embed Donate

Short Description

Download Articles on Happiness by Gary Hayden...


Is the glass half empty or half full? By Gary Hayden In the second part of a series by Gary Hayden about happiness, he talks about Greek philosopher Epictetus, who says we can be happy even in the most trying circumstances Last week, I considered the views of Epicurus who taught that the key to happiness is pleasure. The pleasures Epicurus had in mind were simple ones: wholesome food, the company of friends and a tranquil life. But what if these basic pleasures are denied us? What if we are sick, hungry or imprisoned? What if our loved ones are taken from us? Can we still be happy? According to Epictetus (AD55-135), the answer is yes: We can be happy even in the most trying circumstances. LIVED AS A SLAVE Epictetus was a Greek, but lived mostly in Rome. He started life as a slave to Epaphroditus, one of Nero's bodyguards, and was crippled as a result of the brutal treatment he received. He later became a freed man and lived in Rome until the Emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from Italy. He spent his final years teaching and writing in the city of Nicopolis on the Adriatic coast in north-west Greece. If health, freedom and security are essential to happiness, then Epictetus had plenty of reasons to be miserable. But he refused to be crushed by circumstances. He developed a philosophy that enabled him to endure slavery, disability and banishment cheerfully. Epictetus' philosophy was so powerful and so profound that it came to be adopted by some of Rome's ruling elite, including the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD121-180). IN CONTROL Epictetus was a Stoic - a disciple of a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in 3BC. According to Zeno, if we are wise, we must learn to bow to the inevitable and cultivate indifference to circumstances outside our control. He practised what he preached. When all of his possessions were lost in a shipwreck, he merely remarked: 'Fortune bids me be a less encumbered philosopher.' We cannot always control our circumstances, but we can control how we react to those circumstances. Epictetus put it very eloquently: 'I must die. But must I die groaning? I must be imprisoned. But must I whine as well? I must suffer exile. Can anyone hinder me from going with a smile, and a good courage, and at peace?'

Of course, if we are too ready to accept things as they are, we may not try hard enough to make things better. Epictetus recognised this and emphasised the need to distinguish between things we can control and things we cannot. The Stoic need not resign himself to circumstances that he has the power to change. If he is sick, he ought to seek a cure. But if the sickness cannot be cured, he must try to bear it cheerfully. Fretting and cursing will only make matters worse. To illustrate this, the philosopher Cleanthes used the metaphor of a dog tied to a cart. When the cart moves, the dog must follow. Straining against the leash will only increase the creature's discomfort. Epictetus could have nursed anger and bitterness about his misfortunes: his days in slavery, his disability and his banishment from Rome. But what would this have achieved? In bowing to the inevitable, he was able to channel his energies more productively and find happiness and contentment. STOICISM AND THE MODERN WORLD Stoicism has proved an enduring philosophy. Throughout the ages, it has enabled the sick, the poor and the oppressed to find peace of mind amid the most trying circumstances. But stoicism is not only for the destitute. Those of us who are comfortably off - and have few genuine problems - are often just as likely to let circumstances get us down. So a healthy dose of stoicism can benefit us all. Why fret when stuck in traffic? Why curse the heat or the rain? Why become angry because a flight is delayed? Far better to adopt an attitude of stoic indifference. After all, what cannot be cured must be endured. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. ******* Look beyond yourself to achieve happiness The spiritual leader of Tibetans believes that compassion for others is central to being happy, as Gary Hayden finds out This is the third in a series of articles about happiness. In previous weeks I considered the views of two ancient philosophers: Epicurus and Epictetus. Epicurus believed that the key to happiness is pleasure. Epictetus taught that we can only be

happy when we learn to accept life's trials and disappointments cheerfully. Both of these philosophies seem quite inward-looking. Does this mean that happiness is essentially a selfish pursuit? The Dalai Lama thinks not. He believes 'we cannot be truly happy without compassion'. THE DALAI LAMA The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people is known as the Dalai Lama. Tibetan Buddhists believe that each successive Dalai Lama is a tulku, or reincarnation of the previous one. The present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso (from 1935), is the 14th in a line which stretches back to the 16th century. Since 1959 he has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India, due to the Chinese invasion of Tibet. He has travelled extensively, spreading Buddhist teachings throughout the world, and is the first Dalai Lama to have visited the West. His tireless efforts on behalf of world peace and human rights earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. ON HAPPINESS The Dalai Lama places an enormous value on happiness. He has even written a book on the subject: The Art Of Happiness by HH Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. Central to his philosophy is the idea that you cannot achieve true happiness if you are selfabsorbed. Personal fulfilment comes only when you look beyond yourself and develop a compassionate attitude towards others. There are two types of compassion. One is based on emotional attachment, and extends only to family, friends and suchlike. The other is not based on attachment, and has a much broader scope. It extends to all humankind. The Dalai Lama illustrates this second type of compassion by an example. Imagine you see a fish writhing with a hook in its mouth. You may experience a feeling of not being able to bear its pain. The compassion you feel is not based on any special bond of friendship with the animal, but simply on your identification with its suffering. In the same way, you can feel compassion for other people whether or not you are emotionally attached to them. 'Genuine compassion is based on the rationale that all human beings have an innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering, just like myself,' said the Dalai Lama. According to the Dalai Lama, this all-encompassing compassion is an important component of personal happiness and fulfilment. But if you learn to identify with the pain that others feel, isn't there a danger that you will be overwhelmed by their suffering? The Dalai Lama thinks not. He points to a qualitative difference between your own suffering

and the suffering you feel on someone else's behalf. Your own suffering seems to crush and overwhelm you. But compassionate suffering has a very different effect. It brings about feelings of alertness, commitment and determination. Research has shown that when people do regular volunteer work they tend to live longer and suffer less from stress-related illness. They also report feelings of calm, increased energy and improved self-esteem. Compassionate acts make their lives happier and more fulfilled. LEARNING COMPASSION How do you develop your capacity for compassion? Buddhists employ a number of techniques, such as the sequence of meditations known as the 'seven-point cause-and-effect' method where concepts like recalling the kindness of others and repaying kindness that is experienced is taught. But for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, the Dalai Lama recommends a simple, brief meditation on compassion. You begin by visualising someone who is suffering in some way. You reflect on their suffering for a few minutes, and allow natural feelings of compassion to arise. Then you focus your mind on how you can help to alleviate that suffering. On a practical note, you can get involved in voluntary work. The National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre website at can help you match your talents and interests to the needs of a whole host of worthwhile charities and organisations. 'Happiness never decreases by being shared,' said Buddha. ******* Want to be happy? Inject some fun into your life This is the fourth in a series of articles about happiness. This week, Gary Hayden talks about how having fun can seriously make you happy. If you have followed the series so far, you might be justified in thinking that happiness is a very serious business, and that the happy life seems to require a great deal of mental effort. This week, by way of contrast, I would like to consider Bertrand Russell's view that: we can be happy only if we make time for fun. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was one of the 20th century's most influential thinkers. His Principia Mathematica is one of philosophy's most celebrated (and most difficult) works; and his A History of Western Philosophy is one of its most widely read. In 1950 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But he didn't confine himself to philosophical speculation. He had plenty to say about practical matters, such as morality, sexuality, education and happiness; and he was wellknown for his anti-war and anti-nuclear protests, which landed him in jail twice. In 1958 he became the founding president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

You might think that a man of such formidable intellect, engaged in so many important matters, would have little time for 'mere' hobbies and pastimes. But this was not the case. In fact, he believed that they are essential ingre-dients of a happy life. Russell on happinessAs a youth, Bertrand Russell was very unhappy. He was often on the verge of suicide, and was restrained only by 'the desire to know more mathematics'. But as he grew older, he learnt to enjoy life. At age 60, he wrote: "I might almost say that with every year that passes, I enjoy (life) more." In 1930 he shared his experiences and insights in a book entitled The Conquest Of Happiness. The first part of the book is concerned with the causes of unhappiness, such as boredom, envy, fatigue and fear of public opinion. The second part is concerned with the causes of happiness, such as affection, zest, work and family. Amongst the causes of happiness, Russell includes 'impersonal interests', by which he means things that we do simply for pleasure, and which have nothing to do with our work or responsibilities. In other words: things we do for fun. Why does he consider these things so important? First of all, they provide us with an antidote to one of our main sources of unhappiness: fatigue. If we are too preoccupied with worries and responsibilities, we quickly lose our zest for life. Impersonal interests provide us with the rest and relaxation we need to keep us energised and invigorated. Secondly, impersonal interests help us to keep a sense of proportion. It is very easy to attach undue importance to ourselves, to our work and to our little corner of the world. But a passionate interest in chess, butterflies, flower-arranging or basketball counteracts this tendency to self-absorption, and reminds us that there is much of value in the world besides ourselves. For example, a man or woman who takes the time to explore the constellations of the night-sky cannot help but gain a wider perspective on things. Someone might say: 'Hobbies and pastimes are all very well for some. But not for me. I have too many important matters to attend to.' According to Bertrand Russell, this is a grave error. When we deny ourselves the time to pursue impersonal interests, we work longer but we do not work better: The man who can forget his work when it is over... is likely to do his work far better than the man who worries about it throughout the intervening hours. And it is very much easier to forget work at the times when it ought to be forgotten if a man has many interests other than his work, according to Bertrand Russell. Time spent on pleasurable activities is not time wasted. It is time invested. Don't forgo hobbiesFrom my own experience, I have found Bertrand Russell to be absolutely right. I'm a keen, though mediocre, squash player. At times of great stress, I'm sometimes tempted

to forgo my squash games, and either continue working or simply slump in front of the TV. But I have learnt to resist the temptation. Even when I am at my busiest, the time I spend chasing a small rubber ball around a squash court is time well-spent. My worries are quickly forgotten, and I return to my responsibilities with renewed energy. So make time for fun. Not only will it make you happier, it will also make you more productive. ******* Want to be happy? Get set for a lifelong pursuit The philosopher Aristotle reminds us that happiness is more than just fleeting, passive enjoyment, says Gary Hayden This is the fifth in a series of articles about happiness. In previous weeks, I considered the views of two ancient philosophers, Epicurus and Epictetus, as well as two modern thinkers, Bertrand Russell and the Dalai Lama. This week, I will examine the views of one of philosophy's undisputed giants, Aristotle, who maintained that happiness is a lifelong pursuit. AristotleAristotle (384-322BC) was born in Macedonia. He later travelled to Athens, and enrolled in Plato's school of philosophy, the Academy. He was enormously talented and eventually opened his own school, the Lyceum. Aristotle's achievements were mind-blowing. He organised the various sciences into the categories we use today, such as biology, physics and psychology. He invented logic, the branch of philosophy that studies valid reasoning and argument. And he wrote authoritatively on a bewildering variety of subjects, including politics, ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics and literary criticism. At one time, he tutored Alexander the Great, a fellow Macedonian. Following Alexander's death in 323BC, anti-Macedonian feeling spread throughout Athens. Aristotle found himself under a trumped-up charge of impiety, and fled to Chalcis, where he died a year later, aged 62. On happiness Aristotle's views on happiness can be found in one of philosophy's great works: the Nicomachean Ethics. He begins by demonstrating that happiness is the ultimate aim of human life. We all seek after many things: wealth, reputation, knowledge, friendship. Some of these things have intrinsic value, but at least part of the reason for seeking them is that we believe they will make us happy. The only thing we seek entirely for its own sake is happiness. Therefore, happiness is the supreme good. So far, this is common sense. But when Aristotle delves deeper into the nature of happiness,

he makes two surprising claims: first, that happiness is an activity; and second, that we can talk meaningfully about happiness only in the context of an entire life, not just isolated parts. The notion that happiness is an activity is a strange one. We tend to equate happiness with pleasure or enjoyment, and therefore view it as either a feeling or a possession - something we have rather than something we do. But on closer reflection, this does not ring true. It is easy to imagine someone, perhaps a pop singer or movie star, whose life consists of one pleasure after another. But it still makes sense to ask whether that person is happy. A happy life involves more than passive enjoyment. Otherwise, a life of pleasant druginduced dreams would qualify as a happy one. Happiness involves living the right way, not just feeling the right way. A happy life requires a sense of fulfilment - the feeling that we are doing something with our lives, and making something of ourselves. To achieve this requires effort and commitment, which is why Aristotle describes happiness as 'an activity of the soul'. What about his second claim - that happiness can be judged only in the context of an entire life? Perhaps this can be illustrated by an example. Last week, I ate lunch at a pizza restaurant. The lunchtime special was an all-you-can-eat buffet, which was advertised with the slogan: 'Unleash the happiness.' The meal was perfectly enjoyable, but it would be nonsense to say that it made me happy. No single moment of pleasure is sufficient for happiness, because happiness is a long-term pursuit. In fact, the headlong pursuit of pleasure will prevent you from achieving happiness. Watching TV is more enjoyable than studying for an exam. But sometimes, it is necessary to forgo the TV in order to prepare for the exam. By denying ourselves instant gratification, we build a more lasting kind of happiness. Aristotle says that it is only when a man is old that we can truly judge whether his life has been a happy one. Perhaps this is taking things a bit too far. But his point is valid. It is only in the context of an entire life that happiness can be judged. 'For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does a day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a person blessed and happy.' (Aristotle) ******* The high art of being happy Happiness is not just about pleasure, it takes some effort too, writes Gary Hayden. This is the seventh in a series of articles about happiness. Last week, I considered the views of the British philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).

Bentham equated happiness with pleasure, and believed that a happy life is simply one in which pleasure outweighs pain. He even went so far as to invent a felicific calculus - a method of calculating the amount of pleasure and pain that a certain action is likely to cause. This week I want to consider the views of another British philosopher, John Stuart Mill (18061873). Mill's father was a friend of Jeremy Bentham, and shared Bentham's philosophical and political views. From an early age, young Mill was subjected to a very intense programme of education, which was designed to make him into a great thinker and social reformer. He was a gifted child, and learned his lessons well. He became a keen disciple of Bentham, and wholeheartedly embraced the great thinker's ideas about happiness. But at age 20, Mill underwent a mental crisis which profoundly affected his intellectual and emotional outlook, and completely altered his views on happiness. Mill on happiness In 1826, Mill suffered what he described as a 'crisis in (his) mental history'. He stopped deriving any pleasure from his books and his studies. The company of friends left him cold and indifferent. Even his great ambition 'to be a reformer of the world' ceased to motivate and excite him. Nowadays, we would probably say he suffered a nervous breakdown. The depression lasted for six months. During that time, the hyper-rational approach to happiness that he had learned from Bentham did nothing to comfort or console him. In fact, it was poetry - the poetry of William Wordsworth - that finally got through to him and provided the much needed 'medicine for (his) state of mind'. After this experience, Mill found himself no longer in agreement with Bentham's views about happiness. According to Bentham, when it comes to calculating happiness, there are no 'good' pleasures or 'bad' pleasures. All pleasures are equal. An intense pleasure counts for more than a mild one, and a prolonged pleasure counts for more than a short-lived one. But these are matters of quantity rather than quality. No pleasure is intrinsically superior to any other. Nobody could accuse Bentham of snobbery. He wrote: 'Push-pin (a child's game, played with pins) is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the game of push-pin (brings) more pleasure, it is more valuable than either.' But Mill had learnt through experience that some pleasures are more valuable than others. No amount of push-pin could have delivered him from depression the way that Wordsworth's poetry had. Bentham had got it wrong. There was more to pleasure than mere quantity. Quality was important too. Accordingly, Mill separated pleasures into 'lower' and 'higher' ones. The lower ones (such as eating, drinking and sex) can be enjoyed by animals and humans alike. But the higher ones

(like friendship, honour, achievement, art, music and poetry) rely on our distinctly human capacities. A life spent in pursuit of exclusively lower-grade pleasures is, in Mill's estimation, a piggy life. It qualifies as a happy one if you happen to be a pig, but it falls far short if you happen to be a human being. To be happy and fulfilled as a human being, it is necessary to pursue higher, nobler pleasures. To enjoy pleasures of this kind takes effort (it is easier to sit down to an all-youcan-eat buffet than it is to learn to play the piano). But they are worth it. The art of happiness Mill's views are sometimes criticised as elitist. His talk of 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures can be seen as the attempt of a cultured, intelligent man to justify his own preferences while looking down on everyone else's. But I think the true lesson to be learnt from John Stuart Mill is that there is more to life than mere pleasure. Pleasure is important. Even the so-called 'lower' pleasures are essential to happiness. But so is personal growth and development. So is living a good and purposeful life. In this respect, Mill's views are reminiscent of Aristotle's (part 5). We are not simply pleasure machines. Happiness cannot be reduced to a formula. Happiness is an art. ******* The science of happiness It's in your genes, your relationships, and how you choose to think and act, Gary Hayden finds out Traditionally, psychologists have studied the negative aspects of the mind, such as depression, anxiety and neurosis. Their mission has been to cure us of misery and gloom. But recently there's been a surge of interest in the positive aspects of human behaviour and emotion. More and more psychologists are now turning their attention to happiness and wellbeing. Dr Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania is one of them. He says that rather than being content to take us 'from a minus five to a zero', psychologists are now asking, 'How do we get from zero to plus five?' This new area of research is called positive psychology. Of course, philosophers have been discussing happiness for thousands of years, and bookstore shelves are already groaning under the weight of self-help books on the subject. But positive psychology claims to offer something new - a scientific approach to happiness. Measuring happiness Before something can be studied scientifically, it has to be measured. Science involves

experiments, tests, measurements and statistics. So the thing that marks out the positive psychologists from the philosophers and self-help gurus is their commitment to hard data. They don't just debate happiness - they measure it. But is it really possible to place a numerical value on happiness? The positive psychologists say 'yes' - and have come up with some ingenious ways of doing it. One method simply involves asking people how happy they are. This is the basis of the Satisfaction with Life Scale, a happiness test devised by Professor Edward Diener of the University of Illinois. The test consists of five simple questions whose answers are used to assess life-satisfaction on a numerical scale (go to to test yourself). This may sound very subjective. But an individual's results tally well with the perceptions of family, friends and even strangers. The Satisfaction with Life Scale gives a good indication of how generally contented we are. It identifies background levels of happiness. But there are also methods of tracking moment-bymoment levels of joy. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont uses a method known as experience-sampling. He provides people with palm-top computers, and then contacts them at various intervals, asking them to report back on what they're doing, who they're with and how they feel. Another happiness-measuring tool, the day-reconstruction method, requires people to fill in a detailed questionnaire about the previous day's activities and how they felt about them. (A day-reconstruction study of 900 Texan women identified sex as the high point of their days, and commuting as the low point). The data built up from tests like these allow psychologists to draw conclusions about the kinds of things that affect happiness and well-being. What's been learned It turns out that how happy we are has a lot to do with our natural temperament. To a large degree, happiness is in the genes. A 1999 study showed that identical twins have surprisingly similar levels of happiness, even if they are adopted by different families and raised apart. Strong proof that there's a genetic component to happiness. This isn't to say that being blessed with joyful genes guarantees a happy life, or that gloomy genes condemn us to despair. But genetic make-up does seem to define the broad range within which happiness levels fluctuate. Unsurprisingly, circumstances also affect happiness, but not always in the ways that we would expect. For example, wealth doesn't seem to matter very much. Once you have sufficient income to feed, clothe and house yourself, extra cash does little to bolster well-

being. A 1970s study of lottery winners showed that after an initial boost, their happiness levels soon returned to normal. Education doesn't make much difference either. Highly educated people and those with high IQs are barely happier than the rest of us. Youth and good looks also contribute little to happiness. So what does matter? Which circumstances do make a difference? Marriage, for one thing. Research shows that married people tend to be significantly happier than those who are not, whereas divorced people tend to be more miserable. (Surprisingly, having children doesn't do much to boost happiness levels - at least, not while they're living at home. There's an injection of joy when a child is born, but this wears off within a couple of years.) Friendship has a very significant effect on happiness. Two American psychologists studied the happiness levels of hundreds of students, and found that the happiest ones spend the least time alone and the most time socialising. The wider and deeper your relationships, the happier you're likely to be. Some circumstances produce lasting unhappiness. It can take years to recover from the negative effect of losing a spouse. Losing a job can also cause long-term damage. Boosting happiness Psychologists have pieced together the data and produced a pie-chart of the factors determining happiness. Genetic disposition makes up a whopping 50 per cent while circumstances account for just 10 per cent. It comes as a surprise to many people that circumstantial factors like health, wealth and good looks have so little impact. This is largely due to a psychological process known as adaptation. Imagine that you have received a hefty pay rise. For a while you feel elated. But you soon get used to the extra income, and your happiness reverts to its original level. You adapt to your new circumstances, and require another pay rise to make you feel good. Adaptation works the other way too, allowing us to bounce back from setbacks. Accident victims who lose the use of limbs become very depressed for a short time, but soon start to feel better and eventually regain something very close to their original level of happiness. Once genes and circumstances have been taken into account, there's still quite a large slice (40 per cent) of the happiness pie left over. What does this represent? Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, an experimental psychologist from Stanford University, believes that this remaining slice represents 'intentional activities' - a term that refers to thoughts and behaviours that require effort, and that we can control. Examples might include spending a few minutes each day meditating or performing weekly acts of kindness. Positive psychologists believe that adopting appropriate intentional activities can make us happier. One happiness-boosting strategy is to perform acts of altruism or kindness. In one

study, Dr Lyubomirsky found that performing five acts of kindness each week makes people measurably happier. Cultivating and expressing gratitude also lifts happiness levels. Dr Seligman has pioneered two techniques for accomplishing this: 'three blessings' and 'gratitude visits'. Three blessings involves writing down each day three things that have gone well. Gratitude visit involves writing a letter to someone you're grateful to but have never thanked properly, and then going and reading it to him. Both techniques have been shown to increase happiness. Living a productive and meaningful life is another essential ingredient of well-being. Dr Seligman says that you can achieve this by identifying your personal strengths (curiosity, ingenuity, social intelligence, courage, etc.), and then using them to achieve worthwhile goals. His website ( ) has tools to help you do this. It is interesting to note that the most effective happiness-boosting techniques involve interacting with and helping others. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously once wrote: 'Hell is other people.' Nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth. Taking the long view In the modern world, it is all too easy to lose sight of what makes for a happy life. The advertisements and lifestyle magazines suggest that if we fill our lives with restaurant meals, sexy lingerie and foreign vacations, we will be satisfied and fulfilled. But Aristotle reminds us that there is more to happiness than that. Much more. Happiness requires us to take the long view, to rise to the challenges of life and to develop our potential as human beings. This takes effort and commitment. You have to be in it for the long haul.

View more...


Copyright ©2017 KUPDF Inc.