When I was younger, I realized I was funny. There was a lot of humor in my life growing up – I had parents who love to laugh, I had my Uncle John who had a filing cabinet filled with old photocopies of dirty or obscene jokes – it seems that almost everyone in my family knows how to tell a good yarn. Something I realized over time as I became a funny kid was that it wasn't all too important what I said... and often, those words and jokes were coming faster than I could process them, so I could hardly take much credit for the jokes I stated even if I wanted to. It wasn't the joke itself, or even the presentation that made something entirely funny – it's an energy that exists between the maker of the joke and all those receiving it. It's an emotional connection between two individuals similar to love or anger – invisible and indescribable yet completely unmistakable. I've found babies and small children are nearly always near this state, and thus you can make them laugh without even saying a word – the humor energy just radiates from them.
Most of our emotions exist in this ethereal energy form. They are not visible entities – microbes that infest us – but rather take the form of feelings and sensations, of actions and unintended consequences. They show up in both the words we say, and the ones we simply think. A co-worker might mention they're "in a bad a mood" in the same way they would mention they have a headcold. Modern medicine in its infinite wisdom has decided to treat both as if they were the same and will happily provide a pill to solve either your runny nose or your sad heart. I'm not so sure about the effectiveness of either, to be honest, but I would say preventative medicine is always your best choice. Welcome to the Pursuit of Happiness!
I happen to believe that "the pursuit of happiness" is one of the most profound statements in all of American history. Thomas Jefferson, in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence states it as such:
We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;
It was later edited to the version we now know, but the assertion is the same – that we have a right to life and liberty, as well as the pursuit of happiness. While it may have been seen as fundamental to the revolution (so much so that it appears in the first sentence of the second paragraph), by the time the Bill of Rights is added to the Constitution, all Americans are guaranteed in the 5th Amendment (and later 14th) is protection of "Life, Liberty and Property." In fact, the word 'happiness' doesn't appear at all in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Jefferson's vision was lost.
What I find so profound about Jefferson's words is that they aren't a guarantee to happiness. He is not stating that each of us deserves to be happy – which would be akin to saying everyone deserves to be healthy or athletic. What we have a right to is the pursuit of happiness – the right to find and cultivate that happiness. And not "our own happiness" – but the shared happiness that exists all around us. Your piece of the pie!
Happiness, similar to humor, is a sensation – we may point to a particular cause in any given moment as a "source" of the present happiness we feel, but that's just the mind's constant desire to find dots and connect them. In many cases, happiness is little more than the cessation from the dissatisfaction we so often feel. A temporary respite from suffering as the Buddhists would say. For a primary goal of a Buddhist is to find peace of mind, which is found by detaching oneself from the cycle of craving that produces dukkha - or suffering.
Various philosophies and world religions discuss happiness and offer solutions to finding it. I enjoy reading books that discuss happiness as well as motivation and inspiration, as I find everything works better in life when one is in a consistent state of happiness. It's not enough to only be happy when certain events are happening or certain people are around. The energy that happiness creates can have amazing effects on all aspects of your life if you can cultivate it to exist as an ever present frequency. To do so – I've found there are three primary areas you need to address: Health, Drive and Connection.
While happiness does not come from your body, it interacts immensely with your physical self and specifically your mind. Therefore the most important aspect to cultivating happiness is the health of your physical being and the environment in which you exist. For your body, health would primarily fall into three categories: diet, fitness and sleep. I think we all understand the importance of fitness – countless studies have shown a correlation between exercise and happiness levels. Living here on Maui, there are two types of people I see on the beach every day. There are the fit, healthy individuals, usually with a surf board or like device in hand: they are smiling and radiating a positive energy. Then there are the unfit, overweight individuals, usually having a tough time making it out of the water or climbing up the sandy hillside: A very different type of energy. Two different groups in the same exact place having wildly different experiences of the day.
Diet is something I've only begun to explore but I have no doubt has a drastic effect on your life and thus your happiness. I've just started a diet challenge called The Whole 30 which cuts out a ton of processed foods, dairy, breads and other grains – basically anything that isn't proven to be 100% good for you. The hardest part will be no alcohol, which cuts into my twice weekly trips to Maui Brewing Company. But I'm hoping after 30 days to notice some improvements, and then can begin to experiment with various "bad" foods to see what effect they truly have on me. In addition, combined with exercise, I'm hoping to lose about 30 pounds. While I'm certainly not horribly out of shape by American standards, I should be 20-30 pounds lighter, and last weekend I carried around a 30 pound weight for about ten minutes to give myself a mental concept of how much extra energy I must be using to lug myself around. Through a combination of eating healthy and daily exercise, I hope to lose those extra pounds – all combining to create increased happiness.
It's hard to overstate how important sleep is to us humans. For the longest time I was a night-owl – up past midnight every evening, yet burning the candle at both ends to be at work early the next morning. It was a combination of coffee to keep me energized and late-night beers to shut things down, all with very little sleep. When I moved to Maui, all that changed. First off, with no social scene, there was nothing to do in the evening. Plus, it gets insanely dark very quickly out here, so my evenings very much shut-down by 7pm. As such, I began to start going to sleep earlier and earlier - first by 11... now as early as 10 most nights. I wake-up fully refreshed with my batteries charged. Coffee is more of an enjoyable taste than a drug to make me function. A restful night's sleep is a primary ingredient to a happy day.
Finally - there is one type of health that doesn't involve your body and that would be the health of your environment. This would primarily be where you choose to live, but also other areas you frequent such as your place of work and even the community you chose to live in. Your home should be a sanctuary, not a storage locker – a place you desire to be, not just an escape from the world outside. It should be free from clutter and waste. As the old expression goes, "a place for everything and everything in its place." Piles create anxiety, stuff creates want and dirt creates laziness... how you maintain your home will have a direct effect on how you experience your life. This is the central power station of your happiness recharger... make sure it can accomplish that task. Have multiple places within your home where you can be at peace – little recharging shrines if you will. Places for reading, places for eating, places to rest. If you're looking around your apartment or home and not seeing that – start by grabbing a large garbage bag and getting rid of anything you can't immediately identify as useful. If you can't bare to throw stuff out, then put all those items in a closet for a month or two. Create your space!
The second key elements in the pursuit of happiness is "drive". This is a bit more abstract than health, as drive could mean a lot of things to a lot of different folks. I would describe drive with four primary features: goals, motivation, education and inspiration.
Goals are the guideposts of drive. They steer the ship and point us forward. I recently saw a video of the actor Denzel Washington speaking to a group of young actors. He spoke of this eloquently when he declared, "Dreams without goals remain just dreams. And they ultimately fuel disappointment. Goals on the road to achievement cannot be achieved without discipline and consistency." There is a difference between a "dream" and a "goal" and Denzel clarifies this. Goals have tasks assigned to them – and those tasks can only be achieved through disciplined and consistent action. It's not enough to read one book if you want to graduate from college, nor is it enough to exercise one day if you want to get in shape. Discipline and consistency are key to success in any area of our life. To maintain this high level of performance, we often need motivation. We need motivating friends and family, we need motivating circumstances in our life – we need something, somewhere to motivate us to get out of bed in the dark morning, put on those running shoes and head out the door. One of the primary sources of motivation is education, whose bi-product is often inspiration. We only know what we've learned, and sometimes not even that. It's by constantly expanding our understanding of life that we learn new ideas, new approaches and new concepts that inspire us to create new goals to aspire to.
How does all this play into happiness? The energy one feels when being driven by a purpose larger than themselves, fully motivated to accomplish inspired goals that they themselves have set is unmatched. I have the great pleasure of working for myself. When I get up in the morning I'm not heading out to some job I hate but have to do for a paycheck – UGH – I get the great pleasure of growing my own business, of working to increase my revenue and setting new goals that we then crush each and every day. Last year I had the pleasure of working with the Chicago Stock Exchange to revamp their website. In the process, our designer Sadie created an entirely new logo and brand identify for the exchange. Last week, I was walking along the beach and it hit me that my company – the little business I started out of my apartment a decade ago – had changed the brand for the Chicago Stock Exchange - an over 110 year old institution now has my company's work hanging over its doors and on its business cards. To suggest a wave of happiness rolled over me would be an understatement - more like a tsunami!
The final source and stimulator of happiness is the connection you have with the world around you. This falls into two categories: relationships and experiences. Relationships are vital to happiness – this includes both family and romantic relationships as well as connections with friends and the community as a whole. It's what typically makes parties so much fun – everyone getting together to cultivate more happiness. It's not that we love the decorations or the free bowling... it's being together with friends and family that rejuvenates our soul. One of the hardest parts about moving to Maui was not only giving up all the great friendships and relationships I had in Portland, but also not having any of those out here. It has taken time to meet new people, but as these new friendships began to arise out here, it was as welcome as the morning sun. Beyond the tasty beer, one of the main reasons I like going to a pub is just chatting it up with whomever happens to be sitting next to me. This is also true for travel, where you not only get to explore new places that inspire and educate, but you also meet new people and get to make connections with folks you haven't met previously. One doesn't need to be family or a loved one to engage in a meaningful and happiness generating conversation.
In addition to the connections you make with people there is also the connection you have with source. Some might call this God or the universe – I prefer source or to simply leave it nameless, which is probably most appropriate as this connection most often is discovered in silence. This is the "time out" you take each day to escape the illusion of the present state, and enter into the sacred infinite truth that is the present moment. Whether this be a long walk, a hike through the woods, sitting on a beach or meditating in a special place in your home – taking time to do nothing and simply be is a surefire way to regenerate happiness. Often if you can spend 5 to 10 minutes in silence, either watching the sunset or simply being in a room – you arise from this space with a completely refreshed feeling as if a lot of the imagined pressures of life have been removed. In carving out this ease – in unloading this imagined burden, you create space for more happiness.
For in the end, happiness is not a deviation but rather the natural state of how we should be. We needn't create happiness to experience it, just as we needn't create oxygen to breath it. Respiration is only tripped up when we hold our breath or something outside of us prevents our breathing. In the same way, happiness is only restricted when we clog our minds or find ourselves in uninspired environments. The pursuit of happiness isn't so much a quest for secret treasure – it's remembering the combination to the safe you already possess.
"Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits."
- Thomas Jefferson, "Notes on the State of Virginia"