Wednesday, May 2, 2007


At the turn of the century, in my early 40s, I pondered what I really wanted out of my brief life in this world.

I concluded that it was to find happiness and to stay in that zone of happiness as much as possible. But what is happiness? Being happy can be a relative and transient feeling. It's a difficult question I think.

Ponder, for example, whether joy is happiness.

Research has shown a strong correlation between happiness and maturity. Older people tend to be more satisfied with their lot.

Regardless, the nature of happiness is an ancient question with many philosophical branches. Much as I enjoy that exercise, I wanted a more practical definition. I built the following list based upon the research of multitudes who preceded me. Are there other qualities that I am missing?

1. Love, or a feeling of being wanted or needed
2. Optimism, or the feeling of being positive
3. Courage, or the lack of fear (not to be equated with bravery)
4. A sense of freedom
5. Proactivity, or a sense of control
6. Security, or a feeling of "safe-ness"
7. Health, since health is wealth, especially in our older years
8. Spirituality, as one realizes his mortality
9. Altruism, or a willingness to share
10. Perspective, or wisdom and tolerance
11. Humor, because there are so many things to laugh about
12. Purpose, because without it, we just exist and not live

One other aspect of happiness, for me personally, is to leave a worthwhile legacy. It's not a quality which explains why it did not make the list. A legacy, however, is really the only thing we can leave behind. I had an aunt, for example, who left several legacies. One of them is a scholarship fund that pays for the education of the most deserving student from her hometown.

I would like to also mention the concept of "flow." I read this book entitled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The two editorial reviews in said this about the book:
You have heard about how a musician loses herself in her music, how a painter becomes one with the process of painting. In work, sport, conversation or hobby, you have experienced, yourself, the suspension of time, the freedom of complete absorption in activity. This is "flow," an experience that is at once demanding and rewarding—an experience that the author demonstrates is one of the most enjoyable and valuable experiences a person can have. The exhaustive case studies, controlled experiments and innumerable references to historical figures, philosophers and scientists through the ages prove the author's point that flow is a singularly productive and desirable state. But the implications for its application to society are what make the book revolutionary.

Aristotle observed 2,300 years ago that more than anything, men and women seek happiness. The author, a former Psychology professor at the University of Chicago, had for 25 years made similar observations regarding "flow," a field of behavioral science examining connections between satisfaction and daily activities. A state of flow ensues when one is engaged in self-controlled, goal-related, meaningful actions. Data regarding flow were collected on thousands of individuals, from mountain climbers to chess players. This thoroughly researched study is an intriguing look at the age-old problem of the pursuit of happiness and how, through conscious effort, we may more easily attain it.
The book is ponderous reading that reflects the academic background of its author. "Flow" is the equivalent in the common vernacular of being in the "zone." I suppose it is possible to live a life that lies mostly in the "zone" but that is probably possible only under special circumstances or with a special group of people (like Buddhist monks, for instance).

Is being in the "zone" happiness? No, I don't think so. It's too transient. Being in the zone does transport us into another reality. We don't feel hunger. We don't think of time. We're totally immersed in our activity. There is no doubt that being in the zone is a satisfying experience.

However, I think of happiness as a more lasting condition. And that list of qualities contains most of the attributes of that more lasting state called happiness.

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