Thursday, October 14, 2010


One of my most precious memories of my daughter is from her childhood.  It was a cold winter’s day and I had taken her to the play ground of the school down the street from our home.  She had been cooped up for a couple days due to the cold.   We had the place to ourselves so I just sat down on a swing and told her to have fun. She turned her nose up at the swings and teeter totters and simply ran up and down the play ground her eyes half closed with a look of such happiness on her face.  I took this photo in the park the other day because  these little girls seemed to be having the same experience as my daughter had that day.

          In 2008 4,000 books were published on happiness, while a mere 50 books on the topic were released in 2000. The most popular class at Harvard University is about positive psychology, and at least 100 other universities offer similar courses. Happiness workshops for the post-collegiate set abound, and each day "life coaches" promising bliss to potential clients hang out their shingles.

   "If we were to ask the question: "What is human life’s chief concern?" one of the answers we should receive would be: "It is happiness." How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure. The hedonistic school in ethics deduces the moral life wholly from the experiences of happiness and unhappiness which different kinds of conduct bring; and, even more in the religious life than in the moral life, happiness and unhappiness seem to be the poles round which the interest revolves. "

 From "The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James, 1902"
  So what dose the science of the twenty first century know about happiness?

"Some researchers, such as David T. Lykken, have found that about 50% of one's happiness depends on one's genes, based on studying identical twins, whose happiness is 50% correlated even when growing up in different houses. About 10% to 15% is a result of various measurable life circumstances variables, such as socioeconomic status, marital status, health, income, sex and others. The remaining 40% is a combination of unknown factors and the results of actions that individuals deliberately engage in to become happier. These actions may vary between persons; extroverts, for example, may benefit from placing themselves in situations involving large amounts of human interaction. Also, exercise has been shown to increase one's level of momentary subjective well-being significantly" 

 From Psychology Today

  So there we have it the great plague of the modern age is unhappiness.  The great hunt of the modern age is the hunt for happiness.  Thousands claim to have the cure for unhappiness; billions of dollars are being spent in the quest for happiness. 

           If there is one truth I have learned about happiness and the search for happiness it is that it never what you think it is. It is not bliss and it is not the zillion things that we are all told will make us happy. I like happy people; the sexiest women are the ones that are exuding happiness. Happiness sneaks up on you and then laughs in your face. If there is one word I would use to describe happiness it would be "mystical".

            "The words "mysticism" and "mystical" are often used as terms of mere reproach, to throw at any opinion which we regard as vague and vast and sentimental, and without a base in either facts or logic. For some writers a "mystic" is any person who believes in thought-transference, or spirit-return. Employed in this way the word has little value: there are too many less ambiguous synonyms. So, to keep it useful by restricting it, I will do what I did in the case of the word "religion," and simply propose to you four marks which, when an experience has them, may justify us in calling it mystical for the purpose of the present lectures. In this way we shall save verbal disputation, and the recriminations that generally go therewith.

1. Ineffability.-- The handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists. One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one must have been in love one’s self to understand a lover’s state of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the musician or the lover justly, and are even likely to consider him weak-minded or absurd. The mystic finds that most of us accord to his experiences an equally incompetent treatment.
2. Noetic quality. -- Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.

These two characters will entitle any state to be called mystical, in the sense in which I use the word. Two other qualities are less sharply marked, but are usually found. These are:--

3. Transiency. -- Mystical states cannot be sustained for long. Except in rare instances, half an hour, or at most an hour or two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the light of common day. Often, when faded, their quality can but imperfectly be reproduced in memory; but when they recur it is recognized; and from one recurrence to another it is susceptible of continuous development in what is felt as inner richness and importance.
4. Passivity. -- Although the oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, as by fixing the attention, or going through certain bodily performances, or in other ways which manuals of mysticism prescribe; yet when the characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power. This latter peculiarity connects mystical states with certain definite phenomena of secondary or alternative personality, such as prophetic speech, automatic writing, or the mediumistic trance. When these latter conditions are well pronounced, however, there may be no recollection whatever of the phenomenon and it may have no significance for the subject’s usual inner life, to which, as it were, it makes a mere interruption. Mystical states, strictly so called, are never merely interruptive. Some memory of their content always remains, and a profound sense of their importance. They modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their recurrence. Sharp divisions in this region are, however, difficult to make, and we find all sorts of gradations and mixtures."
  From "The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James, 1902"

The true mystic is the one who has and or can produce this most elusive of states we call happiness.

Here is hoping we  all find the answer to this  great mystery.


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