• “Choosing Happiness”
      by Dr. James Strohl

    Happiness is the deepest value and strongest desire for human beings. In fact, the search for happiness is the driving force behind all desires. According to the Dalai Lama “the purpose of our lives is to be happy.”

    Life is meant to be lived with vigor and gusto, and it is suppose to be fun. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation, stated that “the purpose of creation is the expansion of happiness. Life is not meant to be lived in dullness, idleness, and suffering: these do not belong to the essential nature of life. If one is not happy, one has lost the very purpose of life.” We are on earth to experience the rich variety and abundant beauty of physical existence. This world offers infinite possibilities for achieving happiness and each one of us is blessed with distinct traits and skills that provide a unique opportunity to live a creative, meaningful, and fulfilling life.

    Here is a values clarification exercise that will personally demonstrate how important happiness is in your life. Next time you notice a wish or desire for wealth, love, friendship, employment, a new car, etc., ask yourself the following question. “What will that object of your desire get you?” When you receive an answer, repeat this same question again and continue to repeat it after every answer you receive to that question. That is, keep asking “What will that get me?” after each answer. Eventually you will notice that you can no longer find another answer to the question. In other words, you will have finally reached your deepest value. Inevitably, the final value reached will either be “happiness” or a synonym for happiness like peace, joy, or harmony, thereby identifying and validating your deepest value and strongest desire. .

    Unfortunately, we become so preoccupied with the objects of our desires as well as the means of satisfying our desires that the happiness lying well within our grasp often goes unrealized. We lose sight of our ultimate goal when we overly attach to objects associated with that goal and to the processes and means of accessing that goal. The objects of our desires and the actions for accessing them are seductive and readily become the primary focus of our attention while happiness is postponed and oftentimes forgotten and completely sacrificed. For example, money, power, love, and sex often preoccupy our minds and behaviors while, in reality, they are simply means for making us “happy”.

    Our devotion to daily routines can also distract us from remembering that our ultimate goal in life is happiness. How much time do we devote to boring, hum-drum tasks that are not all that important in the larger scheme of things? We can clutter our lives with working overtime, mowing lawns, vacuuming floors, and washing clothes leaving little or no time for activities of spontaneous play and pure enjoyment. When we incessantly immerse ourselves in the practical pursuits of daily life our formula for successful living can become distorted. It is helpful to regularly take a step back and remind ourselves that happiness is our ultimate objective. This will keep us focused on the ultimate prize without becoming unconsciously distracted and diverted.

    We have evolved into task-oriented beings while forgetting our fundamental reason for living.  Living in a fast paced, competitive, technologically-oriented society encourages a preoccupation with accomplishing tasks. Our obsession with completing tasks distracts us from the reason we initiated the tasks in the first place. Consequently, disconnecting from our deepest values results in alienation from ourselves and from others.

    Life becomes satisfying and fulfilling when we remember that our intention to complete tasks and accomplish things is grounded in a fundamental desire for pleasure. The true payoff is happiness, not task completion! We benefit from reminding ourselves that the ultimate goal for all human beings is pleasure and happiness; not attainment of status, fame, and fortune, and certainly not completion of any specific tasks.

    Our misplaced values are clearly demonstrated in the reward and punishment behaviors commonly exhibited in our society. Life is full of examples of people overvaluing the completion of a task while devaluing the personal enjoyment involved in participating in the activity. Such activities as “putting our nose to the grindstone” in order to receive a raise, obsessively adhering to a “to do” list, and the unyielding devotion to “winning” a sporting event clearly fall into this category. It is surprising how much praise for others and positive reinforcement of others is typically reserved for those winning the contest and achieving a first place award, not for those who most enjoyed the activity. For example, do we judge the success of our elementary school students and Little League ball players on how much they enjoyed their activities or do we base our evaluations on how well they accomplished specific goals that, for the most part, we have set for them?

    How often do we reward ourselves for simply enjoying ourselves? Most of us consider ourselves unproductive if we participate in pleasurable activities for an entire day. Why does disregarding our deepest values and needs, while chronically participating in unsatisfying “work”, seem so respectable? Why not consider investing in memorable moments of value, pleasure, and enjoyment by spending a day at the park with your children, taking your dog for a long walk, visiting a relative, or reading a book by the fireplace all afternoon.

    We lose the whole point of life and we validate unhealthy behaviors by complimenting ourselves and others for being responsible, dedicated, hard-workers at the expense of pleasure. If it is natural and healthy to behave this way, why do we refer to it as “work?” We don’t call it work when we spontaneously engage in fun-filled, pleasurable activities. Furthermore, isn’t it interesting that we do not use the word “spontaneous” in relation to work-related activities as we do when describing joyful, happy experiences and playful activities? Work, as we typically experience it, is not a natural, spontaneous, productive form of human expression and is actually incredibly unproductive when it detracts from happiness and joyful living.

    We thrive when we follow our passions and when we receive payment for participating in enjoyable, personally fulfilling activities. If our culture were based on these values, people would ask each other “which activities do you get paid for” versus “where do you work?” We know we are personally prospering when someone asks us where we work and we answer, “I don’t work. I get paid to do a variety of enjoyable, stimulating, fulfilling activities.”

    Striving for task completion without a commitment to pleasure creates ongoing searching, endless striving, and delayed gratification. When is enough, good enough? We will never have enough since new desires will always emerge when a task is completed. Our task of finishing life is never over — there is no end point or completion point.

    Life is a process; and we are best served by engaging and appreciating the ongoing, moment-to-moment process of life. We spend far too much time lost in thoughts of the past and future. The present moment always contains enough! Viewing ourselves as not being good enough stimulates many of us to keep striving to do more in order to prove ourselves. We can’t be pleased with ourselves and with our efforts if we do not experience confidence, acceptance, and pleasure while pursuing those efforts. Furthermore, we can’t experience happiness and fulfillment when we continually postpone our pleasure due to a belief that completing tasks will bring us happiness sometime in the future. It is not surprising that our daily activities are often called chores.

    Wayne Dyer stated that “we are human beings, not human doers; and that we should not equate our self-worth with how well we do things.” He understood that we thrive when we attend to and honor our “being” versus focusing on the results of our actions. We prosper when we are “being well” while doing things, not when we are simply doing things well. Ideally, we want to love what we do and do what we love. Passionately immersing ourselves in moment-to-moment experiencing reveals the joy of ongoing well-being and results in an abundant, meaningful life.

    In order to find true happiness it is imperative that we reclaim our personal power. This is accomplished by basing our lives on the fundamental principle and innate truth that we knew and trusted early in life and then gradually forgot as we grew older. This fundamental truth is that, in the deepest ways, we can trust our Selves and we can trust our basic instincts. It is important to retrain ourselves to listen to our inner sense of what is true and real, and then act from this inner knowing. The regular implementation of meditation, mindfulness, reflective contemplation, prayer, positive affirmations, and forgiveness of ourselves and others can help us know our true Selves more intimately, establish a more positive internal dialogue, and trust our Selves in deeper ways. The simple act of reminding ourselves, several times a day, that we are “lovable and capable” can be very empowering. Making a daily list of those things we appreciate about ourselves and then sitting quietly to acknowledge, contemplate, and validate the characteristics we have identified can help us become more vital, alive, powerful, confident, and happy. These activities can eventually bring a realization that, personally, we are always enough and we don’t need to accomplish something to prove our worth.

    For many people life has become a chore, when it is meant to be a dynamic adventure of ongoing opportunities, possibilities, and choices. We don’t have to do something special to be something special. We already have all we need. We have always been and will always be special and perfect just as we are.

    Clearly negative habits can be changed. Positive change begins when we recognize that that the deepest truth of human existence is that each of us creates our own personal reality by making choices every moment based on infinite possibilities available to us. This is a fundamental principle of human existence that is always operating whether we consciously recognize it or not, and whether or not we take responsibility for it.

    Far too often our actions are based on external demands versus living from within. We’ve developed habits of doing what we think we “should’ do versus what we honestly want to do and choose to do. “Shoulds” distort reality and disguise the truth by imposing a preconceived, external reality onto that which is honestly true for us in the moment. We can initiate positive changes by recognizing when we are using the words should, have to, must, suppose to, and ought to, and then asking ourselves “What do I really want, and what do I choose to do?” Of course, to fully realize the benefits of this process it is imperative that we follow through on our choices.

    We have become so disconnected from our personal desires and expectations for enjoyment and happiness that oftentimes we even don’t know what it is that we want. We commonly find ourselves and others verbalizing what is not wanted and what does not feel good instead of acknowledging what is wanted and positive in our lives. We tend to be fairly good at knowing what we don’t want to eat, do, hear, see, smell, think, and feel. Yet, if we ask ourselves what we do wish to experience we often cannot answer the question, or the answer will be stated in negative terms. This can be confirmed rather easily. Next time someone is complaining about something ask them, “what do you want?” For example, if they are complaining about their personal unhappiness or about having a critical spouse, ask them what it is they want. Here are typical responses you are likely to receive: “I don’t want to be so depressed nor sleep so poorly” and “I don’t want my spouse to be so critical.” It is obviously very difficult to manifest positive experiences when we primarily think about and talk about those things that we don’t want.

    Notice the answer you receive next time you ask someone how they are doing. Rarely will you receive a response that is affirmative and positive. Focusing on negative versus positive elements of life is a cultural wide phenomenon. The breath of this problem can be easily recognized when observing how frequently negative news is reported in our society. We are inundated with reports about what is not going well in the world and rarely presented with news stories about what is positive, productive, and beneficial. This pattern of focusing on negative elements of experience has become a well established pattern on personal, interpersonal, and societal levels.

    For happiness and joy to thrive in our lives a conscious commitment to change this ingrained pattern is necessary. Here is something simple that we can do to help reverse this bad habit. Many times throughout each day we can stop what we are doing and ask ourselves, “what is that we honestly want and desire at this moment?” Then evaluate our response to that question to insure that it is specific, clear, and affirmatively stated. Taking time to regularly practice identifying and acting on what we want in life will go a long toward attaining a more enjoyable, fulfilling life.

    Our culture stresses the importance of taking personal responsibility, yet we tend to be irresponsible in the most relevant area of our lives — our commitment to love and respect our Selves. We tend to be insensitive to our own needs and desires. We must learn to perpetually honor, nurture, and cherish our Selves. Indeed, we must take greater responsibility for addressing the most important challenge of our lives, that of taking good care of ourselves and being happy.

    We can best care for our Selves by being ourselves moment to moment, which is accomplished by trusting and honoring exactly who we are at all times. We can also hold an intention to notice and appreciate the unique gifts life bestows upon us each moment. We can remember to ask ourselves “Is my heart in this activity or am I simply putting up with it? Where is my passion? Am I genuinely and passionately engaged in this activity?

    This way of living can be called “authentic choosing.” When making choices based on our personal truth versus on old habits and imposed demands, the authenticity of those moments substantiates the legitimacy of our existence in profound ways. Every authentic choice proclaims our unique reality in relation to the entire universe in that moment. When authentically choosing that which is personally ‘true” and “real,” the validity of our being and the entire world is affirmed and expanded. This experience reveals that everything simply is what it is, and everything is always in the right place at the right time. In these moments, the direct knowing that well-being abounds becomes an obvious fact of life, and our desire for happiness is fulfilled in the deepest ways.