Day 12: Happiness is a Practice, Not a Destination

Defining Personal Happiness

Psychologist and Author, Martin E.P. Seligman, has polled thousands of parents asking these two questions:

  1. In one or two words, what do you most want for your children? Most responded with happiness, kindness, love, confidence, joy, fulfillment, health, contentment and the like. In short, well being is the top most priority parents wish for their children.
  2. In one or two words, what do schools teach? Most answered with achievement, math, success, work, test taking, discipline, english, thinking skills, history, and so on. In short, what schools teach is how to succeed in the workplace.
Since the industrial revolution, conventional wisdom has implied that success-defined mostly by external circumstances-will lead to happiness. However the latest scientific research demonstrates that our brains actually work in the opposite direction; happiness-defined by our internal processes and outlook-leads to success. 

Positive Psychology researchers have determined that higher levels of positivity, happiness and well being produce, increased productivity; better social connections; decreased stress and worry; greater resilience; increased creativity and innovation; better problem solving and more solution focused cognition; increased optimism and much more. 

In fact, new studies reveal that if a psychologist or scientist knew everything about your external circumstances-the lens through which conventional wisdom defines success-where you work; where you live; if you were married or single; had kids or no kids; rich or not rich; what you look like; what you drive, and so on, they would only know of what accounts for 10% of your long-term happiness. 90% is predicted by how your brain processes information and how you see the world!

Our parents, schools and society have done their best to impress upon us the importance of having values; and in that process it is often conveyed what to value.  The happiest people actually define this for themselves. 

A few years ago my teacher asked me to personally define qualities such as grounded, happiness, peace, contentment and so on. Up to that point, I often used these words to describe how I wanted to feel in m my life; but I had never taken the time to define them for myself.

Like the new science of happiness, the wisdom traditions also encourage us to define our values; to look within for our source of joy and peace; in fact it is our very nature.

Take a moment today and think about what happiness means to you? How do YOU define well being? If you don't, the world will be delighted to do it for you.