Over40.it, our new e-zine dedicated to you, a splendid over forty-years-old woman who looks at life as the best part is here and now.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Happiness Continuum

Happiness for any reason is just another form of misery.
-- The Upanishads

One day, as I sat down to compile my findings, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I had a simple, but profound "a-ha" -- there's a continuum of happiness:
Unhappy Happy for Happy for Happy for
Bad Reason Good Reason No Reason
Depressed High from Satisfaction Inner state unhealthy from healthy of peace and addictions experiences well-being
Unhappy: We all know what this means: Life is a bummer. Some of the signs are anxiety, fatigue, feeling blue or low -- your garden-variety unhappiness. This isn't the same as clinical depression, which is characterized by deep despair and hopelessness that dramatically interferes with your ability to live a normal life, and for which professional help is absolutely necessary.
Happy for Bad Reason: When people are unhappy, they often try to make themselves feel better by indulging in addictions or behaviors that may feel good in the moment but are ultimately detrimental. They seek the highs that come from drugs, alcohol, excessive sex, "retail therapy," compulsive gambling, overeating, and too much television watching, to name a few. This kind of happiness is hardly happiness at all. It is only a temporary way to numb or escape our unhappiness through fleeting experiences of pleasure.
Happy for Good Reason: This is what people usually mean by happiness: having good relationships with our family and friends, success in our career, financial security, a nice house or car, or using our talents and strengths well. It's the pleasure we derive from having the healthy things in our lives that we want.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for this kind of happiness! It's just that it's only half the story. Being Happy for Good Reason depends on the external conditions of our lives. If these conditions change or are lost, our happiness usually goes too.
Deep inside, you know that life isn't meant to be about getting by, numbing your pain, or having everything "under control." True happiness doesn't come from merely collecting an assortment of happy experiences. At your core, you know there's something more than this.
You're right. There is one more level on the happiness continuum: Happy for No Reason.
Happy for No Reason: This is true happiness -- a neurophysiological state of peace and well-being that isn't dependent on external circumstances.
Happy for No Reason isn't elation, euphoria, mood spikes, or peak experiences that don't last. It doesn't mean grinning like a fool 24/7 or experiencing a superficial high. Happy for No Reason isn't an emotion. In fact, when you are Happy for No Reason, you can have any emotion -- including sadness, fear, anger, or hurt -- but you still experience that underlying state of peace and well-being.
When you're Happy for No Reason, you bring happiness to your outer experiences rather than trying to extract happiness from them. You don't need to manipulate the world around you to try to make yourself happy. You live from happiness, rather than for happiness.
This is a revolutionary concept. Most of us focus on being Happy for Good Reason, stringing together as many happy experiences as we can, like beads in a necklace, to create a happy life. We have to spend a lot of time and energy trying to find just the right beads so we can have a "happy necklace."
Being Happy for No Reason, in our necklace analogy, is like having a happy string. No matter what beads we put on our necklace -- good, bad, or indifferent -- our inner experience, which is the string that runs through them all, is happy, creating a happy life.
When you're Happy for No Reason you're unconditionally happy. It's not that your life always looks perfect -- it's just that however it looks, you'll still be happy.
As the thirteenth-century poet Rumi described it, "Happy, not from anything that happens. Warm, not from fire or a hot bath. Light, I register zero on a scale." Whenever I asked the Happy 100 to describe the qualities of being Happy for No Reason, I got the same answers over and over:

Having a sense of lightness or buoyancy
Feeling alive, vital, energetic
Having a sense of flow, openness
Feeling love and compassion for yourself and others
Having passion about your life and purpose
Feeling gratitude, forgiveness
Being at peace with life
Being fully present in the moment
Matthieu Ricard, a French scientist who became a Buddhist monk over thirty years ago, is often called "the happiest man in the world" by researchers who've measured his brain's functioning both in and out of meditation. (More about monks in the laboratory in Chapter 7.) Ricard's book, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill, gives one of the clearest descriptions of Happy for No Reason I've ever heard. He writes, "By happiness I mean a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind. This is not a mere pleasurable feeling, a fleeting emotion, or a mood, but an optimal state of being."
How Happy for No Reason Are You?
The following Happy for No Reason questionnaire will give you a snapshot of how Happy for No Reason you are in your life right now. Though you may have filled out happiness questionnaires before, you may not have noticed that they're usually state-dependent; that is, they ask you to rate your happiness according to what's going on in your life (job, career, relationships, and so on) and how satisfied you are with your life circumstances. Those questionnaires measure Happy for Good Reason. This questionnaire is different; it measures Happy for No Reason.
The Happy for No Reason questionnaire is modeled after the Well-Being Scale that is part of the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire, a tool developed by Auke Tellegen, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, to help researchers determine happiness set-points. As you answer these questions, think about how they apply to you in general.

The Happy for No Reason Questionnaire
Rate each statement on a scale of 1 to 5:
1 = Not at all true
2 = Slightly true
3 = Moderately true
4 = Mostly true
5 = Absolutely true

1. I often feel happy and satisfied for no particular reason.
1 2 3 4 5
2. I live in the moment.
1 2 3 4 5
3. I feel alive, vital, and energetic.
1 2 3 4 5
4. I experience a deep sense of inner peace and well-being.
1 2 3 4 5
5. Life is a great adventure for me.
1 2 3 4 5
6. I don't let bad situations keep me down.
1 2 3 4 5
7. I am enthusiastic about the things I do.
1 2 3 4 5
8. Most days I have an experience of laughter or joy.
1 2 3 4 5
9. I trust that this is a friendly universe.
1 2 3 4 5
10. I look for the gift or the lesson in everything that happens.
1 2 3 4 5
11. I am able to let go and forgive.
1 2 3 4 5
12. I feel love for myself.
1 2 3 4 5
13. I look for the good in every person.
1 2 3 4 5
14. I change the things I can and accept the things I can't change.
1 2 3 4 5
15. I surround myself with people who support me.
1 2 3 4 5
16. I don't blame others or complain.
1 2 3 4 5
17. My negative thoughts don't overshadow me.
1 2 3 4 5
18. I feel a general sense of gratitude.
1 2 3 4 5
19. I feel connected to something bigger than myself.
1 2 3 4 5
20. I feel inspired by a sense of purpose in my life.
1 2 3 4 5

Scoring section:
If your score is 80-100: To a great degree, you are Happy for No Reason.
If your score is 60-79: You have a good measure of being Happy for No Reason.
If your score is 40-59: You have glimpses of being Happy for No Reason.
If your score is under 40: You have little experience of being Happy for No Reason.

Whatever your score, you can always move toward being more Happy for No Reason. As I said earlier, it doesn't matter where you begin; what matters is that you do begin. Once you've finished reading the book and have begun practicing the seven steps and the Happiness Habits, take the questionnaire again. After that, assessing your Happy for No Reason score on a regular basis will help you chart your progress.
Happy for No Reason: Your Natural State
Happy for No Reason isn't just a nice idea. As I'll explain in later chapters, it's a specific, measurable physiological state characterized by distinct brain activity, heart rhythms, and body chemistry.
Scientists tell us that every subjective experience we have has a corresponding state of functioning in our bodies. People who are Happy for No Reason tend to have greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex, orderly heart wave patterns, and more of the specific neurotransmitters associated with well-being and happiness: oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.
Although modern science gives us new insight into the physiology of Happy for No Reason, it's a state that's been spoken of in virtually all spiritual and religious traditions throughout history. The concept is universal. In Buddhism, it is called causeless joy, in Christianity, the kingdom of Heaven within, and in Judaism it is called ashrei, an inner sense of holiness and health. In Islam it is called falah, happiness and well-being, and in Hinduism it is called ananda, or pure bliss. Some traditions refer to it as an enlightened or awakened state.
I've noticed the widespread recognition of this concept around the world. No matter where I go, when people hear the expression Happy for No Reason, it strikes a deep chord in them. We seem to know intuitively that our innermost essence is happiness. You don't have to create it; it's who you are. The rest of this book is devoted to showing you how to get back to that natural state.


© 2008 by Marci Shimoff

Excerpted from

Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out

by Marci Shimoff
Buy this book at Barnes & Noble