Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happiness and its Causes - Pre conference workshop

I think a good place to begin talking about happiness is at the pre-conference workshop I attended, and with some attempt at a definition of happiness.

Let’s start with what happiness isn’t: Happiness isn’t having what you want whenever you want it. That leads to a selfish attitude that isn’t good for you or those around you.

In the pre conference workshop "The Attention Revolution", the presenter Alan Wallace* described two types of happiness.

Hedonic happiness

We seek it externally; it feeds the senses and is when we try to feed our inner yearnings with “things” outside of ourselves. It's when we hope or expect a person, thing or event to MAKE us happy.

That’s a big ask of any person don’t you think? It’s a bit like saying “I can’t do it myself (ie make myself happy/content/satisfied) but I expect you to do it for me”. (And heaven help you if you can’t fulfil my wishes!) That’s a huge amount of pressure to put onto another person. I can’t help but think that if you want someone else to make you happy, it's a tad selfish.

Many people are addicted to the superficial feeling that hedonic happiness brings. They continually chase the sensation and are subject to the highs and subsequent lows when the sensation wears off or isn’t fulfilled. The craving is the same as with more publicised forms of addiction.

Alan Wallace described it as being similar to ADHD, and the inability to focus sustained attention. “Where can I go next?” “What can I buy next?” “What can I do to prevent boredom?” We’ve all known exercise junkies, workaholics, alcoholics, TVaholics, people always wired and gaming. Retail therapy anyone?

Many people indulge in hedonism to hide from emptiness and pain and as a “pick me up”. You may have noticed this tendency in yourself. What do you use to hide from yourself (warts and all), and what opportunities do you miss as a result?

Eudaimonic happiness

Alan Wallace and others refer to eudaimonic happiness as genuine happiness. It is an inner happiness which feeds the soul, and stems not from what we get from the world but from what we bring to it. He believes it stems from

  • An ethical way of life
  • Mental balance
  • Self knowledge

Genuine happiness isn’t subject to the ups and downs of hedonic happiness and provides us with longer-term stability and security.

More on how to begin to attain eudaimonic happiness later...

Other presenters at the conference included: Dr Jane Goodall, Dr Paul Ekman, Dr Russ Harris and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Topics for discussion included: "Cultivating Genuine Altruism", "What's Happening to our Children?" "Compassion", "Empathy", "The Nature of Depression",  "We are what we eat", "Music", "Resilience" and "Sex" - in all a very interesting variety of topics related to happiness!

*Alan Wallace trained and lived as a Buddhist monk. He has a degree in physics and the philosophy of science, and has a Ph.D in religious studies.

Many of his teachings are available in podcasts from here and here

**These are my observations, presented through the lens of my own biases and experience and not a verbatim transcription of the workshop or presentations.


Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Sounds like a great, fascinating conference. It's helpful to simply read about those two types of happiness. I think about it a lot, being single/motherless, etc. and sucked into the hedonic mindset. Society does well to encourage it, right? It's a shame.

I like that an ethical way of life promotes genuine happiness. (It gives me hope.) I'm looking forward to more from you.

Be well and happy.

sue said...

Robyn, I think the marketing gurus have worked out exactly which buttons to push to get us sucked in and on the "gotta get more' treadmill. It's insidious and takes effort not to get caught up. It's worth being aware of what's happening. Good to see you :) enjoy your weekend.