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Steve's Life And Business Coaching Notes

April 2014


"Trying to be happy is a miserable thing. Simply go to the place of awareness,
bring awareness to that space, and happiness will arise." - Rupert Spira *


1) What Do We Really Know About Happiness? - This article shares some of the most relevent scientific findings on the nature of happiness, then goes on to discuss what the wisdom traditions have to say on the same topic. (Spoiler Alert - they look in very different directions.)

2) Other Resources - Here is a potpourri of inspiring information selected to keep you learning and growing. This month includes a video by Rupert Spira on The Highest Meditation, an article on Leadership by Tom Peters, and finally a well-researched article on the latest health topic, the impact of gluten and sugars on long-term brain health.

1) What Do We Really Know About Happiness? 

Most of the people I work with in my coaching practice have changes they want to make in their lives, careers or businesses. When you explore their motivations, most are doing what they are doing because in one way or another they want to experience more happiness. And, since so many of us tend to be chasing some set of future circumstances that we assume will deliver more happiness, perhaps we should take a closer look at what we actually know about the topic.

Historically, many people have believed that some people are just born happy. Others believe that happiness is something you luck into, or achieve through hard work when you reach a specific goal. Get richer? Get famous? Get more beautiful? Have more friends? Achieve more power or control over your life? Etc.

In the last 10 years science has dug deeply into the topic of happiness and come up with a number of key findings. If you read a good selection of that research you might discover:

  • That we generally adjust or adapt to both the good and bad events in our lives, and our happiness eventually returns to its previous levels; i.e. whether you win the lotto or experience a major life setback, your  happiness will typically return to where it was before the event within a matter of months. This is called hedonic adaptation, and takes a lot of the juice out of the assumption that any particular achievement will deliver lasting happiness.

  • While 50% of our happiness is connected to our genes, only 10% is actually attributed to our life circumstances – which leaves a full 40% which is volitional, or up to you.  So some people are actually born happier than others, but only 10% of our happiness is dictated by whether we are worth a fortune or just getting by, tall or short, heavy or light, look like a movie star or not, etc.  So again, our life situation certainly does not drive as much of our happiness as modern marketing would have us assume.

  • There are a number of things you can do to experience greater levels of happiness, (this is the 40% volitional component) and many of those things boil down to; 1) being more engaged emotionally in your personal and professional life, feeling like your gifts and talents are being routinely expressed or used, and finding more meaning in your life.  

This information flies in the face of the common cultural assumption that happiness is something you only acquire or achieve with great effort, in the future. Not to imply that things cannot get better, or that you cannot work to improve many aspects of your life, career, relationships, etc. After all, there is a 10% increase of happiness possible through changes in your life circumstances. 

However, just remember that whatever you can achieve in the future, you will adapt to and it will cease to be a source of enhanced happiness.  So it is wiser to pay more attention to those aspects of your life that increase your engagement, expression and meaning, today. In other words, pay more attention to the "being-ness" of happy, how you live each day - rather than always working on those big plans for some future happiness payoff.

The Deeper Teaching on Happiness

Perhaps the most profound teaching on happiness, has been around for a long time.  It comes out of some of the world’s great wisdom traditions. While this teaching does not get much press, it has endured over 3,000 years of trial and error experimentation, and can be personally verified by anyone who bothers to take the time.

The teaching takes the radical view that while you can certainly achieve greater levels of excitement and pleasure out of many objects (broadly defined here as any achievement, relationship, or material possession) they are all fleeting experiences of happiness and generally lead you back to the proverbial treadmill - working harder to get your next fix.

The wisdom traditions point out happiness is not something that is achieved by the human body/mind. Rather happiness is your true nature - your underlying natural condition that you only experience when you stop all the thinking/assuming/striving and otherwise working so hard to get things to be different than they actually are.  (i.e. - Actually shift your sense of identity beyond the body/mind.) 

You may have heard this before. You may have even set time aside to explore this possibility. You may have even attempted some meditation or contemplative prayer or other spiritual practice, only to discover boredom. That is a common first impression. Just be aware that is the assessment of our highly conditioned human mind that simply does not want to give up its control or view of the world.  

The human mind can only focus on objects. It is useless in its attempts to navigate beyond thought and so struggles to lead us to more lasting happiness.  Thus it finds any excuse to avoid, or label as boring, any attempt to re-focus attention from the outside world, back onto itself. However, real happiness is the happiness of the real. In other words, don’t bother looking for lasting happiness in anything that does not last. You must look beyond.

Even though this sort of happiness is our true nature, for most of us, it is veiled. To actually experience deeper happiness, you do have to be ready and patient.  Ready in the sense you have developed some curiosity or intuition that perhaps greater and lasting happiness is not going to be found by any set of circumstances in the world of things. This often starts the inward journey of exploring what does endure, what is the nature of the awareness in which all passing events arise, pass and are made of. Ultimately this investigation is at the heart of any deeper contemplation, prayer or meditative teaching. It is the deeper meaning, and what is being pointed to, in the biblical story of the Prodigal Son. (i.e. - Stop looking for answers/excitement/love/security/success/happiness out there in the world of passing things, and rather turn around, come home, and explore the inward  journey to find the kingdom of heaven within.)

And should you be someone who is called to explore this particular road less traveled, know that enduring happiness or bliss, tends to grow slowly and doesn’t usually arrive with a big fanfare, bells or whistles.  Rather it is more akin to a growing sense of peace or underlying contentment, when you realize that from the perspective of awareness, nothing needs to change or be any different than what it is.   

So, what can we take away from all this?  Perhaps just that if you are like most of us, it may be worth your while, at least once in your life, to step back and seriously look at what you are working on.  Is your current trajectory based on the assumption that if you succeed there is going to be some huge payoff of happiness at some future date?  Or is how you are living just a natural expression of your inherent love, intelligence, unique gifts and talents that are just effortlessly unfolding. Good science and many millennium of wisdom teaching argue not to look for happiness out there in the future.

"When I am not present to myself,
 then I am only aware of that half of me,
 that mode of my being which turns outward to created things.
 And then it is possible for me to lose myself among them.
 Then I no longer feel the deep secret pull
 of the gravitation of love which draws my inward self toward God.
 My will and my intelligence lose their command of the other faculties.
 My senses, my imagination, my emotions,
 scatter to pursue their various quarries all over the face of the earth.
 Recollection brings them home.
 It brings the outward self into line with the inward spirit,
 and makes my whole being answer the deep pull of love
 that reaches down into the mystery of God."

—Thomas Merton

2) Other Resources.

For those interested in mindfulness, presence or the inward journey, here is an excellent video on The Highest Meditationhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1X9xd-4pga8

Here is a Tom Peters' article on some of the new leadership competencies for these changing times. (Which looks a lot like coaching.)   http://tompeters.com/docs/leadership.reductionist.0719.13.pdf

Here is well-researched article from The Atlantic, on one of the latest, hot, health topics - the impact of gluten and sugars on brain health. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/this-is-your-brain-on-gluten/282550/


Visit Steve at Life and Business Coach Steve Mitten.

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* photo courtesy of James Barker and FreeDigitalPhotos.net .