Category Archives: What is Happiness?

What is Happiness? (Part 8)

Continuing with my last post, the artists validate the teachings of the great thinkers (both ancient and modern) regarding happiness.  What is equally amazing is that the artists are in universal agreement as to the description of the state of happiness.

Their perception of happiness is remarkably objective and their experiences, as portrayed in their works, are strikingly similar.  Maslow suggests, “… if self-actualizing people can and do perceive reality more efficiently, fully and with less motivational contamination that we others do, then we may possibly use them as biological assays.  Through their greater sensitivity and perception, we may get a better report of what reality is like, than through our own eyes, just as canaries can be used to detect gas in mines before less sensitive creatures can.”  What better use of great artists than to have their technical expertise and virtuosity, perfected through their many personal trials, put to use representing an objective display of happiness as witness during their periods of peak experiences as self-actualized individuals!

It is this depiction by the self-actualized artist, the hero returning from the adventure with St. Thomas’ final virtue in hand, integrated with other people and universal values, which is their gift to society.  It is incumbent upon us all to follow their inspiration and continue our personal journeys of collecting IOUs to be cashed in at a future date for our own “Heaven on earth.”

More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 7)

Continuing with my previous post, one fundamental question that I have asked in the past is:  Why do many risk so much on something that others consider to be saturated with uncertain odds of success?

We now have the answer to this elusive question: By doing so the individual has the opportunity to travel well beyond the successes of ordinary life.  Capitalizing on opportunities today, considered risky by others, provides a chance for a future lived well above that of an everyday existence.

If successful in capitalizing on these opportunities, the adventurer has the potential for a life of happiness and fulfillment with freedom, integration, and the peak experiences.  Or, the answer is simply: accepting the adventure, with its uncertain odds of success, allows the hero to collect the IOUs during the adventure undertaken, IOUs which are cashed in for the ultimate reward – happiness.  It is this definition, as found in the title of this book, which best expresses the state of happiness as interpreted by the “prose” and the “art.”

The ancient philosophers knew the answer.  It just took the intellectual “prose” of three modern thinkers to give us the keys to the galleries – galleries filled with inspiration from great masters who have translated the “prose” into human feelings and experiences.  It is this “art” that Tolstoy instructs is “indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”

What is Happiness? (Part 6)

Continuing with my previous post regarding self-actualization, Maslow asserts, “An important existential problem is posed by the fact that self-actualizing persons (and all people in their peak-experiences) occasionally live out-of-time and out-of-the-world (atemporal and aspatial) even though mostly they must live in the outer world.  Living in the inner psychic world … i.e., the world of experience, of emotion, of wishes and fears and hopes, of love, of poetry, art, and fantasy, is different from living in and adapting to the non-psychic reality which runs by laws he never made and which are not essential to his nature even though he has to live by them. … The person who is not afraid of this inner, psychic world, can enjoy it to such an extent that it may be called Heaven by contrast to the more effortful, fatiguing, externally responsible world of “reality,” of striving and coping, of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood.”

The key point that Maslow is making is the following: those individuals at this final level of human development, reached by less than 1% of Americans by Maslow’s own estimate, have acquired certain human qualities through preparation by family and society, social interactions, activities leading to confidence and prestige, the acquisition of virtues, and the fulfillment of a personal mission or destiny.  This existence is one of Heaven – a world without effort, fatigue, striving, or coping.  Such is a life determined by the individual and not a life lived by the laws of others.  After all, this is Maslow’s final level of human development with no further human needs and desires to be satisfied.  A life that is lived absent any further needs or desires is truly a superhuman condition.

More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 5)

In my previous post I mentioned that the positive psychologist, Abraham Maslow, was very helpful in describing those that have reached his highest level of human motivation: self-actualization.  One attribute of this level of self-actualization that was mentioned was frequent peak experiences.

What are these peak experiences?  Again, we are fortunate that Maslow was kind enough to describe these unusual experiences that only a few fortunate individuals witness within themselves during their lives.  keep in mind that these peak experiences are not the same as flow – the concept described by the other positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Flow is best described as a lower level peak experience and the catalyst that encourages each of us to move forward in satisfying our lower needs of belongingness and self-esteem.  Peak experiences occur primarily to those that have reached Maslow’s final needs level of self-actualization (see previous post) and are self-contained.  So, according to Maslow, peak experiences are defined as:

The experience is seen as a whole, detached from usefulness and purpose. 

It is seen as if it were all there is in the universe.

Complete absorption or fascination such that experience is isolated from everything else around it.

Perception of the world as if it were independent of themselves and others.

A richness of perception.

Perceptions that are relatively ego transcending or egoless.

A moment that is self-validating carrying its own intrinsic value.  It is an end in and of itself.

A disorientation of time and space.

Experienced as only good and desirable, never experienced as evil or malevolent.

More absolute and less relative.

Wonder, awe, humility and reverence.

The resolution of many internal conflicts. 

Simultaneously selfish and unselfish.

Playfulness with others.

Loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, and restraint.


More to come!

What is Happiness (Part 4)?

In my previous three post, I mentioned the terms that the ancient philosophers and the modern thinkers teach are required to enter into a state of happiness.  However, once those terms are met, what does true happiness look like.  Let’s begin by looking at the specific teachings of Maslow.  Keep in mind that we are going to be talking about those who have reached the final level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In other words, people that have no further needs or desires – what I would call a super-human condition.

Maslow was generous in providing a list of characteristics of those individuals who, like Campbell’s master of two worlds or Csikszentmihalyi’s individuals forging a unity with universal values, have reached the final level of human development – happiness.  Maslow characterized those who have achieved this final level – self-actualization, as exhibiting: “1) superior perception of reality, 2) increased acceptance of self, others, and of nature, 3) increased spontaneity, 4) increased problem-centering, 5) increased detachment and desire for privacy, 6) increased autonomy and resistance to enculturation, 7) greater freshness of appreciation and richness of emotional reaction, 8) increased identification with the human species, 9) improved interpersonal relations, 10) more democratic character structure, 11) greater creativity, 12) certain changes in the value system, and 13) higher frequency of peak experiences.”

Both Maslow and Csikszentmihalyi wrote that “precious few” people actually reach self-actualization, “Though, in principle, self-actualization is easy, in practice it rarely happens (by my criteria, certainly in less than 1% of the adult population).  For this, there are many reasons at various levels of discourse … humans no longer have strong instincts which tell them unequivocally what to do, when, where, and how.” Campbell speaks of a similar inability of everyday humans to reach the highest levels of human development, “Today, all of these mysteries [myths] have lost their force; their symbols no longer interest our psyche.”

More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 3)

Continuing with the thoughts of my previous post, we now witness the much-anticipated convergence of the conclusions arrived at by the intellectual “prose” of Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi, and Campbell.  The three academics, independent of one another, have reached identical conclusions regarding those who have reached the highest levels of human development.  Maslow’s theory presents the ultimate level of human development – self-actualization: fulfillment of a mission (or call or destiny), acceptance of one’s own nature, and a drive towards integration with others.  Campbell’s study of world myths presents the hero who successfully crosses the threshold back to the everyday world: one released of all personal ambitions, limitations, and fears.  Finally, Csikszentmihalyi’s research reveals the individual who has reached the final level of development: integration with other people and with universal values.

The ancient thinkers echo in their teachings the conclusions of the above three modern thinkers that, if our moral and intellectual development goes as it should, we will progress from valuing food and warmth, to valuing social relations, to valuing moral virtue.  We will require four virtues to reach the threshold of happiness: wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.  But, as stated brilliantly by St. Aquinas, the final virtue of love of neighbor is necessary to pull us across the threshold into the realm of happiness.  It is at this moment of passage into happiness that the boon of the adventurer is delivered for the benefit of society.

Characterized by each of the three modern thinkers as the ultimate level of human development, and reflected in the teachings of the four ancient thinkers, happiness is: 1) fulfillment of one’s call or destiny and the subsequent acceptance of one’s nature and limitations, 2) freedom from personal ambitions (desires), fears, and limitations, and 3) integration with universal values and the promotion of the greater good of society.

More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 2)

In my previous post I began discussing the concept of happiness as presented by two modern psychologists, Csikszentmihalyi and Maslow.  In particular, Maslow mentioned that an individual enjoying happiness is “motivated primarily by trends to self-actualization… as fulfillment of a mission (or call, fate, destiny, or vocation)…”  It is the fulfillment of this mission or call that is further explored by Campbell in which the returning hero of myth, having crossed the return threshold with the loving help of others and whose boon is accepted by society, is awarded the position as the master of two worlds – the material and the spiritual.

For Campbell, “Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the casual deep and back – not contaminating the principles of the one with the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other – is the talent of the Master.” Campbell goes on to say, “The individual, through prolonged disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes, and fears. … His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him …” 

It is now that we witness the convergence of the conclusions arrived at by the intellectual “prose” of Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi, and Campbell.  More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 1)

Let’s begin our understanding of happiness by first looking at two of the three modern thinkers: Csikszentmihalyi and Maslow.

Csikszentmihalyi teaches of those few who have reached his fourth and final stage of development, “The fourth step, which builds on all the previous ones, is a final turning away from the self, back toward an integration with other people and with universal values.  In this final stage the extremely individualized person… willingly merges his interests with those of a larger whole.” Csikszentmihalyi goes on to mention, “… only a precious few emerge (i.e., reach the fourth and final level) once again to forge a unity with universal values.”

Maslow echoes a similar sentiment for those who have satisfied their belongingness and self-esteem needs (third and fourth needs of five), as they are now, “motivated primarily by trends to self-actualization (defined as ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities and talents, as fulfillment of a mission (or call, fate, destiny, or vocation), as a fuller knowledge of, and acceptance of, the person’s own intrinsic nature, as an unceasing trend toward unity, integration or synergy within the person).”

The thoughts of the modern thinkers would not be complete without the teachings of Campbell, to be discussed in the next post.