Fresh looks at the fundamental pursuit

Why was the horse so happy? Because he lived in a stable environment! Why are frogs so happy? They eat whatever bugs them! Why are you so happy? Oh, you say you could be happier? How?

We’ll get to that in a moment. But first, the why

Numerous medical studies have shown that happiness lowers blood pressure and feelings of stress, enhances sleep and reduces risk for cardiovascular disease. You’re also likely to exercise more, which is good for all the above plus a healthy weight.

The Declaration of Independence, as we all know, promises the pursuit of happiness as every American’s inalienable right. Yet happiness in the United States and many industrialized nations has been in a decline since at least the 1940s, say researchers. Over the years, self-help gurus, psychologists, spiritual advisors and Madison Avenue have provided a steady gush of recommendations. Now, three new books weigh in with fresh takes.

Save the Planet and Smile

The first, by Jeff Golden, is “Reclaiming the Sacred: Healing Our Relationships with Ourselves and the World,” a winner of best book of the year at the Nautilus Book Awards (previous winners include Brene Brown and the Dalai Lama). In it, he notes that money and possessions account for only 2-4% of happiness. Once basic needs are met, material possessions make almost no difference in happiness levels.

Other insights explored in the book:

  • 70% of people living in serious poverty worldwide are still satisfied with their lives.
  •  Happy people tend to be happy with their financial situation regardless of how much money they have, while even extremely wealthy people tend to be unhappy with their financial situation if they are generally not happy.
  •  The more money a person has, the less they are able to savor positive emotions and experiences and the more fleeting joy is.

Golden’s happiness formula prescribes a reorienting of our worldview to “the things that really do matter, from our relationships and our physical health, to our very sense of purpose and belonging in the world.” He continues: “We are living in a time of profound reckoning, with the fates of a majority of species on the planet in jeopardy, including our own. What the research makes clear, though, is that this reckoning brings with it an immense gift, an opportunity to shift our relationships with money and possessions and this gorgeous world around us.”

Happiness by the Numbers

In “The Happiness Formula: A Scientific, Groundbreaking Approach to Happiness and Personal Fulfillment”, physician-scientist and “happiness coach” Dr. Alphonsus Obayuwana, formerly on the faculty of John Hopkins School of Medicine, not only breaks new ground in determining what leads to true happiness, but also offers a tool for quantifying your happiness level. “No one can effectively improve what cannot be accurately measured,” Dr. Obayuwana said in a recent interview. “Your happiness score tells you where you are on the happiness spectrum and where you would rather be.”

Obayuwana draws the distinction between a feeling of happiness and a happy life. Money, he asserts, can buy happiness—in the moment. It cannot, however, assure a happy life.

The Happiness Within

“Happiness is not natural” might fly in the face of most self-help aphorisms, but it’s true, says evolutionary biochemist Ski Chilton. He offers a workaround in “There is Another Way to Happiness: The Four Step CAST Process that Will Transform Your Life.”

“Money can buy happiness—in the moment. It cannot, however, assure a happy life.”

“From evolutionary biology and brain wiring perspectives, happiness is hard and not at all natural for most people,” Chilton says. “It has taken me almost 60 years of life to discover that there is another way to happiness. That I have within me at any moment boundless access to a place of conscious awareness and stillness where my true self, freedom and peace reside.”

In his book Chilton traces his personal odyssey, from “fame and money obsessed egoist” to fully awakened being—a journey that culminated in the creation of a daily life framework in four stages: Consciousness, Awareness, Surrender and Trust (CAST).

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“Finding this place has been my spiritual awakening after spending my life battling insecurities, building a toxic and false egoic self, and searching for the worth that clearly wasn’t found in my accomplishments,” he goes on. Readers are encouraged to embark on the book’s 13-week meditation/reflection practices.

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This article appears in the May 2024 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.