Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Layer 512 . . . Meditating on Happiness, The Hedonism Archetype, The Nihilism Archetype, and The Happiness Archetype

How To Become Happier

Now where was I? Oh yes - happiness. Or rather - how to become happier.

In Layer 509 I said I was reading a new book by Tal Ben-Shahar, which is called 'Happier'.

Here's a few more quotes from the section on the Rat-Race Archetype.
The reason why we see so many rat racers around is that our culture reinforces the belief [that 'one big break' will finally make us happy]. 
We learn to focus on the next goal rather than on our present experience and chase the ever-elusive future our entire lives. We are not rewarded for enjoying the journey itself but for the successful completion of a journey. Society rewards results, not processes; arrivals, not journeys.
Once we arrive at our destination, once we attain our goal, we mistake the relief we feel for happiness . . . the negation of stress or anxiety. The absence of pain is but a momentary relief from an essentially negative experience.
The Hedonism Archetype
A hedonist seeks pleasure and avoids pain. She goes about satisfying her desires, giving little or no thought to future consequences. If drugs produce a pleasant experience, she takes them; if she finds work difficult, she avoids it.
The hedonist errs in equating effort with pain and pleasure with happiness.Without a long-term purpose, devoid of challenge, life ceases to feel meaningful to us; we cannot find happiness if we exclusively seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalji, whose work focuses on peak performance and peak experience, claims that, "the best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile." A struggle-free, hedonistic existence is not a prescription for happiness.
The Nihilism Archetype
A nihilist is a person who has given up on happiness, who has become resigned to the belief that life has no meaning. This person captures the state of being chained to the past - their past failures to attain happiness.
Such attachment to past failures has been described by Martin Seligman as "learned helplessness". Such thinking leads to despair. 
The rat racer, the hedonist, and the nihilist are all, in their own ways, guilty of a fallacy - an inaccurate reading of reality, of the true nature of happiness and what it takes to lead a fulfilling life. 
The rat racer suffers from the "arrival fallacy" - the false belief that reaching a valued destination can sustain happiness. 
The hedonist suffers from the "floating moment fallacy" - the false belief that happiness can be sustained by an ongoing experience of momentary pleasures that are detached from a future purpose. 
Nihilism is also a fallacy, a misreading of reality - the false belief that no matter what one does, one cannot attain happiness. This last fallacy stems from the inability to see a synthesis between arrivals and floating moments, some third option that may provide a way out of one's unhappy predicament. 
The Happiness Archetype
Instead of asking "Should I be happy now or in the future?" we should ask, "How can I be happy now and in the future?"
Students who truly love learning, for instance, derive present benefit from the pleasure they take in discovering new ideas, and future benefit from the ways in which those ideas will prepare them for their careers. 
To expect constant happiness, though, is to set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. 
The rat racer's illusion is that reaching some future destination will bring him lasting happiness; he does not recognise the significance of the journey. The hedonist's illusion is that only the journey is important. The nihilist, having given up on both the destination and the journey, is disillusioned with life. The rat racer becomes a slave to the future; the hedonist, a slave to the moment; the nihilist, a slave to the past. 
Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on the way towards a destination we deem valuable. 
Meditating on Happiness
Research . . . reveals the profound effects of regular meditation. Make meditation a ritual. Set aside between ten minutes and an hour each day for meditation. Whenever you feel stressed or upset or when you simply want to enjoy a moment of calm or joy, you can take a few deep breaths and experience a surge of positive emotions. 

Is that really so? Or is it a surge of positive feelings? Does the distinction matter? Should we continue to reflect on this potentially important issue?

My son tells me he has no time for all this 'self-help' stuff. He's dismissive of the whole genre - positive psychology and all. Never having been a reader of self-help books myself I'm sympathetic to his point of view, but on the other hand the whole 'happiness' movement is obviously in the zeitgeist, and it's a subject worthy of study - if only to critique what various psychologists and self-help gurus are saying, and to reach sounder opinions ourselves.

I've no idea where this is going with Tal Ben-Shahar, but I'll carry on with the journey and report back in future blogs.


Bringing Happiness to Life
"You will find a whole range of online courses, books, live lectures and workshops, as well as products through which I create a bridge between the Ivory Tower and Main Street — translating the rigorous research conducted in universities into accessible material that most people can apply in their personal and professional lives."
Tal consults and lectures around the world to executives in multi-national corporations, Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, and the general public. Topics include leadership, education, ethics, happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, and mindfulness. He is the author of the international best sellers Happier and Being Happy, which have been translated into 25 languages.


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