A friend of mine sent me a link to a TED talk about health and happiness. It was based on a Harvard study that has tracked the life of more than 700 men for over 75 years, asking about their work, their home lives, their health. The conclusion they came to is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. It’s not just about love relationships, the study showed that social connections in general (having friends, family, being involved in a community etc.) are good for us, and that loneliness kills.
They also found that it’s not just being in a relationship or having a lot of friends that made people happier, but that the quality of these relationships also mattered. High-conflict marriages, for example, seemed to be worse for our health than getting divorced.
The third conclusion the researchers came to was that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.
In their youth, the men in this study believed money, fame and high achievement would ensure them a good life, just as young people today say their life goals are to get rich and to become famous. The conclusion of the TED talk is that one should lean in to relationships—not work or professional achievement—to be happy.
For many people, especially for the kind of people that will have the time to read this kind of note and value it, this is no extraordinary finding1.
But this study has a lot of value for the more ‘materialistic’ people, that believe that happiness comes out of long hours of hard work, for the people that really believe that if one has more money and fame and security and pleasure then one is going to be more satisfied and happy. It is valuable because this information doesn’t come from one of the many self-help books or blogs out there—I agree that these books or blogs are very often nothing more than pretty words. This is a serious scientific study made by researchers from a very prestigious university that proves where happiness— which is what we all want—is actually coming from.
Now, let’s say we understand that happiness comes from our relationships. Then, in order to have good relationships—love relationships, job relationships, or as I like to put it, relationship with ourselves other people and the world—we need to work on ourselves, we need to work on our minds (our thoughts and emotions). It is very important to have a certain quality of mind in order to have a good relationship, otherwise it is virtually impossible to have one.2
And so, if our aim in life is happiness—and everybody’s final aim is happiness3—then we need to take care of our minds.
This is something I often talk about, both in the classes and in the blog: how to have a mind that will create harmony and balance, that will create good relationships with ourselves, other people and the world.
Now, in a way, here is where most people stop; here is where what people may learn from society ends. For them, happiness is the end product.
But there is more:
- On the one hand, there is unhappiness: the belief in security and pleasure, money and fame as a means to obtain happiness.
- Then there is happiness: harmony and balance; a healthy relationship with ourselves, other people and the world.
- And then there is also what I can call ‘true’ happiness.
In order to understand ‘true’ happiness we will need to DECONSTRUCT what we believe about happiness, what we believe about ourselves.
The general belief about who we are is that we are beings that are ’empty’ inside, beings that have lots of needs and only when a large majority (if not all) of those needs are satisfied can we become happy. It is generally assumed that what I am as a person is essentially an incomplete, lacking, inadequate, wanting being, but if I get good relationships (or money or fame or security or pleasure or whatever) then, and only then, I can be complete, I can be happy. Basically what is generally believed about happiness is that we are dependent on something outside of ourselves, and that we need those things in order to find that happiness. This is what practically everyone believes without any doubts (it is not necessarily a conscious belief but one deeply entrenched in our psychology). And the study that was presented in this TED talk was made BY people who have this belief, ABOUT people who have this belief and FOR people who have this belief.
But one of the main points of this note is to reveal that this is not true. This belief is based on the wrong understanding of who or what we really are.
Who am I? Really?
This is a very basic, but also a very rare question to ask. Who am I? Most people never ask this. And the few that do answer it very quick by looking at their life stories: I am…a person that was born here or there, studied this or that, comes from a privileged or problematic family, is married or not, has kids or not, has done this or that, suffers here and there etc. Most people confuse who they are with the story of their lives, a story that lives in their heads as a group of thoughts, a story that some times people write down in a book. But, as fascinating as that story may be—and it often is!—that thought or group of thoughts is not who I really am. Who am I then?
Because I was very interested in this question since very early age, after many years of searching and asking and wandering and not without a lot of help I came to the understanding that I am not my story, I am not what ‘I think’ I am, but I am this ‘presence’ and ‘awareness’ that is present and aware right here and now. And that this ‘presence’ and ‘awareness’ is not needy, is not lacking, is not wanting, is not unhappy but it is full, it is satisfied, it is complete in and by itself. And so, when this understanding appears, when one understands that what is actually looking trough one’s eyes and hearing through one’s ears is already whole and complete one becomes independent of everything. One becomes FREE for the simple reason that one does not need anything to find that happiness. One finds happiness in oneself. There is the realization that one-self IS happiness itself.
This is an extremely short and condensed explanation of the nature of a human being. This understanding, although it is not as far away as it is seems to be, is very difficult to come to. And one of its main difficulties is our lack of interest in actually knowing who we really are. Why does this happen? Because our minds are so busy with problems, worries, fears and insecurities, are continually engaged in trying to be secure, continuously engaged in grasping some pleasure and avoiding some pain that there is virtually no space or time to direct our attention to the apparently superficial pursuit (at least superficial from the point of view of fears and worries) of the truth of our own nature. Or, if there is interest in it, because of all the fears and desires continually appearing in the mind the interest gets pushed down or put aside. In order to understand one’s true nature, profound and intense dedication is necessary. No different if one wants to become a doctor or a lawyer. A passing and sporadic interest is not enough but several years of intense dedication are the minimum requirement for it.
And so, the reason why I spend so much time in my classes and in the blog working with the mind is two fold:
- On the one side, working with the mind, as is clearly explained in the TED video, is what is required for happiness. In my understanding, happiness also means a clear, peaceful mind. A mind that feels good, a mind that has found balance and harmony is a mind that has also acquired peace. When this happens, one lives a more happy life and, as long as nothing major happens, for many people that is enough.
- On the other hand, something else may happen—and this we will not find in any kind of scientific research: when the mind is more peaceful and content, then the space to ask more profound and insightful questions may arise. Questions like who am I?, what is life?, what is the meaning of life?, what is God?, what is happiness?, what is TRUE happiness? may arise. And when they do, because the mind is not so busy with useless problems, the space and the time necessary for finding an answer to these questions will also be there. And finding the answer to these questions is what I call true happiness.
Or, as the great Indian sage Nisargadatta says: ‘A quiet mind, undistorted by fears and desires, free from ideas and opinions, clear on all the levels, is needed to reflect reality. Be clear and quiet—alert and detached, all else will happen by itself.’
True happiness is the being and understanding that I AM COMPLETE AND FULL AND FREE IN MYSELF and that I don’t need a relationship (or whatever) to make me happy but, if a relationship (or whatever) appears in my life then that relationship will be a way that is given to me to express my own inner happiness (as opposed to being something that I need in order to be happy). It is a COMPLETELY different way of experiencing life.
In conclusion. What we all want is happiness. A wrong understanding of where happiness is found will lead to unhappiness. Happiness is not material but is based on my relationship to myself, other people and the world. In order to find that happiness we need to work on our minds, we need to work on ourselves. This can lead one to a more peaceful better life but also, in some cases, may lead one to the profound understanding that what I really want in life is already within me.
Happiness—a quiet, peaceful mind—may also lead me to truth, to reality, to what I really am.
- Even if so many people know this—are aware that money and fame (I often refer to it as security and pleasure) is not were happiness is hidden—, most of their attention in their everyday life still goes into worries about money or fame, security and pleasure. The proof of our understanding is not in what we say we know, but it is in where we actually put our attention in our everyday life, in our everyday moment.
- Some people may think that to have a good relationship means to find the perfect partner, but this is extremely rare…if at all impossible. There may be some people that have a certain bio-chemical connections and very similar interests that allow them for a while to enjoy a problem-free relationship. But everything in life is constantly changing and sooner or later that mechanical attraction will modify or come to an end.
- I know it may sound a bit strange, but really nobody cares for fame and money. Nobody cares for comfort or power or security or pleasure. Nobody. What everybody cares for is the happiness that they believe these things will bring them. This is not so difficult to understand. Just imagine that you are given two options: the first is that you get as much money as you have ever dreamed of, plus all the fame and comfort and power you want, but you are told you will be a very unhappy, miserable person; the second one is you are given nothing at all, but you will be happy, very happy. What would you chose? This little game really proves that we really do not care for the money but for what we hope the money will bring; and what we hope is nothing else but happiness.