Happiness is an elusive goal. Our minds, simply put, did not evolve to be happy and at peace. Instead, they are worry machines, the by-product of thousands of years worth of survival of the most neurotic.
Happiness has many different meanings, so we should probably settle on one. Happiness does not mean non-stop joy and everlasting bliss. This is not a fairytale. By happiness, I mean a life of contentedness, and tranquility—what the ancient Greeks called Ataraxia. Happiness is the quality of a life lived in such a way that it is largely free of unhealthy negative emotions. Unhealthy negative emotions are rage, depression, anxiety and their like—the ones we associate with problems in mental health. The opposite of these are the healthy emotions—joy, sadness, grief, regret, frustration, concern. I know that might seem counter-intuitive but it is necessary to accept—the good life includes its share of sadness, disappointment, frustration, and grief. There is simply no way to lead a life absent of these (short of being hooked up to a perpetual euphoria machine that would over-stimulate your brain’s pleasure circuit until you starved to death). Anyone who is offering you a life a free of the full spectrum of emotions is either deceived or a charlatan trying to swindle you (and probably both).
So how do you do find this elusive state of unperturbed happiness? In short, you change the beliefs that that are creating the unhealthy negative emotions, replacing them with rational, healthy beliefs. Irrational beliefs are inflexible, dogmatic beliefs that get in the way of you living according to your values and reaching your goals.
Through the posts on this blog, I will walk you through many of the concepts required to do this. But you do not have to learn this from me. The way has been thoroughly explored. The best way to learn to remove unhealthy negative beliefs is to study a system of thought that has this as its aim.
The method that is most in line with what I will be posting is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. This school of psychotherapy, created by Albert Ellis, is the original form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Often referred to as CBT). This is a method for recognizing your irrational beliefs and replacing them with healthy beliefs. REBT suggests a number of healthy beliefs which will lead to improved happiness.
An alternate source of healthy, rational beliefs can come from ancient wisdom such as Stoic Philosophy (which is a was a major influence for Albert Ellis). In addition to Stoicism, Buddhism could be seen as another source of positive philosophical ideas. Both of these philosophies deal with mindfully behaving in positive, virtuous ways while accepting the things that are beyond your control.
The central idea of all of this is summed up in the words of a crippled Roman slave turned renowned philosopher. His name was Epictetus and his philosophy might be best summarized by his quote, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”
This simple quote tells us that we can change our view of the world to be in line with happiness. And if that is true, then we are responsible for our own happiness—no one else. And that also means that no one can take it away from us.