"Happiness in this world, when it comes,
comes incidentally. Make it the object of
pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase,
and is never attained."
Nathaniel Hawthorne

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet
Henry David Thoreau


Happiness is something everyone wants, yet few
seem to understand its nature. Similar to a sailing
voyage, we need the proper understanding to sail
across an ocean. Likewise, to develop a deeper,
more enduring happiness, we need to have a
sufficient understanding of its characteristics.
Because seeking happiness is such a common
element in everyday life, defining it may seem
unnecessary. But when people are pressed to say what
it is, the answers are often conflicting and vague;
sometimes people will finally state something like,
"Who knows what happiness is? No one can really say."
Such uncertainty makes any discussion more difficult.
Therefore, let's use this definition derived from
Webster's Dictionary: Happiness -- a pleasurable
feeling of contentment and joy.
Expanding upon this definition, we can add that
a happy person is someone whose life is predominantly
filled with contentment and joy, and such a person is
usually characterized by enthusiasm and a positive
attitude. In contrast is an unhappy person, whose
life is filled largely with dissatisfaction, anxiety,
or suffering, and who is often characterized by
ineffectiveness, resignation, and a negative

In writing here about happiness, it is with the
assumption that people's basic needs for food, water,
shelter, and security are being met. If these basic
needs are not being met, the difficulty of achieving
any type of happiness is increased dramatically.
Furthermore, neither type exists in a pure form, and
all happiness is to some extent a varying mixture of
both types. Providing that both types are kept in a
healthy balance, they actually can increase overall
happiness by reinforcing each other.
Two types of happiness can be classified by what
they are based upon. Externally based happiness is
related to and dependent on external factors--things
outside of us. The internally based type is related
to inner qualities, such as our beliefs and ways of
thinking and perceiving.
On a superficial level both types can appear
similar, and trying to determine people's actual
type, or even extent, of happiness can be difficult.
Questioning people to determine if they are happy,
and why they are or are not, can be misleading
because of the bias of society: to admit to being
unhappy is usually interpreted as admitting to some
degree of failure. Ask a person if he or she is happy
and why, and the answer is likely to be somewhat
vague or even deceptive. Carry the question further
and ask what were the last several instances in which
he or she was happy and the answers may often be even
more elusive.
However, the evaluation of happiness is just a
mental exercise at best if there isn't a good reason
for doing it. But by clarifying its nature we can
better determine our own real state of happiness.
Then we can enhance our lives by choosing, with
greater awareness and understanding, what we base our
happiness on.

The externally based type of happiness is
dependent on things outside of us or on outer,
surface qualities. These can be material goods or
physical appearances, or they can be people we have
relationships with. But the drawback is that when we
lose these external things that "make us happy," our
happiness is also lost. Yet even when we have these
external things, at some level in our minds we also
have a knowledge that if we lose them, we will no
longer be as happy. In addition, we also have some
degree of awareness that these things require certain
amounts of energy to maintain or protect, and if we
don't or can't spend this energy for their upkeep, we
may lose them.
An underlying problem with this type of
happiness is the insecurity related to maintaining or
losing what we are dependent on. Many times people
will describe this insecurity as a psychological
burden that feels like an invisible "weight" which
they carry much of the time.

This insecurity in externally based happiness
creates an attitude based on scarcity--a fear that we
won't have enough--which then reduces our ability to
develop and share important aspects of our lives that
can contribute to feeling fulfilled.
Examples of this attitude of scarcity have a
wide range. They can often be found when people gain
most of their happiness from having certain clothes
or cars, a luxurious house, or various forms of
entertainment, including travel and sports.
Sometimes this attitude can be found when people
portray an image of superior intelligence or class,
or of greater physical strength or attractiveness. In
each instance considerable effort and control is
required to keep what the happiness is based on.
Another example of this attitude of scarcity
occurs when a person's happiness is dependent on
having possession of another person and supposedly
his or her love. The insecurity that commonly
accompanies this dependency is usually detrimental to
the relationship, because the dependent person acts
out of fear and tries to control the other person in
an effort to preserve the relationship. Sometimes
this leads to physical abuse.
In all these examples, when the person's
happiness is dependent on something external, there
is at some level an accompanying attitude of "I must
maintain control so I don't lose this, because it's
scarce and difficult to get." Nice clothes, a
preferred car, an inviting home, traveling, and
entertainment are not in themselves bad, and they can
contribute to enriching our lives. But the more our
happiness becomes dependent on what is external, the
more we have a tendency to control and hoard those
things because of our insecurity about losing them or
having enough. This tendency inhibits us from sharing
our inner essence and developing closer bonds to
others--in doing so we also restrict ourselves from
having more fulfilling relationships.

Another aspect of externally based happiness
occurs when we compare ourselves to others. This
usually is more detrimental when the comparison is to
those who are socially and economically higher than
us, yet whose conditions are still seen as being
within our grasp.
Some anthropology studies have indicated that
people from lower economic groups who associate with
people in moderately higher economic groups tend to
have fewer of the characteristics that indicate
happiness. Correspondingly, people who have little
association with higher economic groups seem to have
more of the characteristics indicating happiness.
This tendency has been seen in countries where
isolated, primitive tribal people--in extreme poverty
by our standards--have seemed to be happier than
their economic level would suggest. Examples of this
situation are the people (before they were changed by
modern culture) of the Tasaday, the Pygmy, and the
Aborigine. The history of some the North American
Indian and South Pacific island cultures suggests
they at one time were also examples of this tendency.
Another way to look at this comparative quality
and how it can interfere in our lives is shown by
examining "envy." Whenever we envy, or feel
discontent and desire for something another person
has, we are looking at something that seems better
than what we already have. In wanting this other
thing, we fail to appreciate fully what we already
have, which many times could be sufficient to promote
considerable happiness. But we can begin to overcome
envy by recognizing it--then we can turn back to what
we already have and develop the ability to appreciate
and enjoy that more fully.
Comparing also can cause problems when we
compare our present situation to how we were earlier
or to what we expected our situation to be by now. If
we have set unrealisticly high expectations for
ourselves, we will frequently end by comparing our
current situation unfavorably to our expectations.
This unfavorable comparison usually results in
feelings of disappointment and decreased happiness.
Yet even when our current situation compares
favorably with our expectations and we are happy as a
result, that happiness is still based on an external
measure of success. Because this external measure is
something we know to be difficult to achieve and
maintain, on some level we will have an insecurity
about losing it, along with some anxiety about the
effort required to retain it. The insecurity and
anxiety then reduces our happiness: we may have the
external objects or relationships that make us happy,
but we are less able to enjoy them.

Another drawback to happiness based on external
things is how such happiness tends to focus on the
process of acquisition. The anticipation of
acquiring something can easily become the root of a
person's happy feelings. A problem often occurs when
the acquisition is realized and its newness begins to
wear off; the person then may need to begin the
process of acquiring something else so he or she can
again have the pleasure of anticipating something
Almost like using an addictive drug, the process
of relieving unhappiness by acquiring things is
reinforced by the happiness it generates. However,
this process can cause a person to be continually
grasping for something else, never quite able to feel
a stable happiness which is integrated with
contentment. As this trend is reinforced, the
person's ability to appreciate and enjoy the good
that already exists in his or her life is inhibited.

In general, the insecurity and anxiety involved
with externally based happiness causes people to
become more protective and controlling of the world
they create for themselves. This in turn makes them
feel more isolated from the rest of the world, and
consequently they are cut off from many of the
simpler, intrinsic qualities in life that make it so
An additional problem with externally based
happiness is the large amount of our time and energy
external things can consume. But the problem is
compounded because the drain on our limited resources
also distracts us from developing the inner qualities
needed for a stable, fulfilling happiness. This
misdirection of energy, along with the attitude based
on scarcity and the reduced ability to appreciate
things, probably is why numerous religions have
warned against being preoccupied with material
things. Although they can enrich our lives, material
things can also interfere with our inner development.
And the more we depend on things on the exterior of
our lives, the more we deprive ourselves of
developing our full, inner potential.

Internally based happiness originates from inner
qualities that we develop, and these qualities enable
us to experience and appreciate more of the truly
wonderful things that life inherently offers us. It's
characterized by less dependency on human created
measures of wealth and status, and by a greater
appreciation and enjoyment of the more naturally
occurring aspects of life. People whose happiness is
more internally based are more positive than others
despite the adversities that happen to them, and they
have a greater ability to recover and learn from
those adversities. They also appear to be more in
harmony with life.
In examining the reasons that some primitive and
isolated, relatively impoverished groups have
appeared happy, anthropologists suggest two major
factors: their close relationship to, and
appreciation of, nature; and the formation of close
bonds within their society. They seemed to have a
deep sense of communion with nature and other society
members, and this way of relating to the world
probably enriched their lives and made adversity
easier to endure.
Yet the fact that such primitive groups had
little association with economically higher groups
doesn't mean we should try to suppress our awareness
of higher economic groups. Instead, it suggests that
we may become happier by becoming more aware of how
we compare ourselves to others and how these
comparisons can interfere with our happiness. In
addition, their approach to life suggests that we can
live better by developing a greater appreciation of
nature and our community.
When we are faced with adversity, the inner
qualities of internally based happiness can help us
transcend the circumstances with courage and
strength, and still see the beauty of life. Some may
think this is an unrealistic optimism with no
practical application to their lives. But consider
the experience of the Austrian psychiatrist Victor
Frankl (1963). As a prisoner in Hitler's
concentration camps he saw and endured more adversity
and suffering than most of us can imagine. He also
noticed that some of the concentration camp prisoners
fared better than others for no obvious reason. After
much observation and talking with his prison mates,
he eventually concluded that those who fared better
had developed inner qualities which enabled them to
make the best of the horrible circumstances. As a
result of these observations, he founded a school of
psychotherapy which has had a large influence on the
approach to self-improvement. Later I will add more
about Frankl and his observations.
The essence of this examination of happiness is
that we can develop the qualities that make us less
dependent on material wealth and costly surroundings,
and less reliant on comparing ourselves to others or
their standards. We can create realistic expectations
for ourselves that set us up for being happy. We can
further develop our ability to appreciate the wonders
of life, and in doing so create a deeper and more
stable happiness. We can come to understand that
using our potential is more important to being happy
than arriving at a certain level of achievement or
The rest of this book is about developing that
potential by overcoming the misconceptions and
patterns that block us from using it. The next
chapter is an overview of internal barriers that form
this block, and later chapters discuss how we can
triumph over these barriers.

Questions we can ask ourselves about happiness:

1. Do I pursue happiness as my number one goal and
purpose? Or do I pursue other goals and create
other meaning for my life which then result in

2. Is my happiness derived mostly from external
things, or do I generally seem to be happy and
optimistic despite what external things I don't

3. Does my happiness often come from comparing
myself to others and to what I had expected to
have? When do I appreciate and enjoy the
wonders of life without much need to make
these comparisons?

4. How much is my happiness based on the
anticipation of acquiring things? When does
this cause me to pursue something new in order
to be happy, and how does this interfere with
appreciating the good things already in my life?

Suggestions for further reading:

"The Meaning of Happiness"
by Alan W. Watts

"Super Joy: Learning to Celebrate Everyday Life"
by Paul Peasall

"When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough"
by Harold Kushner

Copyright 2001 by Keith L. Kendrick
E-mail: awaken@teleport.com
Url: :http://www.inner-growth.com