It seems worthwhile to revisit the relationship between happiness and healing. [see blog posting Oct 06]. It is based on an approach to psychology known as Positive Psychology which attempts to move beyond the traditional goal of psychotherapy which was to bring dysfunctional neurotics with anxiety and depression to a ‘normal’ level of being.
This approach is to seek to improve the level of functioning of everyone, to aspire to the Greek notion of eudonomia or the ‘good’ life. In other words don’t we deserve to be ‘happy’? Of course words need to be defined and the goal of Positive Psychology is not to create a world of giggling bufoons. In this sense, we are talking about peace of mind, contentment, satisfaction, pleasure and general wellbeing.
Proponents of this approach include Seligman, Haidt, Csikszentnihalyi, and others. Most interestingly Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard notes that his philosophical approach to the alleviation of suffering corresponds nicely with this school of psychology.
Perusal of seach engines will reveal that not everyone is thrilled with the promotion of happiness as an ideal worthy of pursuit. Several postings rail at the attempt to whitewash the suffering of the world by promoting feelings of happiness. There is palpable outrage in the words of these bloggers. ‘How dare psychologists speak of happiness when the world is collapsing around us in torture, genocide, murder, rape and war?
I can understand the gross incongruity and the perception that only wealthy, Western human beings can speak of happiness in the face of such abysmal suffering. Yet to seek happiness or contentment for oneself does not demand that the seeker forget about those who do suffer. In fact the Buddhist attitude proclaims that the path to our own peace of mind is to promote compassionate beliefs and actions that will benefit all mankind.
We do not all have to suffer to be deeply committed to the alleviation of suffering in others. There is a need to be empathic, to feel the pain of others in order to help them move past their own. But to wallow in their negativity will bring us down as well–emotionally, physically and spiritually.
In fact one of the common keys to happiness is not financial status and the acquisition of material objects. It is our personal relationships, their quality and committment which are best correlated with our peace of mind. And this is clearly directly associated with our mental and physical health. Numerous studies have confirmed the benefit of loving, reciprocal relationships and longevity and quality of life.
So, in fact, we need to extend our sense of family beyond our own tribal or national awareness. To follow the advice of Einstein, we need to understand that our sense of separation and isolation is an ‘optical delusion of our consciousness’ which leads to unhappiness on a personal level and the sorry state of human relations on a global one.