What does it mean to find happiness in life?
As I scanned the headlines of a news service I use on my smart phone, I saw a number of articles on the pursuit of happiness. Like this one from Quartz (http://tinyurl.com/jqcqvy8), such articles explain that direct attempts to find happiness generally lead to frustration and even despair. This is something that psychologists have known for quite some time.
How does one become a happy person? Pursuing it directly doesn’t work. Instead, happiness is something we develop along the way when engaged with things we find meaningful land fulfilling.
A couple of years ago, I conducted a study on how people who value spirituality understand spirituality as part of their sense of self. When most psychologists study spirituality, they attempt to measure things, like the number of times a person meditates or prays, how involved one is with a religious or spiritual organization, or how often a person reads religious or spiritual literature. Measuring these behaviors doesn’t provide any real insight into spirituality because spirituality is rooted within a person. The major religious traditions have always known this, when they speak about people with a soul or spirit — something deep within.
While I obtained great descriptions from participants about the ways they experienced spirituality as part of their sense of self, all the participants reported something else: a deep sense of happiness. I wasn’t asking the participants about happiness, but in the course of the interviews, they all reported reaching a point when their lives were infused by an overarching sense of happiness.
Let me be clear: none of the participants reported that they had intended to be happy. Several began regular spiritual practice to help cope with difficult situations in life, including addictions, sexual abuse, or an overall sense of shame. One person began spiritual practice simply because it was part of a holistic health course he attended and he kept up the practices begun there. But all the participants reported that over time their lives changed and they realized that they were happy.
To make this clearer, here are some of the actual quotes from participants about happiness:
“Who I am as a person would be a reflection to spiritual teaching which would be honest, good, and happy and joyful.”
“I feel joyful. I feel connected. I feel happy. I feel energized and relaxed all at the same time.”
“It (spirituality) makes me happier. It makes me a lot happier because when I feel connected to other people and to God, I feel happy. I feel like I don’t need other people to make me happy, I feel like I’m almost more balanced in myself. “
“I want to use the word ‘joy’ but I don’t want to use the word ‘joy’ in the sense of jumping up and down. Spirituality gives joy and meaning to my life.”
These individuals experience a profound sense of happiness and joy as an outgrowth of their spiritual practice. Typically, they started spiritual practice to be whole, integrated people. But in the process, they discovered happiness.
Yes, happiness can be a characteristic of your life. But happiness comes as we learn to live in a way that’s in harmony with our deepest selves.
(To learn more about my study on spirituality and self, visit: http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol20/iss5/11/ )
Are there ways that spiritual practice can lead you to encounter a greater sense of happiness in life?
© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.