The Thing About Happiness

People often ask themselves the question: “Am I the best that I can be?”

Well, think about it: “Are you living the life you’ve always wanted?”

As you ponder this for yourself, look around you. Notice how many people suffer from chronic boredom, restlessness, and irritation. I, too, was one of those people. It didn’t take much effort to list all the things I thought were wrong with my life, or lacking in my life.

My perspective has since changed, yet the suspicion remains that our state of discontent has reached epidemic levels. These days, the safest answer to a question like “How have you been?” is something like, “same old”, “nothing new”, “I don’t wanna complain but…”. Anything that’s more enthusiastic, positive, or – dare I say – showing signs of gratitude, exposes the oddball.

Funny thing is, the self-help industry is booming. In the US alone, it’s now worth over $19b per annum. It’s the-in-thing to eat-clean and exercise. Social media are oozing with motivational quotes and selfie-styled affirmation. We’re perpetually improving and inspiring ourselves.

So why aren’t we happy, dammit?

Happiness is about feeling good


Happiness – or the pursuit thereof – reigns as the as the treatment of choice for emotional dissatisfaction. A recent study established that the happiest folks seem to be those people who are in good health, live a stress-free life, and can buy whatever they want. But here’s the caveat: “happiness” is just a feeling, a biological drive; and it is short-lived. Emotions come and go, like fleeting moments, now here, then there; like clouds drifting by. Everything is fleeting, as the Buddha has taught.

The relentless pursuit of happiness can end in a messy affair: “Likes” on Facebook; the next pay cheque; a new job; a new car; a new romance –all those things that can soothe a sad soul. But the feeling fades all too soon, and we begin to need more of everything. The mind loves telling us that we just need this one more thing and then we’d, finally, most certainly, be happy ever after. Don’t listen to your mind. 

There’s more to life


Finding meaning and fulfilment trumps happiness by far. If we are fulfilled, we no longer depend on happiness because fulfilment is linked to contentment and inner peace. Sure, it’s good to receive, to work hard and be rewarded for our efforts. But if “having a great time” were all there is at the end of the tunnel, how futile and devastating that would be! We’d soon realise on some level that our lives aren’t counting for much.

Sigmund Freud put it well when he wrote that everything we do springs from either of two motives: (1) biological drives and (2) the desire to be great. By ‘great’ Freud didn’t mean fame and influence but the desire to be important. I experience happiness when I spend time with friends and family. I experience fulfilment when I’m loved by the same and complete their lives. 

Fulfilment means being ok – devastated, but ok, if my life ended tomorrow.

Fulfilment is to play a part in the continuation of life, such as investing in a child; to help someone change the course of their life; to establish a legacy of knowledge and wisdom that can be expanded and built upon; to protect animals and preserve the environment. It is not something we complete, but something that completes us.

Presuming that what I’m writing here makes sense, the big question remains: how do I find fulfilment? What will it take? There is no simple answer. However, I would like to propose that a different type of intelligence or “skill” is required. This is what spiritual intelligence has come to mean to me. 

Spiritual Intelligence


Spiritual Intelligence


Perhaps spiritual intelligence is the ability to pause and reconnect with something greater than ourselves. It does not require us to let go of our goals and dreams, but challenges us to see beyond them. It triumphs in simplicity, yet defies common sense. It cannot be attained by doing more, nor by trying harder. It’s not a shopping list of things to do like Yoga, prayer or meditation.

Spirituality means embracing the possibility that certain forces go far beyond our individual existence. As such spirituality differs from religion, which may require a belief in a personal God or gods. I believe spirituality is innate to all of us but needs to be practiced and honed. By way of example, we can become so  preoccupied with the things we want or don’t want in our lives, that we forget to notice what already is

Spiritual intelligence, is that quiet, intuitive voice which encourages us to look for the deeper principles that govern our existence. When you find those deeper principles, let them carry you and guide your everyday decision making. Don’t work against them. Don’t be fool enough to resist them. Be wise enough to respond to them. 

There are many of these principles, but one of them is the importance of connection.

We’re all in this together


In a recent bestseller, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson writes, “We are all connected; to each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe, atomically. We are not figuratively, but literally, stardust.”
Physicist Brian Cox makes a similar point through the lens of quantum mechanics. The Pauli Exclusion Principle, he explains, holds that two identical particles can never occupy the same quantum state. Apply heat to a diamond until its electrons begin to shift. In theory, this will cause ALL remaining electrons in the universe to move accordingly and restore the initial harmony.

In other words, the interconnectedness of everything may be far greater than our day-to-day experience of reality. If everything is connected, our personal ambitions and feelings aren’t the be all and end all of our existence. Certain realities and principles are indeed greater than ourselves. Consider just a few, for example: generosity, kindness, love, friendship, family, forgiveness, or nature itself. 

Perhaps this is where true hardship, but also true achievement, really lies.


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