Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What's Happiness Anyway?

Over at Ox Herding, Barry is writing about happiness. My mother recently borrowed me the memoir of a founder of the online shoe company Zappos, Tony Hsieh, whose known for innovative ideas about how to build group culture (he also likes to make lots of money, but we'll leave that aside for now). The title of his memoir is Delivering Happiness. Sometime last year, I wrote something about the Dalai Lama's book, The Art of Happiness, and perhaps it was there that I questioned the notion that happiness is THE experience we all want, and strive for.

Hsieh's book is interesting for me because it's way outside of my normal reading box (a wide open, diverse one for sure), but certainly has never contained memoirs by rich guys talking about building companies. I've also been reading the blog of another quirky business dude, Seth Godin.

Now before a few of you start worrying, I don't intend to become a big time capitalist or anything like that. In fact, I'm getting some good practice in watching the critical mind come up with objection after objection as I read. However, one of my mottoes you might say, a simple teaching I like to share with others, is that "anything and everything can be a dharma gate." So, I'm digging into material right now I'd normally toss on the burn pile in order to see what's there.

Reading Hsieh's memoir, I'm finding that he's really not talking about happiness. What he seems to be talking about is connection to something larger than yourself, developing quality friendships, liberating your imagination, finding your passions and talents, and putting all that into building something with others together (in his case, companies). It's not quite dharma per se, but it certainly feels bigger and more interesting than the pursuit of happiness.

I guess I kind of wonder what it is we really want when we speak of happiness. Even though I can point to plenty of examples in my life when I experienced something I can label as "happiness," there's still something really vague about that word, and also about how most of us talk about it. What do you make of happiness?


Unknown said...

I like how Pema Chodron says that people associate happiness "with Hallmark cards" and I think that is true! I think happiness is a concept like love -- which is to say, pretty undefinable. I just feel in my heart the qualities of happiness.
For me I aim to not take happiness, and the glimpses of contentment for granted... and also not to hold on to them either.

This is a good blog post and a good question.

(By the way, love the new blog design!)

Anonymous said...

H sticks for me on this side of the computer screen and between the ears...

Until H is practiced in the world...

Dogen says, when one cooks, the cook prepares a complete meal -

6 flavors:
bitter sour sweet salty mild hot

3 virtues:
-light & flexible
-clean & neat
-conscientious & thorough

no kitchen, no cooking, no happiness; in the kitchen of this life, nothing is hidden.

Just want to stare at the menu and not cook the real meal and share it?

Katagiri says [RTS 117] Dogen Jenji's way is completely opposite [of doctrine, practice, enlightenment =or knowing doing being].

First, there is enlightenment, then practice, then teaching. [being, doing, sharing]

So I think a better question than "What's Happiness Anyway?" might be:

"What are you cooking up, anyway, got anything to share - I'm hungry?"

Probably for me, it isn't just what I know [or don't know but can find out] but what am I doing with what I know. When I got that happening, happiness seems to be available almost anywhere.

Jennifer Campaniolo said...

Hi Nathan,

I'm on vacation so finally have time to catch up with my favorite blogs!

I think the book you're reading sounds interesting. Being open-minded and reading a wide range of opinions is a very good thing. Otherwise we never learn about others or see a different perspective than the one to which we tightly cling. I also read Seth Godin and I like many of his posts, even though I'm not running a business. His advice can be applied to other life circumstances.

It can be confusing to read so many different points of view. I find it hard to stick to any belief for very long, because there's almost always another way of looking at it that knocks my belief off the shelf. I just finished reading "Buddhism Without Beliefs" by Stephen Batchelor and another book by Lama Surya Das about letting go. A couple of my buddhist friends and co-workers had little nice to say about either of these authors. I tried not to let their opinions color my reading.

Happiness: it's different for everyone. I used to think happiness was being perfect. Now I think happiness is connecting with others in an honest, funny, or giving way.

Thanks for this post.


Nathan said...

Bookbird, I agree that there does seem to be a feeling quality to happiness.

Jennifer, I think you point at the fact that there really can't be a universal definition of happiness.

Anonymous - yes, I'm right there with you on sharing this life fully as a path of happiness.

Marguerite Manteau-Rao said...

For me, true happiness is best defined by the absence of unnecessary suffering. Something I have experienced during fleeting moments, and is solely internally driven.

Nathan said...

"the absence of unnecessary suffering." hmm, I like that. I'm gonna sit on that one some more. thanks.

arniejosephbell said...

A good, thoughtful post. It has inspired one of my own, which started off as a comment in regards yours but became too long to offer here. I don't know how tangential my post might be to yours, but I try to talk about what relationship happiness has to suffering and therefore to Buddhism. In essence, I try to argue that happiness isn't the issue, that we might better focus on suffering.