New Thought Editorials > How to Be Happy in One Easy Lesson


Summer 2014

How to Be Happy in One Easy Lesson

As New Thoughters, we are always trailblazing, and as such, we tend to stand out, but it’s always nice not to be any kookier than necessary. We are what the great American philosopher and psychologist William James called "the religion of healthy-mindedness", which means in today’s terms that we are happy, positive, and upbeat. That also means that we can utilize the findings of the research in psychology to do what we’ve always done more efficiently and effectively.

You may have noticed that everybody and his dog is positive and upbeat these days. That’s nice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody and his dog is happy. Huh? Well, Abraham Lincoln famously said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be", but was he happy? Not exactly: he suffered from chronic depression, for which he took mercury tablets, and those toxic substances made him fly into a rage. That certainly didn’t make those around him happy! So this needs to be explored a little further.

Happiness is not an emotion; it is strictly a left-hemisphere function. One source defines it as enhanced satisfaction, which necessitates a judgement call as to whether one is satisfied at the moment or not. So Lincoln’s statement is technically correct because it says that we make up our minds to be happy. But happiness, like money, is a by-product of some worthwhile activity, a secondary gain. For that reason, it makes no sense to try to set it as a goal. How would you know when you got there? What are your evidence criteria? Instead, you need to concentrate on what you consider to be a worthwhile activity.

Every now and then, some psychologist actually performs a worthwhile activity, and we can all learn from it. One such person is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose happy friends call him Mike. He did extensive work on a state of consciousness known as flow. If you are engaged in an activity (thinking or acting) that you are proficient at yet you are challenged enough that your attention is fully involved, and other concerns recede, you are said to be in a flow state. You may be quite challenged and muttering things under your breath, but when questioned later, you report that, yes, you were quite happy during that time. Long and complicated story short, make sure that you are continually engaged in activities that you are good at and that require your full attention. To do so means that you will be in a state of enhanced satisfaction much of the time.

Research in psychology has of course continued, and we now know that people are happiest when they are doing things that are helpful to others, when they have strong spiritual beliefs that align them with Ultimate Reality (a.k.a. God), and when they have an optimistic outlook. Another psychologist, M. E. P. Seligman, demonstrated that helplessness is learned and can hence be unlearned. From there he went on to demonstrate that optimism can also be learned even by pessimistic grouches like himself (his five-year-old daughter shamed him into it). Pessimists believe that bad things are permanent (going to last forever), pervasive (affect everything in one’s life), and personal (it’s all my fault). Optimists believe the exact opposite: It’s not my fault, it’s only temporary, and it doesn’t affect everything, so I still have this and that resource. Seligman has done an amazing job of introducing these concepts to such places as the U. S. Army, with very positive results. He is now at work teaching people the strengths and qualities of character that enable people to be positive and optimistic, leading to greater health and well-being.

Which brings us full circle back to New Thought, which has always stressed the importance of good character for a happy life. It’s all right there in the Bible, emphasized for good measure by the use of metaphor and parable. Process New Thought brings things up to date with its emphasis on a systems approach. You can read more about happiness, free of charge, on my web site,