Although I may not have concluded this on my own, many “experts” in human nature would conclude that what I am doing to incorporate better exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, and just general life management, is really all part of a desire to increase my level of “happiness.” That makes sense. Why wouldn’t I want to be happier? I suppose this comes with an admission that, in spite of a great life, I must have a feeling it can be even better. And, a Harris Poll on “happiness” in 2017 showed that only a third of Americans reported being happy! (Here’s How Happy Americans Are Right Now, Time, Alexandra Sifferlin, July 26, 2017). So, my trying to find ways to be happier still seems to be a worthwhile pursuit.
To even identify what happiness is, and why it seems universally valued, has challenged philosophers for thousands of years. So, brace yourself for one of my most drastic oversimplifications. Here are some things we seem to be (re)learning about “happiness” (satisfaction, contentment, peace, enlightenment*), as ancient observations and modern science continue to merge.
Our survival wiring makes us highly interested in avoiding life-threatening events, getting food, securing shelter and clothing, and having some kids. Now, in a time where meeting these necessities is not as hard (when were you last threatened by starvation?), we apparently enjoy (and are cursed by) what Thomas Jefferson famously phrased, “’the pursuit of happiness”.
We have apparently developed a strong tendency to try to find happiness in things like money, power, fame, and the trappings that come with them—external sources. (See, well, our culture). But, it is increasingly evident that happiness is far more influenced by internal (mind) settings than such external ones. (See, well, people who have achieved these and are still miserable—many of whom admit it; See, also, my and your personal experience).
If happiness is the objective, then if we are happy, even without money, fame, or power, etc., we may be “winning” at life. If we are unhappy, even with money, fame, or power, etc., we may be “losing” at life.
So, what should we do to be happier? Since it is evident that happiness is determined by internal more than by external influences, we need to work on our internal settings. There are a number of tools we can use to change our “mind” or “emotional” settings. A few examples are counseling, mindfulness and meditation, spiritual practices, nutrition, and fitness. There is mounting support that mindfulness is key to gaining this internal control.
If we want to be happy, it makes sense to spend significant effort learning to use the tools proven to be most successful at influencing our internal settings, as a more reliable approach to fulfilling that desire. Proper fuel and exercise, for both the mind and body, are key to successfully pursuing of happiness.
*In Buddhism, even the focus on becoming happy may be a misplaced objective—it is still a “greed” that will leave us unsatisfied, because it is ultimately illusory—or something like that.