Insights: What is Happiness?

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“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.  When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”  – John Lennon. 

What is happiness? Is it the purpose in life?

I have had many clients that have the money, have the house, and maybe even have the great business or job, but are still not happy.

Is it about having a sense of purpose? Is that why we can look back at history and see amazing feats such as Machu Picchu where boulders as big as buildings created a city back in the 1400s?

The wall of China that can be seen from space. People climb to the top of Mt. Everest and hike the 500 mile Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. In Thailand I saw temples that date back to the 12th century.

All these were possible because someone had a vision, a goal, a dream. Did this create a sense of happiness for these people?

What I do know is that they could see beyond what seemed possible and something had to drive them. They were not afraid of their dream, and were willing to risk failure, risk not sticking with the norm.

However, goals can also cause harm to others. I recently saw the film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It left me pondering how people’s goals can also be about greed, ego and selfishness. We can see this throughout history such: Enron, Hitler, Genocide, and Terrorism.

Something I found interesting and had been aware of before I left for Thailand was the study they had completed on Monks and happiness. They found that the nucleus accumbens in the brain receives a hit of dopamine when a person looks forward to something pleasing. Dopamine makes us feel happy. When you look at a MRI brain scan of someone feeling compassion, the same areas highlight as someone who is setting a goal.

Studies show that when you do something that you enjoy, you get a dopamine kick, but if you want it to last over a longer period of time, you need to make your goal altruistic.  Make it good for yourself and others.

Have a goal, a purpose that is larger than you can imagine. You might be surprised what you can create. And make sure it benefits others.

By the way, while studying Buddhist monks, I read that they shave their hair and eyebrows and all wear the same cloth so their focus can be kept on what is important: compassion, loving kindness, doing no harm, and dedication to their practice. And these studies show they have larger kicks of dopamine than the average person.

Not sure if I am ready to shave my head and eyebrows and wear orange every day. However I do live by the tenants of “do no harm,” “loving kindness” and “compassion.”  Add my goals in there and I know I have my brain working at its best. I feel the happiest when I am grateful for what I have in my life, which comes from my goals and making a difference.

It may not be the next Machu Picchu, but I know I am happy and am making a difference in others lives.

Contact Shelly at [email protected] or

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