Tag: mind

What is Spirituality?

What is Spirituality?

The ultimate goal of the quest for spirituality is to know and experience the ultimate truth, and to return to that original state. But, what is ultimate truth, and what is relative truth, and why are they important?

 

ULTIMATE TRUTH

All spiritual traditions generally agree that there is an ultimate truth or reality that is unconditioned and unchanging, that is beyond time and space. It is indescribable using any languages or symbols. It cannot be known simply through logical inference, but it can be known and experienced through a purified mind.

 

RELATIVE TRUTH

Relative truth or relative reality is the universe we live in and experience. This material world is said to be emanated or unfolded out of the ultimate truth, but this is not to say that the ultimate truth is one thing and the material world is another thing. It is more accurate to say that the material world is within the ultimate truth, although even this description is probably not satisfactory.

Some people have described the material world as a holographic projection out of the ultimate truth. In Hinduism, for example, the material world is called “maya”. It is regarded as illusory and is merely a projection of our mind.

We could easily do a thought experiment with regard to this illusory nature. For example, we can ask ourselves – “Does the world exist if we are not aware of it?”

 

MIND AND MATTER

Through our own observations, we can know that this material world is made up of two things. The first is matter. Matter is perceivable to us via our five physical senses of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. The other is mind or consciousness. Mind, unlike matter, cannot be perceived by the five physical sense organs. It can be perceived only by the mind itself. That is why mind is considered to be our sixth sense.

 

MIND, SPIRIT, GOD – DIFFICULT TO DESCRIBE

Now we have arrived at a crossroad. How do we measure or quantify or define something that we cannot perceive physically? Where are the boundaries? Where does it begin and where does it end? What is its nature or essence? What are its qualities and attributes? Can we even describe it accurately with the languages that we have?

This is where confusions abound in discussion about spirituality and religions. The same term used, such as the word God, can mean differently for different people coming from different backgrounds and religions. On the other hand, something that is the same is often described differently by different people, as perceived from different perspectives. This is made worse if we see only the parts instead of the whole, as in the story of the blind men and the elephant.

Thus, words like mind, spirit, god and several others may simultaneously mean the same thing at times, and at other times hold subtle but important differences.

Without recognising the limitations of words and languages, our discussions on spirituality or religions can and will very often lead to confusions and confrontations.

Yet we know that if there is an ultimate truth that is unchanging and unconditioned, all our collective experiences of this must somehow be the same, albeit seen and understood from our personal perspective, which is coloured by our upbringing, culture and beliefs.

So, the way to avoid or minimise such confusion is to first define the words we use, and make sure that everyone is using the same words with the same definitions. Here is how I would define some of these words:

  • Mind is defined as that which perceives, cognises, thinks and is aware of. This would include both the cognitive and affective aspects as well as consciousness. Mind is also creative.
  • Spirit is defined as the fabric, base or foundation on which the mind acts upon. Thus, mind can be said to be contained within spirit.
  • God is defined as a natural impersonal creative force of the universe. The process of creation is subjected to natural laws.

You will notice that the above definition of God does not fit the God of the Old Testament, which is personal and even vengeful at times. Also, because both mind and God are creative, the two words are sometimes interchangeable, depending on the context in which they are used. In addition, since spirit is defined as the base or foundation from which creation emerges from (or emanate from or spring forth), and God is often regarded in the same way, spirit and God are also often used interchangeably.

So, even with the above definition, there is still room for confusion to occur.

 

TWO LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE

So we have the unconditioned, unchanging ultimate truth or ultimate reality, from which springs forth the material universe, the relative truth or relative reality existence where sentient beings get to experience life as we know it. Sentient beings can experience life from two different levels or perspectives.

  1. A Dualistic Personal Experience

A sentient being is conscious and aware of itself relative to its surrounding. It sees itself as separate from its surrounding. It perceives a “I” and a “other-than I”. It is a dualistic view of existence. This dualistic way of experiencing life is what we know and are used to.

In order to do this, we need to label or name things. We need to discern or compare, perceive differences and make judgments. Thus we see big and small, tall and short, and we sense hot and cold. This is how we make sense of the world we live in.

We experience all these contrasts from a personal perspective or view.

  1. An All-Inclusive Impersonal Experience

There is, however, another way to experience life – a way described by certain accomplished saints and meditators. Ancient sages from all traditions have told us of this higher perspective of experiencing life. It is an experience that is all embracing, all inclusive and free from thoughts, personal biases and prejudices. It is experienced from beyond the perspective of the self. It is an impersonal experience.

This experience is described in superlative terms and is regarded as a higher and more superior experience than our normal dualistic experience. Words such as unconditional love, great compassion, blissful joy and peace are often used to describe this supra-mundane spiritual experience.

It is also described as an inner and inherent essence or quality of our purified mind or spirituality, and is not affected or corrupted by anything outside of this mind.

This elusive and blissful state is what motivates and drives worldly beings in search of their spirituality. This is a state that is free and independent from any physical reality, and is achievable through a purified mind attained via meditation.

This state is called spiritual happiness, contrasting it with the more transient and illusory worldly happiness that is dependent on pleasing our physical senses, and is described not just in the Taoist, Buddhist or Hindu traditions but also in the Christian gnostic, Jewish Kaballah and Muslim sufi traditions.

Considered an even higher happiness than spiritual happiness is the total release from existence as we know it, culminating in a total union with the ultimate truth or reality with no possibility of coming back in any form.

 

Happiness is a state of mind

Happiness is a state of mind

Your happiness is not dependent on external things. If it were, it would not be possible to find lasting happiness.

Your happiness is dependent only on the state of your mind. Knowing this gives you the power to determine your own happiness.

The good news is that it means that you have a choice to be happy or not. The bad news is that you can only have this choice when you are totally aware of this fact that your happiness is entirely in your hands. This fact is unfortunately not as obvious as we would like it to be. In fact, most people cannot see this truth. For them, their mind has been so conditioned to think of getting happiness from people and things outside of themselves that to be told that they are the real source of their own happiness is quite simply unbelievable.

Yet, this is the truth. Your happiness is indeed in your hands. To be more precise, your happiness is in your mind.

You do not have to believe me. Instead, you can do an experiment on your own life. Choose to be happy, just for a day. Make it today. Make it this moment. Consciously choose to be happy, and see how your attitude and state of mind change to reflect that choice. Is your mind lighter? Less tense? Less tightly wound up? Less rigid? More open? More liberated? Simply by choosing happiness, you can immediately feel the lightness of your being.

However, if you have been conditioning your mind to be tight, unhappy and fearful all these while, do not expect that it will be easy to simply switch to be happy. It takes persistent effort. Old habits die hard. They keep coming back because they feel familiar. Therefore, to replace an old habit with a new one, you need to be aware as often as you can. Stay alert to your state of mind. Keep reminding yourself to choose happiness. Gradually train your mind to be happy, to relax and to lighten up. Be aware of how you feel when your mind is in this new state. Do you feel better? Happier? Lighter? It is important to experience this new state, and be aware of it. It is very rewarding, and it will continue to motivate you to be alert and aware of your state of mind.

So, how do you make your mind happy all the time?

You simply have to keep doing this – be aware of your mental state, and make a conscious choice to be happy – every day, every moment. Make it a new habit of yours to constantly check on your mind state whenever you remember – when you wake up in the morning, when you shower, when you eat, when you take a break, when you are about to go to sleep. You can do it anytime, any place. When it has become habitual, then you will be able to be happy everyday.

Remember, happiness is a state of mind.

Thoughts and Happiness

Thoughts and Happiness

The principle for happiness is surprisingly simple to understand, yet difficult to attain. Just as when a sage was asked by a king about the guide to happiness, the sage explained that happiness can be achieved simply by abandoning evils, doing good and purifying the mind, whereupon the king exclaimed, “This is so simple that even an eight year old can understand it”. “However,” said the sage, “even an eighty year old man cannot practice it well”.

This is not to say that happiness cannot be attained. It can be, but only with proper cultivation of the mind – and herein lies the challenge. It is simply not enough to abandon evils and do good, without cultivating the mind, for the cause of your happiness is your thoughts, as illustrated in the diagram below.

thought-feeling-actionIn fact, the cause of all your emotions – both happy and sad – is your thoughts. Like it or not, you have to gain mastery over your thoughts in order to gain the happiness you seek.

 

Seek First to Understand How Your Mind Works

Understanding how your mind works is crucial to mental cultivation. To understand how your mind works, you need to be able to look within your mind and be aware of all the thoughts that arise. This means you will need to be mindful of your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Mindfulness is an indispensible tool for self understanding. So, start training yourself to become more mindful – meaning to become more aware of your body, feelings and thoughts, and watching them in a non-judgmental or impersonal way. As you watch your body, feelings and thoughts, see how they affect each other. Examine their relationships with one another.
  1. Satisfy yourself with the accuracy of the observation that your thoughts affect your feelings, which in turn move you into actions (as shown in the earlier diagram). See how every positive emotion is preceded by a positive thought, and how this is true also with negative thought and emotion.
  1. Notice also that although external objects (people, things or events) may trigger an old memory or mental habit, it is your present state of mind that determines whether they may affect you in a particular way or not. This is called conscious living or living in the present moment. In karmic lingo, it is said that what you experienced outwardly is old karma, and how you experienced them inwardly is new karma. In short, you must recognize that while you cannot control what is outside, you can be in full control of what is inside – your thoughts. This insight puts you totally in charge and fully responsible for your own happiness (or sufferings).
  1. Recognize also this very important principle – what you feed becomes stronger, what you starve becomes weaker. This principle is what you will use to strengthen wholesome mental habits and weaken unwholesome mental habits. How do you feed your mind? You feed it by choosing what to focus on. Focus on what is wholesome, such as unconditional love, kindness, generosity, compassion, altruism, fair play. Discard what is unwholesome, such as fear, worries, anxiety, habitual speculation or making assumptions. It is important to recognize negative mental habits and remove or replace them with positive habits.

 

Some Observations about Thoughts

After you have examined your thoughts for a while, you will start to realize some things about your thoughts.

  1. Your thoughts come and go according to certain causes and conditions. Specifically, thoughts are triggered by association between what you are in contact with now (people, things and events) and your past memories or experiences about them. From there, it proliferates according to your mental habits. Thus, the state of your mind when the impression or contact is made can greatly influence the outcome of your present experience.
  1. Thoughts are NOT created equal. Some thoughts are more important and useful to you than others. However, you have the habit of treating all thoughts with the same urgency and importance, giving them equal weightage and attention. You need to change this habit.
  1. In the ultimate sense, thoughts are empty of any intrinsic values except what you give to them. Thoughts are simply thoughts. They become real only when you believe in them.
  1. There is no one to own the thoughts. They simply appear when certain causes and conditions are met. You personalize your thoughts and everything else in your life when you claim ownership over them.

 

What makes a man (or woman) noble?

What makes a man (or woman) noble?

The noble man is not noble because of his birth, look, wealth or position. The nobleman is noble because of his ennobled mind and noble heart. He is noble because he loves truths, seeks truths and lives his life in accordance with truths.

He speaks truthfully, gently and appropriately. He speaks to unite, to encourage and to comfort. He does not speak to divide, to discourage or to destroy. He speaks lovingly, compassionately and joyfully. He does not speak out of fear, anger or hate.

He lives his life following the fundamental principle that all beings have a right to life, and a right to choose how to live his life, provided that his choice does not infringe on the same right of another. In this way, he lives in mutual co-existence with others.

He recognizes that what is required is universal love. With love, there is respect for all lives, and mutual respect for each other. With love, there is contentment and peace, and therefore harmony.

Power and man-made laws are necessary only when this fundamental principle of mutual co-existence is breached.

When that happens, the arrogant “I” believes that he has more entitlements than others. This gives birth to greed, which leads to conflicts, then anger, hatred and violence. Discontent arises. Peace is lost. Love is diminished. Fear grows.

The nobleman takes full responsibility for his life. He knows that how he experiences life is dependent on his attitudes, mindsets and beliefs. Choosing wisely, he lives happily even in challenging external conditions. He does not blame others for his own inner discontentment for he knows that only he is in charge of his own inner world.

He trains himself, disciplines himself. He cultivates and ennobles his mind. He suffuses his heart with love.

The nobleman, with his ennobled mind and noble heart, seeks peace within, finds peace within. Thus, nothing outside of him can take away his peace, his contentment, his joy. He stays peaceful within in the midst of external chaos.

It is in this way that he is a nobleman.

Dhamma

Dhamma

The word “dhamma” in Pali or “dharma” in Sanskrit means truth. Often, it is taken to refer to the ultimate or absolute truth – truth that is unchanging and timeless. This ultimate truth is also simultaneously taken to mean absolute, unchanging reality, which is in contrast with this ever-changing relative reality of a universe we live in.

Realities

So, we have two contrasting realities. The first is the absolute unchanging reality while the other is the ever-changing relative reality. It appears that the second reality springs forth from the first. So, absolute reality is the source, the field, the canvas on which relative reality unfolds from and unfolds onto.

The nature of the absolute is that it is unchanging and impersonal. The nature of the relative is that it is ever-changing and also impersonal. There are two components that make up the relative – mind and matter. Both of these are ever-changing. Both mental and material phenomena are also impersonal. These are their true nature.

If we are able to see this true nature of reality and live in accordance with it, then all experiences are free from suffering. All experiences are just as-is. We would be able to experience every phenomenon as ever-changing and impersonal. We would simply accept it as it truly is. This is the perspective of experience for those who are fully enlightened, for the arahants.

However, and unfortunately, that is not the case for us worldlings.

Instead, we experience everything from a limited perspective of the self – a self that sees everything as separate from itself. From this perspective, there is an “I” who sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and thinks. There is an experiencer and what it experiences. Every experience becomes personal. It is through experiencing from this perspective that sufferings occur. The trade off is that there is also the experience of joy. After all, everything in this relative universe is relative to each other, conditioned by each other.

Relativity

The relative universe exists relative to the absolute.

The relative universe has two essential realities – mind and matter. Mind is intangible relative to matter. Matter is tangible relative to mind. There is a whole spectrum of mind-only existence and matter-only existence, and everything in between that has both mind and matter in various degrees of combination. So we have entities that exist only as consciousness and we have entities that exist only as matter, without conscious awareness, and we have entities that exist with various degrees of mind and matter.

Everything in the relative universe exists relative to other things, dependent on other things, conditioned by other things. However, there are at least three important relative objects we need to pay extra attention to, mainly because they affect our lives and experiences in a big way.

The first is that all our experiences are relative to other experiences. None of our experiences are absolute truths. They are only relative truths – relative to our perspective. This brings to mind the experiences of the six blind men and the elephant. One of them touched the tail and claimed that the elephant is thin and long like a rope. Another touched the legs and claimed that an elephant is big and straight like a tree trunk. Yet another touched its ears and claimed that an elephant is flat and broad like a fan. None of them could experience the whole, thus was not able to truly know what an elephant is like. The same is true with our own experiences.

What we experience is limited by our own personal and localized perspective. Thus, what is true for us is not necessary the absolute truth, only relative truth.

The second is that all values are relative as well. There is no absolute value for the simple reason that values come from the perspective of the self. The impersonal universe does not value one thing over another. It regards everything is the same way – impersonal. This is the reason why “God” does not interfere with evil deeds or stops natural disasters or prevents war and famine.

In addition, values – as in everything else in this relative universe – change with time. A good example is the concept of beauty and fashion. What is seen as beautiful now was not so regarded in the past, nor will it be regarded as so in the future. Even solid tangible things do not have real values. For example, a diamond may be deem valuable for us but not so for aborigines living in a remote jungle.

The third is that all views are also relative. What is viewed as correct today may turn out to be wrong tomorrow. For example, at one time, people believe that the world is flat and that the sun and planets revolve around the earth. Today, we know that they were wrong.

Knowing this truth is important if we were to live in harmony with each other. We can then avoid the arrogant belief that only we are right and everyone else is wrong. This is especially true in today’s world where wars are fought over beliefs and in the name of religions. Admitting that no one has exclusive rights to absolute truth is the first step to dialogue and tolerance.

Going Beyond

So, if everything in this relative universe is relative, and there is no absolute, how do we reconcile with our need for being and doing good, and overcoming evil? Yet we know that every major religion teaches the concept of “good over evil”. Are they all wrong?

Well, they are not wrong.

The reality is that we can experience via the perspective of the self or we can experience life by going beyond the perspective of the self. This latter form is what the arahants experience, and it is free from sufferings.

However, in order to be able to attain this level of experiencing life that is beyond the self, we must first work through the self. This is not the same as denying the self, destroying or eliminating the self or even strengthening our belief in the self.

Working through the self requires that we first truly know the true nature of our self. For that to happen, we need a mind that is calm and concentrated so that it can clearly see things as they truly are. The prerequisite for attaining a calm and clear mind is a mind that is pure, thus the need for purification of the mind – for a mind that is free from hindrances, from disturbing and restless thoughts. Thus, we have to work through all defilements of the mind that is preventing us from having a clear and calm mind.

The prerequisite for purification of mind is a mind that is free from remorse and guilt, a mind that is glad and joyous. This is only attainable when we, from the perspective of the present self, are practicing virtuous thoughts, speeches and actions. Thus, the perfection of morality or virtues is a prerequisite to getting a mind that is absence of remorse and guilt, and filled with gladness and joy. Only then it is possible to attain the perfection of concentration and one-pointedness of mind, a stepping stone towards gaining perfection of knowing and seeing.

The complete path to mental purification and perfection of virtues, concentration and wisdom is spelled out in the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha.

Spirituality is a personal choice

Spirituality is a personal choice

Choosing to walk the spiritual path is a very personal decision. It is a decision that only you can make. No one can, nor do they have the right to, compel you to make this choice. It is a personal matter – a personal choice.

Our modern lifestyle is too focused on materiality. If you are fine with that, that is OK too. However, sooner or later, and especially as you grow older, you will start to seek something more than material wealth.

Perhaps you will question your existence and your mortality in the face of friends and relatives passing away, or in your own illness. Perhaps you encounter a unique spiritual experience. Many people discover spirituality in the midst of their failures. Whatever the case may be, at some point in your life, spirituality will become important.

That would be a good starting point to seek out spirituality.

 

What is spirituality?

The word “spirituality” can mean so many things to so many people. Some find spirituality to be daunting and mysterious because it has been made out to be such.

In fact, spirituality is simply the aspect of our life that is not perceivable by our five physical sense organs – the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the body. All of life is made up of spirit and matter. Even our own existence is a combination of mind and body. It is the immaterial that is spiritual.

Judge Thomas Troward, who gave the famous Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science, said it best when he said that the only real difference between the dead matter and the living spirit is intelligence, or consciousness. Thus, spirit and mind are intimately related.

Here is where we have to be very careful with the use of words, for they can sometimes be the cause of confusion. In fact, in your own search for spirituality, you will come across similar words that are used in different religions. Some of these same words refer to different things. On the other hand, sometimes different words are used to refer to the same thing.

It is important to be aware of this limitation of words. It may be more useful to look at what the word represents and remember the nature, qualities or values that it represents instead of the word itself. Then you can see the similarities in the different words used, or the differences in the same word used by different religions.

 

Seeker of Truth

The seeker of spirituality is essentially the seeker of truth – the absolute truth. The nature of this absolute truth is that it is unchanging. It exists in the past, in the present and in the future. It exists everywhere. It is beyond time and space. In any point in time and space, it is there. It is there even before time and space.

This being the case, anyone who seeks it, regardless of where or when he starts out from, he should eventually arrive at the same truth – the unchanging truth. Thus, no one has an exclusive claim on spirituality – not Christianity, not Islam, not Hinduism, not Buddhism, not Sikhism, not any religions.

In fact, you will find that genuine spiritual seekers will not compel you to believe in what he himself believes in. True spirituality is not about beliefs. It is about knowledge. Beliefs may be a starting point but it must never end there. Your beliefs must eventually lead you to the absolute truth through your practice.

Therefore, there is no compulsion in spirituality or in any true religions. Compulsion is only for the fearful and the faithless who seeks strength in numbers. They are not genuine spiritual seekers.

 

My Spirituality

So, this is how I have come to see my own spirituality.

I do not see a personal God, who favors one group of people over another. God does not play favoritism. God does not say, “If you are a Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist, you go to heaven. The rest will go to hell.” I do not believe in such a God.

What I see is an impersonal creative force – a natural force. You can call it Divine Intelligence or Divine Mind. It is impersonal. It creates everything, following natural laws. Thus, it embraces everything and it is impartial. This is unconditional love. This is true justice. After all, how can one be fair when one is partial?

So, my spirituality is a path I am taking to recognize this Divine or Universal Mind. It is to purify my own Personal Mind so that it can then re-experience this Divine Mind, this Original Pristine Mind. The goal is to remove all impurities – all negativities, all unwholesome motivations, all limiting views or beliefs – from my Personal Mind, and make it pristine again.

Some people called this the merging with the Divine and considered this to be the ultimate attainment in a spiritual path. I do not know if it is the ultimate but I do know that this is the path I am taking.

And I invite you to join me in this beautiful journey.

Dress your mind up for success

Dress your mind up for success

dressmind4success

We are all aware of the need to dress up for success. There are even grooming courses being offered to teach you how to dress successfully. However, not many people are aware of the importance of dressing up their mind for success. This is, in fact, the main cause of failure in life for many.

Your success in life is highly dependent on what is inside your mind. Thus, one of the best thing you can do for yourself is to set your mind up for success every morning when you wake up.

How do you do that?

Well, start by clearing your mind of all negativity. Drop whatever fear, anxiety or frustrations you may have. Reset your mind to a clear and calm state. Doing this first thing in the morning is often easier since your mind is normally quite relaxed when you have just woken up. Then make a decision to stay focused on positive thoughts and emotions. Drop negative thoughts and emotions whenever they arise. Decide to be happy and to be grateful for what you already have.

Training your mind repeatedly every morning in this way can lead to a new positive mental habit, a new mindset that sets you up for success everyday.

The Science of Happiness explained

The Science of Happiness explained

WHAT IS HAPPINESS?

One of the major problems with doing scientific research on happiness is finding an appropriate definition for happiness. Happiness is generally defined as the state of being happy. That is to say, happiness is a state of mind. However, this definition is too broad and non-specific.

For worldly people, happiness is getting what you want and not getting what you don’t want. Happiness is seen as the fulfillment of our desires (wants).

What about our needs? According to Abraham Maslow, there is a hierarchy of human needs:

  1. Physiological needs – food, clothing, shelter, medicine
  2. Need for safety – not just physical but also emotional, mental and financial security
  3. Social need – to connect with others and to contribute meaningfully to society
  4. Self esteem – the need for a more mature and higher self regard
  5. Self actualization – the need to be the best that we can be as a human being

Surely to be happy, we not only want our desires fulfilled but also our basic needs satisfied. Thus, it would appear that happiness for worldly people means having our needs and wants fulfilled.

Scientists broadly agree that happiness is a combination of how satisfied we are with life and how good we feel on a day-to-day basis.

 

WHAT DETERMINES OUR HAPPINESS?

Internal and External Factors

The factors that determine our happiness vary from person to person, but roughly scientists are of the opinion that both internal and external factors determine our happiness. Only an estimated 10% of our happiness is determined by external factors and circumstances, such as where we are born, what kind of government we have, and even our family environment. A huge portion of our happiness is actually determined by our internal factors, such as the way we think and behave (40%) and our genetic make-up (50%). Thus our happiness is predominantly within our own control and dependent on ourselves.

Adaptation

We have the ability to adapt well to external circumstances. In tough circumstances, we learn to tolerate and bear with the discomfort and stressful environment, and they soon become the new norm. We see this in children living in war-torn countries and people with extreme disabilities. In the same way, in good circumstances, we also quickly learn to tolerate the new comfort, and so demand more or better comfort. That is why we continue to seek greater thrills in extreme sports, better tasting food, higher comfort and so forth.

A Bottomless Pit

The problem with seeking happiness from external and physical things is that there is no end in sight to it. It is like a bottomless pit or a black hole. It cannot be fulfilled. The goal is one of futility. It will only meet with vexation and frustration.

Right Focus

Thus, we should instead be focusing on attaining happiness from our own internal factors, and specifically on cultivating our thoughts (40%).

 

WHAT MAKES US HAPPY?

When scientists study what are the areas in our life that give us happiness, they looked at some of these areas: Happiness and wealth, happiness and health, happiness and relationships, happiness and meaning of life, happiness and spirituality.

  1. Happiness and Wealth

A common belief with regards to wealth and happiness is that the more wealth we have, the happier we are. In other words, many people see their happiness as proportionately related to the amount of wealth they have. Is this belief true?

According to the happiness scientists, this is a false belief. While it is true that we need a certain amount of money or wealth to be happy, it is not true that the more money we have, the happier we will be. We do need money to provide for our basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and medicine. Having these basic necessity met gives us a sense of security that makes us happy or contented. In the USA, scientists have determined that generally a yearly salary of slightly above US75,000 meets this condition for basic needs. Any amount of money above that does not significantly increase our happiness.

This seems to imply that a large part of our happiness comes from having a sense of security. Security here includes not just the fulfilling of basic physiological (physical) needs but also the need for safety in other areas as well, such as emotional, mental, financial and social security.

So, if you feel you need to hoard a lot of money to be happy, it might be worth looking inwardly into your own sense of security, or lack of security. Recognizing and overcoming our own inner sense of insecurity offers us a better and surer attainment of happiness than our external wealth, which can be taken away from us through sickness, theft, government, and natural disasters.

  1. Happiness and Health

A common belief about health and happiness is that having good health makes us happy, and this belief is true. However, what is less well known is that the reverse is also true – happiness itself brings us good health.

Studies have shown that people who are happy are less likely to have chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes mellitus. They are more likely to have better HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) level, better immunity against infections and live longer.

Happy people are generally less reactive to stressors in life, have lower risk of depression and are generally more resilient.

Happy people are also generally more successful across multiple life domains, such as marriage, relationships, careers, income and work performance.

  1. Happiness and Relationships

Studies have shown that our relationships provide us with meaning and purpose of life, and having a meaningful existence makes us happy.

Some key traits that lead to successful and healthy relationships are kindness and generosity. On the other hand, traits such as contempt and criticism tend to worsen a relationship.

Many people believe that in order to be happy, they need to find the right person in their life. In other words, their happiness is dependent on someone else. The truth of the matter is that only we can give ourselves happiness. Happiness is found within us, not outside of us.

  1. Happiness and Meaning of Life

We have said earlier that a meaningful life is a happy life. One of the ways we find meaning is in our personal achievements. Thus, to find something meaningful or a higher goal to aim for, and to work towards that goal gives us a sense of satisfaction and happiness. The more honest we are working towards such a goal, the happier we are.

There is a common belief that for our success to be meaningful, it has to be big. Perhaps we have to be famous or become the richest man in the country, or we gain some limelight on TV or other media. The truth is that meaningful things come in doing the small things in life with love and compassion. According to Mother Teresa, it is not how much you do but how much love you put in the doing that matters.

So, if you belief you need to be famous or extremely rich to be successful, perhaps you might want to examine your inner need for recognition. Might this be about your ego instead?

  1. Happiness and Spirituality

It is commonly believed that a moral life leads to happiness, and this is verified by science. We have certain built-in traits, such as a conscience, that necessitate us to do what is considered right or good. To do what we know to be wrong is a stress to our conscience, and therefore to our peace of mind, which leads to sufferings.

Qualities such as good moral conduct (virtues), altruism, compassion, kindness, unconditioned love and generosity are universally encouraged by all major religions as conducive to happiness. Such qualities have been studied by science and they truly have strong links to happiness.

In addition, what we have also learned is that the state and attitude of our mind strongly determine our happiness. Gratitude, for example, is an attitude that leads to happiness and contentment. Forgiveness is another good trait that supports happiness.

Generally, studies have shown that people who are more spiritual are happier. Spiritual people here do not refer to those who religiously attend their weekly churches or temples. Rather, what truly matters is the quality of thoughts and sense of connectedness with others and with nature that define our spirituality.

It has been found that spirituality:

  1. Offers psychological comfort related to death and the afterlife
  2. Provides social support
  3. Provides meanings and sense of belonging
  4. Provides a stable foundation of good values for children as well as adults
  5. Encourages the experience of positive emotions

 

THE POWER OF POSITIVE THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS

Positive thoughts and emotions, such as unconditional love, kindness, compassion, gratitude, generosity, forgiveness and altruism, are the true causes of happiness. Happiness is the cause of our successes across multiple domains of life, not the result.

People with positive emotions are more able to thrive and flourish, are more creative and more resourceful. They are better at adapting to change, and are more resilient in times of adversity. It is not surprising, therefore, that they are more successful in life.

Thus, this verifies the truth of this statement: “Mind is the forerunner of all states. Mind is chief. Mind-made are they.” This is a powerful statement of truth and a complete understanding of this truth can lead us to happiness, to success and to good health.

 

HAPPINESS IS A SKILL

Happiness is not a fixed point. You can change your level of happiness. Knowing that your happiness is dependent not really on external circumstances but your own internal environment means your happiness is in your own hands. You are responsible for your own happiness.

You can always cultivate the necessary skill to become happier. The skills you need to cultivate to become a happier person are:

  1. Mindfulness of your own thoughts
  2. Courage to be honest with your thoughts, both positive and negative ones
  3. Letting go of the negative thoughts and increasing the positive thoughts
  4. Constantly repeating the above three steps

Once you have mastered these skills, you will become a happier person.

 

SPIRITUAL HAPPINESS

What we have discussed so far refers only to worldly happiness. Spiritual seekers recognize that there is an even greater happiness than worldly happiness, namely spiritual happiness.

Spiritual happiness is higher and better than worldly happiness because it is found entirely within oneself. It is more permanent and cannot be taken away from you by others or even natural disasters. Thus, it is a more secured form and greater intensity of happiness.

To attain spiritual happiness, one needs to attain the jhanas (intense absorption concentration of the mind), which is achievable through meditation practice.

 

The world is in you

The world is in you

It is said that the ordinary man sees himself in the world but the enlightened man sees the world in himself.

What this means is that the ordinary man is fully engaged and immersed in the material world of senses. He lost himself in it, to the extent that he is not aware that he creates his own world and experiences through his mind. Not being aware, he is trapped. He sees himself a victim, as if his life is left to fate and he has no control over what and how he experiences life.

The enlightened man, on the other hand, is fully aware that he creates his own world and experiences through his mind. He sees the illusory nature of the external world. As such, he is empowered with the knowledge that he determines his world and experiences through his own mental attitudes and perspectives to life. He does not see his life to be fated. Rather, he is the master of his own destiny.

Mind Games: Why everything you thought you knew about yourself is wrong

Mind Games: Why everything you thought you knew about yourself is wrong

The decisions we make and even the memories we hold are based on delusions, according to a new book.

So you remember your wedding day like it was yesterday. You can you spot when something is of high quality. You keep yourself well-informed about current affairs but would be open to debate and discussion, You love your phone because it’s the best, right? Are you sure? David McRaney from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is here to tell you that you don’t know yourself as well as you think. The journalist and self-described psychology nerd’s new book, You Are Not So Smart, consists of 48 short chapters on the assorted ways that we mislead ourselves every day. “The central theme is that you are the unreliable narrator in the story of your life. And this is because you’re unaware of how unaware you are,” says McRaney. “It’s fun to go through legitimate scientific research and pull out all of the examples that show how everyone, no matter how smart or educated or experienced, is radically self-deluded in predictable and quantifiable ways.” Based on the blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart is not so much a self-help book as a self-hurt book. Here McRaney gives some key examples.

Expectation

The Misconception: Wine is a complicated elixir, full of subtle flavours only an expert can truly distinguish, and experienced tasters are impervious to deception.

The Truth: Wine experts and consumers can be fooled by altering their expectations.

An experiment in 2001 at the University of Bordeaux had wine experts taste a red and white wine, to determine which was the best. They dutifully explained what they liked about each wine but what they didn’t realise was that scientists had just dyed the same white wine red and told them it was red wine. The tasters described the sorts of berries and tannins they could detect in the red wine as if it really was red. Another test had them judge a cheap bottle of wine and an expensive one. They rated the expensive wine much more highly than the cheap, with much more flattering descriptions. It was actually the same wine. It’s not to say wine-tasting is pointless, it’s to show that expectation can radically change experience. Yes, these people were experts, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be influenced by the same things as the rest of us, whether it be presentation or advertising or price. This drives home the idea that reality is a construction of the brain. You don’t passively receive the outside world, you actively construct your experience moment by moment.

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

The Misconception: We take randomness into account when determining cause and effect.

The Truth: We tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when we want a random event to have a meaningful cause.

Imagine a cowboy shooting at the side of a barn over and over again with a gun. The side of the barn fills up with holes. If you walk over and paint a bullseye around clusters of holes it will make it look like you have made quite a lot of correct shots. It’s a metaphor for the way the human mind naturally works when trying to make sense out of chaos. The brain is very invested in taking chaos and turning it into order. For example, in America it’s very popular to discuss how similar the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations were. Elected 100 years apart, Lincoln was killed in the Ford theatre; Kennedy was in a Lincoln automobile made by Ford. They were both killed on a Friday, sitting next to their wives, by men with three names. And so on and so on. It’s not spooky. People take hold of the hits but ignore the misses. They are pulled into the things that line up, and are similar or coincidental, but they ignore everything else that’s not. The similarities are merely bullseyes drawn around the many random facts.

Confirmation Bias

The Misconception: Your opinions are the result of years of rational, objective analysis.

The Truth: Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information that confirmed what you believed, while ignoring information that challenged your preconceived notions.

Any cognitive bias is a tendency to think in one way and not another whenever your mind is on auto-pilot; whenever you’re going with the flow. Confirmation bias is a tendency to pay attention to evidence that confirms pre-existing beliefs and notions and conclusions about life and to completely ignore other information. This happens so automatically that we don’t even notice. Say you have a flatmate, and you are arguing over who does most of the housework, and both people believe that they do most of the work. What is really happening is that both people are noticing when they do the work and not noticing when they don’t. The way it plays into most of our lives is the media that we choose to put into our brains; the television, news, magazines and books. We tend to only pick out things that line up with our pre-existing beliefs and rarely choose anything that challenges those beliefs. It relays the backfire effect, which is a cognitive bias where if we’re presented with contradictory evidence, we tend to reject it and support our initial belief even more firmly. When people watch a news programme or pundit, they aren’t looking for information so much as confirmation of what they already believe is going in.

Brand Loyalty

The Misconception: We prefer the things we own over the things we don’t because we made rational choices when we bought them.

The Truth: We prefer the things we own because we rationalise our past choices to protect our sense of self.

Why do people argue over Apple vs Android? Or one car company versus another? After all, these are just corporations. Why would you defend a brand as if you are their PR representative? We believe that we prefer the things we own because we made these deep rational evaluations of them before we bought them, but most of the rationalisation takes place after you own the thing. It’s the choosing of one thing over another that leads to narratives about why you did it, which usually tie in to your self-image.

There are at least a dozen psychological effects that play into brand loyalty, the most potent of which is the endowment effect: you feel like the things you own are superior to the things you don’t. When you buy a product you tend to connect the product to your self-image, then once it’s connected to your self-image you will defend it as if you’re defending your own ego or belief structure.

The Misinformation Effect

The Misconception: Memories are played back like recordings.

The Truth: Memories are constructed anew each time from whatever information is currently available, which makes them highly permeable to influences from the present.

You might think your memory is a little fuzzy but not that it’s completely inaccurate. People believe that memory is like a video or files stored in some sort of computer. But it’s not like that at all. Memories are actually constructed anew each time that you remember something.

Each time you take an old activation sequence in your brain and re-construct it; like building a toy airplane out of Lego and then smashing the Lego, putting it back into the box, and building it again. Each time you build it it’s going to be a little bit different based on the context and experience you have had since the last time you created it.

Oddly enough, the least remembered memory is the most accurate. Each time you bring it into your life you edit it a little more. In 1974 Elizabeth Loftus had people watch a film of two cars having a collision and divided them into groups. Asking each group the same question, she used a slightly different description: how fast were the cars going when they contacted, hit, bumped, collided or smashed? The more violent the wording, the higher they estimated the speed. The way in which questions were worded altered the memories subjects reported.

They weren’t looking back to the memory of the film they watched, they were building a new experience based on current information. Memory is actually very malleable and it’s dangerous to think that memory is a perfect recording of a past event.

‘You Are Not So Smart: Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself’ by David McRaney (Oneworld, £8.99)