Category: Happiness

Mental Habits, Nutriment and Happiness

Mental Habits, Nutriment and Happiness

The Pattern that leads to Depression 

As I see more and more patients, especially the elderly, and especially during this Covid-19 pandemic, I see a pattern.   

This is the pattern – our mental states, whether happy or otherwise, is very dependent on our mental habits that we have cultivated and strengthened over time.  

This is especially so in the elderly because as we grow older, our mental states tend to be dependent on our dominant mental habits. As we start to lose control over some of our physical functions, we seem to also gradually lose control over our ability to direct our mind. Thus, our mental habits become the dominant determinant of our mental states. 

This loss of control over our life is a source of fear for us, and especially so for the elderly. This fear, coupled with the dominant mental habits, become the trigger for anxiety and depression. 

Thus, if we have the mental habit of wanting to control people, circumstances or outcomes, we become fearful in old age as we gradually lose control. If we have the mental habits of focusing on the negative, we become more worrisome over time, and again, this leads to more anxiety and depression. 

Training the Mind 

Another pattern that I notice is this – it becomes increasingly difficult to train the mind as we grow older. This is understandable as we become more and more set in our mental habits, in our ways.  

Therefore, the wise advice of the ancient sages – that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second-best time to do so is now. The best time to cultivate and train our mind is 20 years ago, but if we have not started, now is the second-best time to do so. 

What kind of mental habits should we cultivate, and how do we do that? 

Well, one of the best mental habits that we can cultivate, that will continue to be beneficial for us now and into the future, is the habit of focusing on the positive. Learn to see the positive in any situation. In fact, if you can see the positive in even the most negative situation, then you have won a prize hard to gain even though you may have lost something else. Therefore, train your mind to see the positive in any situation. 

One effective way of seeing the positive in any situation is to learn gratitude. Gratitude trains our mind to see the good in everything. Open your eyes in the morning and you can be grateful for being alive. Walk into the bathroom and you can be grateful that you are still mobile and strong. Eat your breakfast and be grateful that you have food on the table. Walk outside your house or go to work, and be grateful of the freedom that you still have. Return home at night and be grateful that you have lived another day. There is just so many things you can train your mind to be grateful for.  

Secondly, unlearn the habit of wanting to control people, situations or outcomes. Learn to accept things as they come to you. Be OK with whatever comes along. Just make the best of the situation. Look for your best possible response to the situation that is beneficial to both you and those involved. Let go of your fear or feeling of discomfort at not being able to control the outcome. If the fear or unpleasant feeling persists, be OK with that too. Just learn to watch your fear or discomfort non-judgmentally, and see that they will dissipate with time. They will go away when you don’t feed them with your judgment. On the other hand, if you do feed them with your attention and judgment, they grow stronger and more persistent. This is the wisdom of non-judgmental awareness, and the insight or realization that you will gain. This is also the concept of nutriment is action.  

Too Old to Train the Mind? Try Chanting 

It is often said that “you can’t train an old dog new tricks”. Although not an absolute rule, this observation is generally accurate. It is difficult to train your mind when you are old because you already have a strong set of mental habits. So, start training your mind when you are young. Start now. 

For those who find it difficult to train your mind now, you can try chanting. Chanting, done regularly and diligently, is also a form of mind training. When you chant, you are focusing your mind on something positive or neutral, and therefore not focusing on the negative. The longer you can chant, the better the benefits. So, learn chanting.  

Another method is to keep your mind busy with some kind of work or activity, such as gardening, exercise, walking in the park, playing mahjong with friends. If you have a hobby, then focus on the hobby. Spend more time at your hobby. Any kind of activities that can take your mind away from thinking negatively is a good activity for this purpose. 

Be of Service to Others 

Finally, look for and join societies or clubs that give meaningful services to others. Become a volunteer. Do some charity work. Be of service to others. 

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.

The Power of Positive Emotions

The Power of Positive Emotions

In the past, most people – including scientists – believe that our physical world shapes our brain and the way we think and feel. However, over the past 20 years or so, more and more scientific researches and studies have consistently showed that it is our mind that truly shapes our physical world.

Today, we know that how we think and feel affect our body biochemical changes, creating a cascade of chained reactions that begins with our thoughts and ends with real physical changes in our body, communicated and transmitted via our brain chemistry, hormones and neurotransmitters. When we think positively, we initiate positive changes to the body that strengthens our immune system, improve our blood pressure readings and reduces risks of a cardiac event. We even know now that physical neuronal changes occur in our brain. We literally rearrange our brain networks and connections through a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. You can refer to Candace Pert’s book entitled Molecules of Emotion for scientific data supporting the above.

Equally exciting are results of studies done by Barbara Fredrickson on the effects of positive emotions such as love, joy, inspiration and pride. She found that positive emotions improve our life at all levels – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. People who are optimistic tend to broaden their outlook, increase creativity in dealing with challenges and are more resilient in facing setbacks. They are more likely to be healthier, happier and more contented.

Martin Seligman, who is considered a pioneer in positive psychology, said that those people who are happiest are those who use their signature strengths, such as humanity, temperance and persistence, and virtues for something much larger than they are. He combines the individual approach that emphasizes self care and nurture with the altruistic approach that demands sacrifice for the greater good.

Most interesting of all is the realization that while some people are generally born optimistic, being happy is a skill that everyone can learn. There are already many studies and social experiments that showed that positive emotions and attitudes can be consciously cultivated, practiced and mastered.

Now isn’t that a happy thought!

5 Mental Habits that will increase your Happiness

5 Mental Habits that will increase your Happiness

In the last 20 years, science has learned a lot about the links between spirituality and happiness. Studies on spirituality, specifically on certain spiritual or mental qualities like altruism, generosity, faith, hope and gratitude, have shown repeatedly that they increase our level of physical and mental well-being.

Spiritual practices that incorporate these positive mental qualities and habits increase our happiness while practices that incorporate negative mental qualities and habits such as fear, hate and suspicion lead to the opposite effect.

These findings provide the scientific basis for good spiritual practices throughout the world. All major religions advocate these healthy spiritual practices. On the other hand, deviant religious practices advocate the negative mental habits and qualities, and it is in this way that we can recognize them as deviant.

Here are five positive mental habits that will increase your happiness when you put them into your daily practice.

  1. Savor the present moment

The ability to savor the present moment, such as savoring the food you are eating or the moment you are sharing with your child, requires a certain degree of mindfulness of the moment. This habit of savoring the present moment leads to a sense of awe and connection, a feeling of joy and contentment  —  all positive emotions that increase happiness.

  1. Be thankful for the good things you get

Gratitude is an attitude that rewards you repeatedly. Those who have the habit of being grateful for what they have and what they got tend to find more joy and contentment towards life. Being grateful also makes one feel at ease – a sense of being at peace with the world. A mind of gratitude is open, expansive and relaxed. All these increase the level of happiness experienced.

  1. Aspire towards a meaningful goal

Having a sense of purpose in life leads to hope, happiness and a sense of optimism, so set yourself a worthy goal. The goal need not be huge or materialistic. It can very often be immaterial, such as being of service to others, being a good role model for your children, or simply spending quality time with your family. You can start off with a small achievable goal. Once you have attained this goal, you can gradually increase the challenge and aim for bigger goals. Know that if you can do a small task well, you can also do a big task well. All it takes is planning and persistence.

  1. Give generously

Give or share generously with others. Regardless of how rich or poor you are, you can always give or share things, skills or services. There are many things you can give that will not cost you a lot, such as giving your time to listen attentively to a friend in need, to console a grieving person or to encourage a disheartened friend. Genuine giving such as these again leads to a mind that is open, expansive and relaxed. It leads to a sense of having, not lack. It leads to a sense of purpose and self worth.

  1. Empathize

Empathy means being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. A person who can empathize well finds it easy to understand the sufferings of others. They are also more willing to listen and help. Empathy has been found to be an important aspect of emotional intelligence. It helps us greatly in our interaction with others.

Science has shown us that people who consistently practice any one or more of the above positive mental habits daily are happier people. Science has also shown us that these skills can be learned. So start learning and putting them into practice in your daily life today and increase your level of happiness.

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.

 

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.

 

Secrets to a Happy Life

Secrets to a Happy Life

By George E. Vaillant
This article appears in the Greater Good Science Center
This essay is adapted from Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

At 19 years old, Godfrey Minot Camille was a tall redheaded boy with a charming manner who planned to enter medicine or the ministry. In 1938, Camille enrolled in a study that would follow him for the rest of his life, along with 267 other Harvard College sophomores deemed by recruiters as likely to lead “successful” lives.

Only gradually did the study’s staff discover that the allegedly “normal” Godfrey was an intractable and unhappy hypochondriac. On the 10th anniversary of his joining the study, each man was given an A through E rating anticipating future personality stability. When it was Godfrey’s turn, he was assigned an “E.”

But if Godfrey Camille was a disaster as a young man, by the time he was an old one he had become a star. His occupational success; measurable enjoyment of work, love, and play; his health; the depth and breadth of his social supports; the quality of his marriage and relationship to his children—all that and more combined to make him one of the most successful of the surviving men of the study. What made the difference? How did this sorry lad develop such an abundant capacity for flourishing?

These are the kinds of questions that can only be answered by a study that follows participants over the course of a lifetime, and the study in which Camille participated—known as the Grant Study, because it was originally funded by entrepreneur and philanthropist William T. Grant—is now the longest longitudinal study of biosocial human development ever undertaken, and is still on-going. Through reviews of Camille’s and his Harvard peers’ medical records, coupled with periodic interviews and questionnaires exploring their careers, relationships, and mental well-being, the study’s goal was to identify the key factors to a happy and healthy life.

I arrived at the Grant Study in 1966. I became its director in 1972, a position I held until 2004. The single most personally rewarding facet of my involvement with the Grant Study has been the chance to interview these men over four decades. I’ve found that no single interview, no single questionnaire is ever adequate to reveal the complete man, but the mosaic of interviews produced over many years can be most revealing.

This was certainly the case with Camille, whose life illuminates two of the most important lessons from the 75-year, 20-million-dollar Grant Study. One is that happiness is love. Virgil, of course, needed only three words to say the same thing, and he said it a very long time ago—Omnia vincit amor, or “love conquers all”—but unfortunately he had no data to back them up. The other lesson is people really can change. As we see in the example of this man’s life, they really can grow.

Up from a bleak childhood

Camille’s parents were upper class, but they were also socially isolated and pathologically suspicious. A child psychiatrist who reviewed Camille’s record 30 years later thought his childhood one of the bleakest in the Study.

Unloved and not yet grown into a sense of autonomy, Camille as a student adopted the unconscious survival strategy of frequent reports to the college infirmary. No evidence of tangible illness was found at most of his visits, and in his junior year a usually sympathetic college physician dismissed him with the disgusted comment, “This boy is turning into a regular psychoneurotic.” Camille’s constant complaining was an immature coping style. It didn’t connect with other people, and it kept them from connecting with him; they didn’t see his real underlying suffering and just got angry at his apparent manipulations.

After graduation from medical school, the newly minted Dr. Camille attempted suicide. The Study consensus at the time of his 10-year personality assessment was that he was “not fitted for the practice of medicine,” and, unloved as he was, he found taking care of other people’s needs overwhelming. But several sessions with a psychiatrist gave him a different view of himself. He wrote to the Study, “My hypochondriasis has been mainly dissipated. It was an apology, a self-inflicted punishment for aggressive impulses.”

Then, at age 35, he had a life-changing experience. He was hospitalized for 14 months in a veterans’ hospital with pulmonary tuberculosis. Ten years later he recalled his first thought on being admitted: “It’s neat; I can go to bed for a year, do what I want, and get away with it.”

“I was glad to be sick,” he confessed. His illness, a real one, finally ended up giving him the emotional security that his childhood—along with his hypochondriacal symptoms and subsequent careful neutrality—never had. Camille felt his time in the hospital almost like a religious rebirth. “Someone with a capital ‘S’ cared about me,” he wrote. “Nothing has been so tough since that year in the sack.”

Released from the hospital, Dr. Camille became an independent physician, married, and grew into a responsible father and clinic leader. His coping style changed as the decades passed. His transitional reliance on displacement (the unconscious avoidance of emotional intensity) was replaced by the still more empathic involuntary coping mechanisms of altruism and generativity (a wish to nurture others’ development). He was now functioning as a giving adult. Whereas at 30 he had hated his dependent patients, by 40 his adolescent fantasy of caring for others had become a reality. In vivid contrast with his post-graduation panic, he now reported that what he liked most about medicine was that “I had problems and went to others, and now I enjoy people coming to me.”

When I was 55 and Camille was almost 70, I asked him what he had learned from his children. “You know what I learned from my children?” he blurted out, tears in his eyes. “I learned love!” Many years later, having seized a serendipitous opportunity to interview his daughter, I believed him. I have interviewed many Grant Study children, but this woman’s love for her father remains the most stunning that I have encountered among them.

At age 75, Camille took the opportunity to describe in greater detail how love had healed him:

Before there were dysfunctional families, I came from one. My professional life hasn’t been disappointing—far from it—but the truly gratifying unfolding has been into the person I’ve slowly become: comfortable, joyful, connected, and effective. Since it wasn’t widely available then, I hadn’t read that children’s classic, The Velveteen Rabbit, which tells how connectedness is something we must let happen to us, and then we become solid and whole.

As that tale recounts tenderly, only love can make us real. Denied this in boyhood for reasons I now understand, it took me years to tap substitute sources. What seems marvelous is how many there are and how restorative they prove. What durable and pliable creatures we are, and what a storehouse of goodwill lurks in the social fabric. . . I never dreamed my later years would be so stimulating and rewarding.

That convalescent year, transformative though it was, was not the end of Camille’s story. Once he grasped what had happened, he seized the ball and ran with it, straight into a developmental explosion that went on for 30 years. A professional awakening and a spiritual one; a wife and two children of his own; two psychoanalyses, a return to the church of his early years—all these allowed him to build for himself the loving surround that he had so missed as a child, and to give to others out of its riches.

At 82, Godfrey Minot Camille had a fatal heart attack while mountain climbing in the Alps, which he dearly loved. His church was packed for the memorial service. “There was a deep and holy authenticity about the man,” said the Bishop in his eulogy. His son said, “He lived a very simple life, but it was very rich in relationships.” Yet prior to age 30, Camille’s life had been essentially barren of relationship. Folks change. But they stay the same, too. Camille had spent his years before the hospital looking for love, too. It just took him a while to learn how to do it well.

How to flourish

In 2009, I delved into the Grant Study data to establish a Decathlon of Flourishing—a set of ten accomplishments that covered many different facets of success. Two of the items in the Decathlon had to do with economic success, four with mental and physical health, and four with social supports and relationships. Then I set out to see how these accomplishments correlated, or didn’t, with three gifts of nature and nurture—physical constitution, social and economic advantage, and a loving childhood.

The results were as clear-cut as they were startling.

We found that measures of family socioeconomic status had no significant correlation at all with later success in any of these areas. Alcoholism and depression in family histories proved irrelevant to flourishing at 80, as did longevity. The sociability and extraversion that were so highly valued in the initial process of selecting the men did not correlate with later flourishing either.

In contrast with the weak and scattershot correlations among the biological and socioeconomic variables, a loving childhood—and other factors like empathic capacity and warm relationships as a young adult—predicted later success in all ten categories of the Decathlon. What’s more, success in relationships was very highly correlated with both economic success and strong mental and physical health, the other two broad areas of the Decathlon.

In short, it was a history of warm intimate relationships—and the ability to foster them in maturity—that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.

We found, for instance, that there was no significant difference between the maximum earned incomes of the men with IQs of 110–115 and the incomes of the men with IQs of 150-plus. On the other hand, men with warm mothers took home $87,000 more than those men whose mothers were uncaring. The men who had good sibling relationships when young were making an average of $51,000 more a year than the men who had poor relationships with their siblings. The 58 men with the best scores for warm relationships made an average of $243,000 a year; in contrast, the 31 men with the worst scores for relationships earned an average maximum salary of $102,000 a year.

So when it comes to late-life success—even when success is measured strictly in financial terms—the Grant Study finds that nurture trumps nature. And by far the most important influence on a flourishing life is love. Not early love exclusively, and not necessarily romantic love. But love early in life facilitates not only love later on, but also the other trappings of success, such as high income and prestige. It also encourages the development of coping styles that facilitate intimacy, as opposed to the ones that discourage it. The majority of the men who flourished found love before 30, and the data suggests that was why they flourished.

We can’t choose our childhoods, but the story of Godfrey Minot Camille reveals that bleak ones do not doom us. If you follow lives long enough, people adapt and they change, and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment. Our journeys through this world are filled with discontinuities. Nobody in the Study was doomed at the outset, but nobody had it made, either. Inheriting the genes for alcoholism can turn the most otherwise blessed golden boy into a skid row bum. Conversely, an encounter with a very dangerous disease liberated the pitiful young Dr. Camille from a life of loneliness and dependency. Who could have foreseen, when he was 29 and the Study staff ranked him in the bottom three percent of the cohort in personality stability, that he would die a happy, giving, and beloved man?

Only those who understand that happiness is only the cart; love is the horse. And perhaps those who recognize that our so-called defense mechanisms, our involuntary ways of coping with life, are very important indeed. Before age 30, Camille depended on narcissistic hypochondriasis to cope with his life and his feelings; after 50 he used empathic altruism and a pragmatic stoicism about taking what comes. The two pillars of happiness revealed by the 75-year-old Grant Study—and exemplified by Dr. Godfrey Minot Camille—are love and a mature coping style that does not push love away.

Above all, the Study reveals how men like Dr. Camille adapted themselves to life and adapted their lives to themselves—a process of maturation that unfolds over time. Indeed, I have always regarded the Grant Study as an instrument that permitted the study of time, much as the telescope uncovered the mysteries of the galaxies and the microscope enabled the study of microbes.

For researchers, prolonged follow-up can be a rock upon which fine theories founder, but it also can be a means of discovering robust and enduring truth. At the outset of the Study in 1939, it was thought that men with masculine body types—broad shoulders and a slender waist—would succeed the most in life. That turned out to be one of many theories demolished by the Study as it has followed the lives of these men. To benefit from the lessons both of the Grant Study and of life requires persistence and humility, for maturation makes liars of us all.

Science of Happiness

Science of Happiness

Here is a good summary of evidence-based facts on happiness in pictogram form, sourced from various scientific studies.

It shows you what happiness is and is not, why happy people are healthier and why happiness isn’t just good for you but also for your family and community. In addition, it shows you ways to increase your happiness, and what you can do to increase your happy experiences and what kind of behavior or attitudes kill your happiness.

It also shows the relationships between adversity in life and happiness, gratitude and happiness, and recommends ways to boost your happiness.

It might surprise you to learn that your life circumstances do not determine your level of happiness as much as you might think, and that what you do can influence your happiness more than you know.

 

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