Home > Uncategorized > mood-altering your way to happiness?

mood-altering your way to happiness?

I’ve just finished reading The Happiness Manifesto by Nic Marks, an ebook just released by Amazon as a Kindle Single, and I’ve just seen his TED talk about the ideas embodied in that book, which summarises much of the work he has done with nef (new economics foundation).

Both the book and the TED talk are deeply inspiring and illustrate to me how the Buddhist idea of happiness as being the basic goal of human beings, more important than any of their other goals, is finding a resonance in the research and thinking of science and the intellectual world of academia and social commentators. ‘Happiness’ is now the buzz word of the intelligentsia and is a respectable part of cutting edge thinking, and what I find interesting is that the present new-found emphasis on happiness, and trying to identify exactly what it is, so closely mirrors what Buddhists would regard as necessary, certainly as more important than trying to, for example, focus on what will generate more economic growth and more material prosperity. That there is now so much talk about happiness is just as well because the present socio-economic turmoil is only going to get worse, especially with the onset of peak oil and the increasing impacts of global warming, so if one’s happiness is based primarily upon those socio-economic conditions getting better or returning to the normal levels of the recent past of  ‘the boom years’, then one might have to wait for a very long time for happiness to arrive! It would be like Waiting for Godot

For example, according to Nic Marks, research from positive psychology shows that giving is a source of happiness, because spending money on oneself has been shown to produce less happiness for the spender than if the same amount of money was spent by him/her on others. Does that not remind one of  the Buddhist refrain that giving is the real source of wealth, not just the wealth of external resources but also, and more especially, the inner wealth of happiness? And happiness is not just being discussed, but the research on it is also being turned into social movements and public campaigns. For example, the Action for Happiness movement is rolling out a popular movement to translate the research findings on happiness into actual programmes or activities for people to get involved in so as to help empower people to consciously create happiness in their own lives.  And this happiness is increasingly being perceived as capable of being monitored fairly precisely by individuals themselves, given the right tools to work with, tools which are increasingly being generated using the powers of the internet.

For example, there is a way of tracking one’s mood closely and seeing what affects one’s changes of mood; it is called Moodscope. I have been using this tool myself for a few days, and it is a brilliant way of monitoring one’s own overall sense of well-being, using a technique derived from social scientific research. This tool reminds me of the story of Geshe Ben Gungyal, who was a Tibetan monk who did none of the usual activities expected of a monk, but engaged in such activities as just sitting in a room tracking what his mind was doing and maintaining his level of happiness by mentally intervening whenever any mental factor arose that threatened his level of happiness; this is not what you need to do with Moodscope, but Moodscope is a secular tool for mind-tracking that empowers one to become aware of what leads to happiness and unhappiness, and although it may appear to be a little rough and ready from a Buddhist mindfulness perspective, it is a stepping-stone on the road to such detailed, real-time reflexive analysis, and more importantly a great way to introduce the general public to the idea, and value, of monitoring one’s own awareness.

As a Buddhist, I find such awareness of how happiness has definite causes –  causes that can be initiated within each individuals’ own awareness of those causes and willingness to work with that awareness –  a great confirmation, in secular terms, of much of what the Buddha was trying to say. Therefore, as someone trying to be a Buddhist practitioner, I feel it is only proper that I should support such enlightened secular movements and thinking, and learn from them so that I can help to create a better bridge between the Buddhist cultural world and the larger, secular cultural world that Buddhism in the West must adapt to if it is to speak in a language that connects with most people.

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