Saturday 13 July 2013


"Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" are the immortal words that are enshrined by the people of the United States of America and are the axiom of the US declaration of independence.  When Thomas Jefferson in 1776 was draughting the US constitution plagiarising but immortalising that “all men are created equal” he left some unhappy people behind - The Black and indentured slaves categorised then as ‘subhuman’, they were left to live in misery.  The Americans listened to their ‘elders’ and leaders, or they did at the time although many are still in a state of desire waiting for to be gratified.  But this is not an exclusive club we all seek happiness and the desire to be happy.  We can also acknowledge that desire of happiness is itself, in the long term, a happy state they find.  The first step to happiness is the step itself but carefully avoiding the preference of happiness to virtue.  We construct our life to be happy so we seek happiness wherever we can find it.  In a way, it is the constitution of our consciousness.

From a historical perspective, happiness was, in Roman time, symbolised by and gave rise to the
Penis of Pompeii firmly directs humankind where happiness lies.  “Hic Habitat Felicitas”, “Here dwells happiness” clearly demonstrated at the National Archaeological Museum, in Naples. It is a symbol of prosperity, fertility, life, power and luck.  The Penis of Pompei was also the symbol of life placed on many doorways of Bakeries bidding bread and other living things to rise and fill with life.  A little like the mythological horseshoe until recently.  The ‘Fascinum’ also used to grace the entryways of many residences of nobility and plebeians alike “Felicity lives here” type of thing warding off bad spirits but encouraging security, bounty and fecundity radiating outward as a life-giving symbol.  Towards 150 BCE when Rome was becoming an Empire, Felicitas was worshipped as a goddess and wealthy officials, including Julius Caesar later, were building temples in her honour. Festivals of Felicitas were iconized by cornucopia bursting with fruits of the harvest that symbolised bounty. 

Staying with the world of Ancient religions, we realise all their formats built around happiness; lack of it, the fear of it or even seeking after it by promises in the after-life.  In the Christian, religion happiness was competing for centre stage as the central attraction in its pull into the Transcendental Spiritual world.    Although things didn’t reach fever pitch where the need or desire to die overpowered reason, Christian martyrs, so long as they were baptised, they were happy to die.  Although, it is not pleasurable to be fed to wild lions or subjected to a hopelessly uneven gladiatorial combat, their belief was constituted in their happiness: gates of the promised Heaven was the beginning of life. Joy became the ‘it’ word; happy to be born, glad to die and happy to be happy.  A promise of Utopia- how beautiful!  Incidentally, those who were watching the happiness of death (cruelty was part of festivals), were also happy in the knowledge of seeing real life drama of torture.  What was torture for some was happiness for others?  Also, the mode of death or torture of some was the measure of happiness for others; it apparently enhanced the spectators' life; they were not much squeamish at the sight of blood. 
Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are the meek for they will inherit the earth.
Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Source: Matthew (5:3-11)

Fast forward a couple of millenniums, give or take a century; we are in the modern era of
Revolutionary France.  By now they have done away with the Catholic Church and in Rochefort, west of Paris in 1791, a particular sermon by a Joseph-Marie Lequinio was being preached. He was appealing to the ‘unfaithful’ to kill the king (Louis XVI) instead of condemning him to life in the galleys.    “We all dream of happiness; we want only to be happy[…]do not wait for me to tell you of angels[…]and paradise[…]So Don't frustrate your enjoyment here and now by being fooled with eternal happiness”.  In other words, enjoy it while you can, not realising of course that he destroyed all happiness of hope clung to by those happy in the thought they were going to heaven.   

Which, I hope neatly brings me to neuroscience; how the mind interprets or triggers happiness within the mind/body partnership.  We need to ask how it happens that for an external physical thing can cause feelings to stir the consciousness.     How does the brain interprets happiness and whether happiness is measurable, if so, by what increments?    Where does this elusive happiness hide? On the other hand, there could be no such thing as experiencing happiness but only a perceiving mind.  Sharing, caring, singing, laughing and so on, as a physical reaction that can affect the chemical balances in the brain produced to cause positive emotions.  The brain responds to a pleasure stimulus by activating a reward system, translated as happiness.  Just like crying caused by the external world, is promoted by a negative emotion that is in turn evoked by a physical experience.  Because happiness is relative and subjective, it can only be explained by examples.  This is similar to something fascinating called Qualia; body sensations that translated by the mind.  Examples of Qualia such as the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, or the perceived redness of an evening sky or even the smell of a Rose for instance.  We can, after all, find comfort in the thought that the psychology in the ability to be happy is partly what it is to be human.   

Sharing, I believe, is the single most effective experience that can lead to happiness, even more, evident when contrasted with Unhappiness, which we tend not to share with others. Sharing is above all other actions that characterise the quality and quantity of happiness. The mere act of sharing is part of the happiness projected by those that are participants in that act- including socialising. Good news such as "won a contract",  or "passed my exam" or sharing a "Happy Birthday" is what exhilarate and realise a true state of happiness.  It is not much fun hogging a Birthday cake all to oneself.  For example; experiencing happiness being rich is mainly attributed to the fact of sharing material possessions.  A diamond ring, a 'Dolce and Gabbana' dress, a new car, expensive holidays with friends; sharing in one's pleasure;  in a sense, sharing evaluates the realisation of one’s happiness - how poorer other feels we leave for another argument!. Even in the world of social media sharing a post and knowing that someone acknowledges the contribution by reading it, or better still liking it, is a boost to happiness.  Also the very beautiful remain living in fool’s paradise; the truth of what one sees in the mirror is when someone acknowledges it to be so; even if that 'truth' is a lie! 

Happiness then is central to lay people’s beliefs, longing and ambitions about what makes life worth living for a radiant tomorrow.  Happiness is in the desire to eat, shop, holiday, sex, be wanted, work or whatever ‘turns’ one on as much as happiness lying in the good moral one does.  We all have different desires with different values attached to those desires.  Sometimes it is the fun of the chase, and of course the chase of the fun. Equally, just in the thought of hope; when that desire is satiated happiness can dissipate. Hopes and expectations run in tandem. When the expectation is low so is the aspirations and, concomitantly, the level of happiness; desire in the object equals the desire for it.  We could easily desire something to happen in the next century so the hope will remain in the pleasure of thought, well-being and desired. 

On that theme here is a thought I am 'happy' to share…

             "Our happiness is not in what we are but in what we are becoming."

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