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Happy Camping: Skipping Down the Path to Enlightenment

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"You work in the happiness industry!" he said excitedly, morning coffee in hand, as he peered over the New York Times article, "Even if You Can't Buy It, Happiness Is Big Business". I thought about how to incorporate that on my business card. It certainly had a nice ring. I'm sure he was pleased with this small epiphany. As an entrepreneur and professor, my ever-supportive husband has been searching for the right words to describe my work to others and himself for a long time. I was practically giddy with possibilities: "Kay Goldstein, Lite Worker" or "Kay Goldstein, CEO, Happiness, Inc."

The only trouble is that promising happiness to those who choose to read my work or study with me would be false advertising. I don't aspire to be another pretty smiley face offering a panacea for the world's ills. Spiritual practices only expand the possibility of happiness. Embracing happiness, like embracing any one philosophy or therapy, doesn't guarantee wholeness-although it sure can be a pleasant change.

So back to the article about the "Happiness Convention" held last week in San Francisco. In case you missed it, I offer a few choice excerpts and some playful comments which, of course, I hope will brighten your day.

"In this dopamine-laden city, where the pursuit of well-being is something of a high art, a motley array of scientists, philosophers, doctors, psychologists, navel-gazing Googlers and Tibetan Buddhists addressed the latest findings on the science of human happiness -- or eudaemonia, the classical Greek term for human flourishing."


Did you even know there was such a word as eudaemonia? Say it aloud. Try letting it roll off your tongue. Go ahead. It will make you feel better already.

"We know more about gloominess than cheerfulness," Dr. (Paul) Ekman said before exploring cross-cultural definitions of happiness."

I won't argue that point. So much of Western-oriented problem solving reflected in the psychotherapy model focuses on what is not right or painful in our lives. Often the more we excavate and struggle, the more life feels like swimming in quicksand. For decades we have been obsessed with finding out what is wrong with us and how it happened- psychotherapy, self- help books, even meditation practice, all to examine ourselves in the hope of discovering the "fix". On the other hand, focusing only on one way to look at the world can also leave us a bit lop-sided. We overlook the "shadow" side. The shadow is whatever part of ourselves we choose not to see. It can incorporate both positive traits (recognize abilities, talents, feelings of empowerment and yes, sources of happiness) and negative traits (repressed anger, resentment, etc.).

The real danger then is getting stuck in one point of view or belief in a cure-all. It is the balance of the Western problem-solving (left brain) approach and the Eastern "being and allowing" (right brain) approach that invites wholeness. I think I just found my new mantra: Left brain plus right brain = whole brain.

"'Happiness entrepreneurs' promoted themselves in the tea break that ended with the ting of a Tibetan prayer bell. Aymee Coget, who wants to be the Suze Orman of happiness, handed out fliers for her 'Happiness Makeover,' a three-month route to 'sustainable eudaemonia.' Ms. Coget, dressed to the nines in pink silk, said, 'I guarantee happiness in three months.'"

I don't think we can be guaranteed happiness, only the right to pursue it. The best we can hope for is to recognize it, discovering perhaps that it was always within our reach.

Have you ever noticed how advertising agencies claim to know what will make us happy? They know we're worried about our happiness quotient and can easily seduce us with a quick fix of shopping, convincing us that a new credit card or whiter teeth will bring us out of the doldrums. Now that the economy limits our spending, we are lucky to have "eudaemonia" to find less expensive means to bliss. Maybe we'll even find out that we are indeed happy already.

"In the Bay Area, the happiness business has been in full flower. James Baraz , a revered meditation teacher, has a 10-month course in Berkeley on "Awakening Joy." Among the exercises and meditations are suggestions for improving your life, including singing every day, making lists of things that made you happy and getting a 'joy buddy.'"

These suggestions sound uncomfortably similar to a suggestion I made in my Thanksgiving blog on gratitude. Hmm. Maybe I AM in the happiness business.

"Nevertheless, a few renegades at the conference suggested that happiness was overrated. 'Unhappiness about not being happy is a modern condition,' said Darrin M. McMahon, a professor of history at Florida State University. 'We cannot feel good all the time, nor should we.'"

That's a relief. Now I can stop worrying and be happy.

Kay Goldstein, MA teaches meditation and writes poetry, fiction and articles addressing the challenges and joys of daily living and spiritual practice.

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