What is it that everyone wants... few people find... and fewer still know where to look?
Here are some hints:
• It's what the Greek philosopher, Epicurus said, "When we have found it, we have found everything; but, when we have not, we'll do everything to find it."
• Saint Augustine described it as "The most reliable constant in the world; that we not only want this, we want only this." In fact, he argued, just as we breathe without being aware, we seek this without even being aware that we are.
• Some, too, say the suicidal person is actually seeking this.
Know what it is?
Of course you do: Happiness.
But what is happiness? And where is it found?
In his book Happiness, the Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, defines it as "a deep sense of flourishing" and "an optimal state of being."
"Flourishing?" What it that? Is it the same thing politicians mean when they annoyingly refer to "the American Dream?" Is "flourishing" winning the lottery? Driving a Mercedes McLaren Roadster? Or, owning a 25,000-square-foot winter residence in Naples?
Furthermore, what is "an optimal state of being?" Something attained by mystics and gurus and folks dressed up in rust-colored robes?
Or is happiness something else altogether?
And even if we could define it, could we ever find it?
And further still, if we found it, how would we know that what we found is actually it?
"There is no way to happiness," self-helper's advice. "Happiness is the way."
Clever. But hardly helpful.
Oh, I get what they mean. Instead of something you achieve, happiness is the consequence of a state of consciousness that exists in you already. That you could never find it because you are it already. It is not a goal to achieve but an intrinsic attitude inside you now.
So much for losing the race before the gun is fired.
The real truth is that there is some truth in all these aspects of happiness, implied or otherwise. Which is what makes happiness so illusive, as well as subjective, and why defining it is like trying to capture the proverbial butterfly.
If he is remembered at all by you, it is likely as the Founding Father with a wooden leg. Morris, the Governor from Pennsylvania, was the "penman of the Constitution" and widely credited as the author of the Preamble to the Constitution:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
During his colorful life, Morris had many sexual exploits with women, most of them documented in his own diary. While the public was told his left leg was shattered in a carriage accident resulting in the need for the wooden peg leg, most people rumored he more likely suffered the injury after jumping from a bedroom window to escape a jealous husband. (1)
I remind you of this bit of American history not to frustrate the conclusion held by some that sexually obsessed politicians exist only in these latter days just before the Rapture -- something about which the fundamentalist preachers of my youth were absolutely certain -- but that, whatever our pursuits... any of our pursuits... be they sexual partners, material possessions, a more prestigious position or something as simple as the newest gadget in technology are driven by our shared, human desire for happiness. Maybe the reason Morris insisted the Preamble be included in the Constitution of the United States because, unconsciously, he wanted you and me and everyone else to have the right to purse the very thing that eluded him?
We may never know. What we do know, however, is that happiness is not nearly as illusive as it used to be and there is good research available as to where you and I can find it.
In Part Two, I will share what science, brain researchers, and the spiritual masters are telling us about happiness and where it can be found.
1. Gouverneur Morris, Theistic Rationalist, Gregg Frazer, page 26.