DisclaimerEverything in this site is a personal philosophy and should not be regarded in any way as professional or therapeutic advice. It's simply a site with a few ideas.
About Mr Bashful
Mr Bashful doesn’t like it when a happiness guru reckons they’ll tell him the secrets to happiness. Nor does he like it when they link happiness with success. So he looked into it, and became a happiness 'expert' himself. However, Mr Bashful is different. He doesn’t link happiness with success, positive thinking, spirituality, random acts of kindness, or even love and compassion. He doesn't tell you what to think, what to believe, or what emotions to have. No, he has figured out what really does make a person happy, and there is nothing secret about it. That's because deep down, each and every one of us already knows.
In a nutshell, core happiness comes from having low anxiety, and this book is about reducing our capacity to become anxious.
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1. What is happiness?
2. The importance of pleasure.
4. Be aware of what you are feeling.
- Key #1. Be aware of what you are feeling.
- Tip 1. Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.
- Tip 2. Label your emotions.
- Tip 3. Be specific when you describe an emotion.
- Tip 4. Don’t catastrophise
- Tip 5. All emotions are okay.
- Tip 6. Cry to become resilient.
- Tip 7. Feeling nothing?
- Tip 8. Don’t ‘fake it until you make it’.
- Tip 9. Are you feeling other emotions?
- Tip 10. What triggers an emotion?
- Tip 11. Don’t let someone tell you what you are feeling.
- Tip 12. Is your body experiencing emotions?
- Tip 13. Do you have a default emotion?
- Tip 14. Don’t trivialise what you feel.
5. Be angry.
6. What makes you angry?
7. Emotional beliefs.
8. Be assertive.
- 1. Key #5. Be assertive.
- (A) State what needs to happen.
- (B) You are not obliged to give a reason.
- (C) Show the person you understand their point of view.
- (D) Don’t run away.
- (E) You don’t need to solve their problem.
- (F) You are not obliged to answer their questions.
- (G) Ensure your question is answered.
- (H) Don’t be a ‘sorry’.
- (I) Stick up for yourself. Part 1.
- (J) Stick up for yourself. Part 2.
- (K) Ask why.
- (L) Ask for help.
- (M) Being nagged? Make a deal.
- (N) Don’t be an ‘Are you sure?’
- (O) Learn to say ‘No’.
- (P) Don’t be a ‘Maybe’.
- 2. The steps to take if someone confronts you.
- 3. The steps to take if you need to confront someone.
- 4. Ways to practise being assertive.
9. Dealing with fear.
10. Feed your soul.
11.Know what you are thinking.
14. Don’t try to forgive.
15. It’s okay to be judgmental.
16. Be generous.
17. Don’t try to be patient.
18. What role does success play?
19. Taking responsibility.
20. Be disobedient.
21. Allow yourself to be criticised.
22. Admit your mistakes.
24. Be honest.
25. The deep need to belong.
26. The need to contribute.
27. The need to feel valued.
28. Does love play a role?
- 1. What is the difference between self-worth and self-esteem?
- 2. Do you need to justify your existence?
- 3. How do you try to earn your self-worth?
- (i) Self-worth and being a good person.
- (ii) Self-worth and good looks.
- (iii) Self-worth and money.
- (iv) Self-worth and status.
- 4. Becoming real.
- 5. Is being loved a key to core happiness?
- (i) A summary of love.
- 6. Key #28. Be open to receiving love.
29. Are close relationships important?
- 1. Key #29. We don’t need close relationships.
- Tip 1. Tell the person what you are feeling.
- Tip 2. Tell the person what you want.
- Tip 3. Distinguish between wants and needs.
- Tip 4. Don’t snipe.
- Tip 5. Don’t believe your judgments.
- Tip 6. Become assertive.
- Tip 7. Give positive feedback.
- Tip 8. Regularly thank your partner.
- Tips from Dr. Chapman.
31. Lastly . . .
Is it Life satisfaction? No. Satisfaction is a feeling we might experience upon reflection, a judgment of how happy we have been. It’s not happiness itself.
Is happiness contentment? No, happy people find life too good to sit around being contented. Contentment is for cows.
I claim that there are two types of happiness. There is the temporary happiness we get when we experience pleasure, like when our footy team wins, or when we enjoy a night out with friends. That’s when endorphins, the “happy hormones”, rush to our brain to make us feel good. Our happiness soars, but after a while we return to normal.
Or, if a pet dies, our happiness plummets, but after a while we return to normal.
It’s that ‘normal bit’ which is the subject of this book – that general day-to-day feeling of well-being when nothing in particular is happening. Just walking the dog, having a shower, waking up in the morning . . . It’s our default happiness. It’s innate. I call it our core happiness.
Don’t get me wrong: the temporary happiness we get from pleasure is important to have – life would be drab without pleasure. However, there are wealthy people who have whatever pleasures they want, but if they have a weak core happiness they will still find life unsatisfying. And there are people who don’t have access to many pleasures, but with a strong core happiness find pleasure in even the little things of life.
This book is about the keys to core happiness. You might be applying most of the keys already. Apply a few more, and no matter how good your life is now, it will get even better.
In short: We experience pleasure. It fades. We experience suffering. It too fades. Our lives are dotted with pleasures and sufferings. How we deal with those pleasures and sufferings matters, but what also matters is the interval between them. If we can enjoy the ongoing interval between them, we enjoy life. We have core happiness.
‘When I think of happiness I think of a bed. The most essential part of a comfortable bed is a solid mattress. On top of that mattress you have crumpled sheets, you have to change those sheets and pillowslips every week, you have disorganization, you have cold, you have warmth. But the solid foundation is there and that’s your mattress, and all of the things on top of that mattress is what happens in life. The foundation is your happiness.’
Linda Burney, MP of NSW Legislative Assembly.
Q. ‘Mr B, for how long can temporary happiness last?’
For a few seconds if you eat a chocolate, a day if your footy team wins, or perhaps for a year if you are a newlywed, but at some point you will return to normal, to your day-to-day core happiness.
Q. ‘For how long can temporary unhappiness last?’
That varies too, but the stronger your core happiness, the sooner you return to it.
Q. ‘You say that if a pet dies, after a while we return to normal. Happiness experts say that even someone who is blinded, or becomes a quadriplegic, will return to their normal level of happiness after a while. Is that true?’
I don’t know. We can’t yet accurately measure happiness. Some people might regain their happiness, and others not. (Anecdotally I have heard ‘Best thing that ever happened to me‘ but even if that is true it might be a rarity.) Personally, I can’t imagine being as happy as I am now if I were to become blind or quadriplegic, even after a long time had passed.
Q. ‘Can hedonists have a strong core happiness?’
Sure. A person who experiences many pleasures can still have a strong core happiness. They are not mutually exclusive.
Q. ‘Is low core happiness depression?’
No. Low core happiness is a general feeling of flatness, or purposelessness. A glum life. It’s one reason why some people obsessively pursue pleasures: they want relief from that flat feeling; they want to feel good.
If a person has low core happiness it does not mean they are depressed, though someone suffering from depression will understandably have low core happiness.
Q. ‘To be happy we need basic needs met – to feel safe, be free from hunger, pain, and anguish . . .’
More accurately, if you lack those basic needs you will be unhappy. That doesn’t mean you will become happy when those basic needs are met.
Remember, I’m talking about how we feel when nothing in particular is happening. If you or a family member is in danger, or suffering in some way, something in particular is happening, and you’re not going to be happy.
Q. ‘You say there are two kinds of happiness. Could there be more than two kinds?’
Yes. Dr Martin Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania, claims there are three. Dr Caroline West, of Sydney University, claims there are nine. If we looked hard enough we’d find academics claiming the remaining single digits.
I’ll stick with two forms of happiness: temporary and core. I suspect that other forms of happiness would be variations of those main two.
Q. ‘You are dismissive of contentment, Mr Bashful. Why? Many people are satisfied with simple contentment. It’s a term which indicates acceptance of one’s lot in life. What is wrong with contentment?’
Fair point. Nothing really, but to some people the word suggests passiveness and blandness. Happiness is neither.
No. What does it mean, ‘try to be happy’? To ignore our dark feelings and pretend they aren’t there? Replace them with ‘happy thoughts’, or a happy disposition? Balderdash. We can’t simply flick a switch and ‘be happy’. If anyone suggests otherwise they are being naive and simplistic.
Instead of trying to manufacture an emotion we don’t have, we need to deal with the dark emotions we do have. Those dark emotions are there for a reason, and when we get good at responding to them, in a healthy manner, we gain the feeling that we can handle life. Then core happiness comes.
But ‘trying to be happy’ is a step in the wrong direction. If we try to be happy by ignoring our dark feelings, those dark feelings squeeze out in other ways. (If a person is envious, but not aware of it, they might become resentful. If a person is fearful, but not aware of it, they might become prejudiced.) When we cease to be aware of our emotions they lead us. Then we fail to meet our own expectations, and become disappointed with ourselves and with life. Worse, we begin to lose our sense of self, and cease to trust ourselves, and not know who we truly are. Anxiety results, and that impacts on our core happiness.
So, if a well-meaning person tells you to ‘try to be happy‘, dismiss the advice.
Q. ‘But Mr Bashful, some people claim they choose to be happy.’
That’s a myth. If they are happy it is not because they chose to be, despite what they say.
Q. ‘Mr Bashful, there is a German proverb: “Happiness is a butterfly. Chase it and it eludes you. Sit down quietly and it will alight on your shoulder.”
The proverb sounds good, but it’s wrong. Those who claim that seeking happiness is futile don’t know where to look. People used to believe it was impossible to build a flying machine because they couldn’t figure out how to do it. Core happiness comes from reducing our capacity to become anxious, and this book is about ways to do just that.
Q. ‘Mr B, what right have we to be happy in such a troubled world, with so much suffering?’
Being happy doesn’t mean being unaffected by the suffering in the world; nor does it mean condoning it. It means we aren’t defeated by it.
Further, it must be asked: who would it help if you were to remain unhappy?
Anyway, people enjoy seeing you happy. Your loved ones especially.
Q. ‘Mr B, if I become happy I’ll become content, and lose my passion, my drive, my motivation, so that any chance I have of excelling in my chosen field will dissipate like smoke in the wind.’
No, with a strong core happiness you won’t have a chance to live a bland, passionless existence. Instead, you will be taking risks, and extending your boundaries, because you can allow yourself to be vulnerable, knowing that whatever happens, you’ll handle it. With a strong core happiness you will be more productive. Happiness is not about contentment.
Q. ‘In his book, ‘Against Happiness’, Eric G. Wilson pointed out that unhappiness has prompted wonderful art and stirring music, and he fears that we might become bland without these ‘agitations of the soul’. Doesn’t he have a point? Don’t we need the agitations of the soul so that we can create something wonderful, like music, or poetry, and feed the souls of others?’
A happy person will still have the agitations of the soul – there will always be something inside each and every one of us that needs saying. Being happy will not kill that; instead it will give you the freedom and confidence to express those agitations. A musician might in dark times compose music so beautiful it feeds the listener’s soul, but that does not mean the musician can’t enjoy the better times. When you have a strong core happiness you can deal with the dark times, and what better way to deal with them than to express them in music, or in poetry, or in what drives you?
Q. ‘Mr Bashful, we need our suffering, so that when the good times do come we can appreciate them with gusto.’
Happy people still suffer; they still feel all the emotions. They just aren’t shattered by them. And when you are not shattered by your emotions you can grow. Many people have suffered and become twisted and bitter. It’s not the suffering which helps us grow, it’s how we deal with our suffering.
Q. ‘Mr B, who wants to be a grinning idiot with no real substance?’
Being happy is not about being a grinning idiot. With a strong core happiness you will still experience those dark emotions – hurt, anger, fear, sadness, grief . . . but as I said above, you won’t be shattered by them. Whatever happens, you know that tomorrow you will be okay again.
Q. ‘Mr B, someone once said: “Don’t impose on us happiness. We don’t care about being happy, we need to live with passion. We like our ups and downs; we like our suffering because it’s so good when it ceases for a while.”’
As I say, being happy doesn’t mean living without passion, or without ups and downs. It’s about living with those ups and downs and handling them. And yes, we enjoy happiness when our suffering ceases, but remember, suffering is merely an example of our temporary unhappiness, and euphoria is an example of our temporary happiness. Neither contributes to our core happiness. It’s important to distinguish between our temporary happiness and our core happiness.
Q. ‘In his TED talk, Don Norman says, ‘when you’re positive you’re happy, you’re relaxed and creative, but when you’re negative you’re focused, trying to focus on the problem in front of you. And to be successful you need to have both.’
Yes, we do need to have both. A person with a strong core happiness will have both.
Q. ‘Isn’t searching for happiness a bit twee? Surely we have more important things to focus on, such as living our life?’
I’m not suggesting that the aim of life is to be happy. Life is to be lived; happiness is a lubricant to make it worth living.
Q. ‘Isn’t happiness a part of our DNA? Andy Coghlan of New Scientist found (from the Journal of Human Genetics) that happiness might come from having two copies of a particular gene. Doesn’t this mean happiness is out of our hands?’
Your genes play only a part. Someone born with ‘glum’ genes can still become happier, as can a cheery person, if they have been undermining their core happiness. The ideas in this book are not designed to raise a person’s happiness level above their innate level, just restore it to the level it should be.
Q. ‘If I find myself unable to apply your ideas I might conclude that I am at fault. I might feel like a failure.’
Possibly. Despite all my protestations, you might do that. You might even criticise yourself for being self-critical. If you find yourself being self-critical while reading this book, or while applying the exercises, ignore this book. Honestly.
In short, being happy is not about being a grinning idiot. It’s not about contentment, or suffering, or avoiding suffering. It’s not about keeping yourself well back from the abyss. It’s about approaching the abyss, and peering deep down into it, so that although your very soul may shiver you know, on a deep and fundamental level, that you will not succumb.
It’s that confidence, that knowledge that we can handle whatever happens, that allows our anxiety to evaporate, and core happiness to rise in its place.
Can we aim to be happy?
‘Don’t pray for an easy life, pray to be a strong person.’
(From ‘1. What is happiness?‘)
Broadly, there are four types of researchers into happiness.
1. Those who study the broad environment to determine what makes a person happy. ‘Will a person be happier in a democratic society? How much greenery needs to be in the community? Does the disparity between the rich and the poor make a difference? What role is played by a person’s genes? Is an adult more likely to be happy if they are married? Or religious?’
The researchers in this field are academics.
2. There are those who focus on a person’s upbringing, asking ‘How can a child be raised to ensure they grow up well adjusted and happy? Are children better off breastfed? Spanked?’
Researchers in this field are usually academics.
3. There are those who ask, ‘What problem is causing that person to be unhappy, and how can that problem be fixed?’
These people are problem fixers: counsellors, psychologists and helpful people. They aim to make a person happier by dealing with the source of the unhappiness.
4. And there are those who focus on how we, as individuals, can be happy irrespective of our circumstances. ‘How can a person be happy despite their environment, their upbringing, and their problems?’
The people in this field are the self-help gurus, spiritualists, life coaches, and motivators. And, Mr Bashful.
While academics look at the environment to see how it influences the individual, the people in this group look at how the individual can respond to their environment.
” . . . self-help literature is full of good advice, but good advice is not the issue; most of it has been around for centuries. The issue is how to implement it.”
Kathryn Schultz, in her article, ‘The self in self-help‘, New York Magazine.
All four ways to study happiness are valid. All are important.
Q. ‘Mr B, you put yourself in the fourth category, but distinguish yourself from the other happiness gurus and motivators. In what way are you different?’
The self-help gurus often ask us to change our thinking, but it’s difficult to change our thinking – we have an emotional investment in continuing to think the way we do. I aim instead to change a person’s awareness. When awareness changes, thinking changes.
Further, some of the experts ask us to change our core beliefs. Again, it’s difficult to do that, especially with only a self-help book. I don’t have the skill to help people change their core beliefs, (I can’t even change my own), so I suggest we leave our core beliefs alone and instead change our behaviour. By changing some of our behaviours, even mildly, we can still benefit.
In short, other happiness writers try to change a person’s thinking, or change their core beliefs. I aim to change a person’s awareness and behaviour.
I also differ in my ideas. Many ‘experts’ claim that:
- positive thinking will make us happy. I don’t claim that.
- happiness comes directly from performing acts of kindness. I disagree.
- we need to be loved, and need to have close relationships. No, we need to feel valued, and to feel connected with one another. We enjoy being loved, and having close relationships, but we don’t need them. We do need healthy relationships, however, with the people we know and meet.
- we can choose to be happy. I disagree.
- we should avoid being angry. Whereas, I say we should allow ourselves to be angry.
- some incidents can stress us. I claim that’s not true.
- we should try to be patient with people. I don’t agree. I claim that we shouldn’t try to be patient. We shouldn’t try to manufacture an emotion. Instead, we should deal with the emotion we already have.
- we should try to forgive. I suggest we shouldn’t try.
- we should avoid being angry with ourselves. I disagree.
- we need to set goals. But in most instances, setting a goal is a waste of time.
- success is something worth aiming for. No, it’s not.
- for happiness, suffering is necessary. I don’t agree with that.
- we can ‘fake it until we make it’. I suggest you don’t fake any emotion.
Q. ‘Throughout this book you are critical of the self-help gurus. Why?’
Admittedly, their contribution to the happiness question is invaluable, but when they make a mistake I feel the urge to flag it, by being harsh. I don’t want my objections going unnoticed simply because I was being diplomatic.
Further, being critical is a good way for me to distinguish my ideas from theirs.
And lastly, by being dismissive of their claims I give myself the confidence to develop my own ideas. It’s not easy going against the trend.
(From ’1. What is happiness?’)
1. If you are clear about how biological evolution works skip to 2. Otherwise, here are two quick (and basic) examples:
Let’s say a few million years ago there is a drought in an African savannah.
A giraffe born with a mutated gene giving it an extra vertebra (and therefore a longer neck) can reach leaves other giraffes can’t reach. It is more likely to survive and pass on its genes. It does survive, and over time, all giraffes end up with the gene, and longer necks. Evolution has ‘guided’ a physical change.
A monkey born with genes giving it the propensity to break nuts and eat the kernels will have an abundant food source, and be more likely to survive in the drought and pass on its genes. Over time, all monkeys of that species are born with the propensity to break nuts and eat the kernels. Evolution has ‘guided’ a behavioural change.
Another giraffe might be born with genes giving it an extra leg. The giraffe has trouble running with five legs and is easily caught by a lion. It doesn’t live long enough to pass on its genes. Therefore, giraffes haven’t evolved to have five legs.
So, although gene mutations are random, over many generations the mutations beneficial to the species can become normal to the species. That’s evolution. Every physical feature and behavioural trait, in every living organism, evolved in this way. That’s why octopuses can change colour in a second, and it’s why you can see. Evolution is an extraordinary process.
‘How do different species come about?’
Let’s say that on one side of a mountain range in Africa there are regular famines, and the giraffes evolve long necks. However, on the other side of the range there is plenty of rainfall, and the giraffes there have plenty to eat. Any giraffe born with a longer neck will not have a survival advantage, so that mutation isn’t favoured. A giraffe born with a longer neck might have offspring with a longer neck, but that offspring will mate with giraffes with normal necks, and after a while the giraffe population will still have normal sized necks.
Over thousands of years, and with hundreds of famines and different geography, different conditions, the two groups of giraffes will evolve so many differences that if you were to bring them together and mate them, they could not produce fertile offspring. At that point the two giraffes would be separate species. (That’s why it’s difficult to show Creationists an example of one species evolving into another. It’s like asking someone to state the day in which a person becomes elderly. But the ‘How Stuff Works‘ site provides a good example of natural selection. )
The giraffe’s closest extant (living) relative is the okapi, which lives in the Congo rainforest.
(You can mate a zebra with a donkey and produce a zonkey, but the zonkey will be sterile. That means zebras and donkeys are separate species.)
’What is a subspecies?’
Let’s say that a river becomes full of crocodiles, and isolates a group of giraffes on a large island. Therefore, for geographical reasons the two groups of giraffes can’t interbreed. Over time, the island giraffes might evolve characteristics of their own (different markings, or shorter necks, for example).
If you were to transport the island giraffes to the mainland and those giraffes could
interbreed with the mainland giraffes and still produce fertile offspring, they would all still be be the same species. However, because of their different markings, etc. the island giraffes (the minority) would be a subspecies.
‘But lizards are very different to giraffes.’
All that means is that their common ancestors go back millions, or hundreds of millions of years, rather than thousands.
‘Did humans really evolve from gorillas and chimpanzees? Or monkeys?’
No. We didn’t. But we did have a common ancestor with those animals. There was a creature that, over long periods of time, and over large areas, and in varying conditions, evolved into different animals, depending on the environmental forces. A rough and speculative example: If the creature lived in rainforest with abundant food in the trees, it stayed in the tree and may have eventually became a monkey or an ape. If the creature lived in the Savannah it may have evolved to be a land dwelling ape, and to walk on two legs. We humans search for fossil records to find our evolutionary path. And it’s complicated. Creationists simplify the process to make it appear absurd.
Unfortunately it is hard to speak of evolution in English without inadvertently attributing to it some sort of intent. ‘Beetles evolved to fly . . .’ as though the beetles had a choice in the matter. Of course they didn’t. So, if I write statements like that, or statements like, ‘evolution wants us to . . .‘ or ‘evolution guides . . .‘, please be forgiving. It’s a convenient shortcut to describe the process of evolution.
2. The first chapter claims there are two types of happiness:
- the temporary kind that we receive when we experience pleasure, and
- core happiness, that general day-to-day feeling of wellbeing.
This book is about core happiness.
3. The theory. Part 1.
Evolution ‘guides’ us into adopting certain behaviours. For example, we are rewarded instantaneously with pleasure (temporary happiness) when we eat, have sex, and play. (Play is good for us because it hones skills.) That pleasure reward is evolution’s way of persuading us to engage in those behaviours, and now those behaviours are innate.
We also have ongoing, long-term behaviours which benefit us, such as living in a tribe. (In pre-history, those who lived in a tribe were more likely to live long enough to pass on their genes. Outsiders were more likely to starve, or be eaten.)
‘The best way to store surplus food is in another person’s stomach.’
Hunter gatherer proverb.
Those ongoing behaviours cannot be rewarded with instantaneous pleasure, so they are rewarded with ongoing pleasure: a relaxed, general feeling of wellbeing – core happiness. Core happiness is the incentive, and reward, for engaging in beneficial long-term behaviours.
Now, what specifically would prompt us to live in a tribe?
Answer: Feeling connected with one another. That’s why we evolved what some people call ‘a deep need to belong’. Our ‘deep need to belong’ is why we still like to be in tribes – the football teams and political parties we support, the clubs we join, the family trees we draw, the friends we have . . . It’s why ‘blood is thicker than water’, why we follow fashions, and why we fear rejection.
And, that deep need to belong is why so many people believe astrology has merit. If you believe that burning balls of hydrogen and helium light-years away contribute towards your personality, you will feel connected with a sizeable chunk of the universe! And, someone who holds the common belief that everything happens for a reason feels part of some vast plan, a thread in the tapestry of Life.
And our ‘deep need to belong’ is one reason why solitary confinement is such a harsh punishment, and why ostracism is a cruel tool of bullies. In many tribal societies ostracism is an effective form of punishment.
‘I have no sister.’
The speaker’s back is turned away.
And it’s why we develop class, or caste, consciousness.
So, how did that ‘deep need to belong’ come about? What would prompt us to feel connected with one another?
Well, if we enjoy contributing to the tribe, and feel valued by the tribe, we are more likely to feel connected with those around us and stay in the tribe. Therefore, evolution rewarded anyone engaging in those propensities with a relaxed feeling of well-being: core happiness.
If for any reason we don’t feel valued, or don’t feel we contribute to the tribe, and don’t feel connected with those around us, we are likely to feel unsettled, isolated, and anxious – evolution’s way of nudging us to change the situation.
4. The theory, Part 2.
I’ve just said that evolution wants us to stay in the tribe and be safe. But it also wants us to take on the world. We need to venture out, to hunt the bison and keep ourselves fed. We need to explore our environment for new resources. We have within us an inherent need to stretch our boundaries. It’s why some of us feel the need to test ourselves to the limit, and why the rest of us get on a roller coaster.
So, although we need to live safely, at times we also need to take risks. With too much anxiety we would be too afraid to leave the safety of the tribe, and we’d starve. With too little anxiety we would take too many risks, and not last long. To get the right balance we need to experience anxiety, and feel able to handle it.
Consider two pigmy twins: one is raised to avoid spiders, snakes, crocodiles . . . the other is raised to hunt them. I claim that the twin who learns how to handle those dangers, rather than avoid them, will become competent and confident, and as a result, happier.
The twin avoiding those creatures won’t learn how to handle life, and as a consequence will become anxious, and unhappy.
Which means the best way to reduce our anxiety is not to avoid what frightens us, but to learn how to handle it.
In her book, ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’, Susan Jeffers points out that it’s not the spider we fear; we fear being unable to handle it. If you feel you can handle a situation you are not going to fear it. (Imagine having a body of steel, like Superman. Pretty soon you would not fear spiders because you would know they couldn’t harm you. You could handle them.)
So, on one hand, evolution has prompted us to adopt long-term safe behaviours, (like living in a tribe), and when we engage in those safe behaviours we are rewarded with core happiness. On the other hand, evolution also wants us to leave the tribe and hunt. When we engage in those risky behaviours and succeed, and become confident we can handle life, we are again rewarded with core happiness.
In a nutshell: core happiness comes from reducing our anxiety by engaging in long-term innate behaviours that would keep us safe, whilst at the same time, engaging in Life and being confident we can handle it.
The umpteen keys in this book are about how we can reduce our anxiety both ways.
Q. ‘Are you saying we have to learn how to handle whatever happens in life?’
I’m suggesting that we aim to feel that whatever happens, we’ll handle it. That doesn’t mean we have to actually be able to handle everything, or pretend that we can. But the more we feel we can handle what happens, the happier we will be.
Q. ‘So, both temporary happiness and core happiness are evolution’s reward for in engaging in beneficial behaviours. If we don’t engage in those behaviours we feel unhappy?’
Correct. Both forms of happiness are our rewards for engaging in beneficial behaviour, and both have become innate.
Q. ‘Mr B, you say that a person without anxiety will be happy. If I’m in solitary confinement I won’t feel anxious, but I’m not going to happy.’
Remember, core happiness is the feeling we have when nothing in particular is happening. Walking down the street, standing in a lift . . . If you are in solitary confinement something is happening – you are imprisoned. You won’t valued, nor feel connected with humanity, which means you won’t have those basic needs met.
Q. ‘Mr B, you say core happiness is linked with the safety of being in a tribe, but we no longer need to live in a tribe to be safe.’
True, but we haven’t shrugged off the need to feel connected, or the need to contribute, or the need to and feel valued. We are still subject to evolved innate needs.
Q. ‘If we need to feel connected with one another, why do many of us fear or dislike people of other races and creeds?’
One reason: The fear of another tribe can strengthen the connections we have within our own tribe.
Q. ‘Why is temporary happiness (pleasure) hardly mentioned in this book?’
Although it is important, you don’t need me to tell you what you find pleasurable. But see two chapters about pleasure.
(From ’1. What is happiness?’)
The preceding page suggested that we evolved to adopt certain ongoing behaviours which helped keep us safe (such as living in a tribe), and if we engage in those ongoing behaviours we are rewarded with an ongoing feeling of well-being: core happiness.
It was also suggested that at times we need to place ourselves in dangerous situations (to get food, or to protect our young), and when we become confident we can handle those dangers we are also rewarded with core happiness. When we feel we can handle our world we lose our fear of it.
So, core happiness is about reducing our anxiety, either by engaging in long-term behaviours which would keep us safe, or by engaging in Life, and being confident we can handle it.
That’s what umpteen keys are about.
Q. ‘Mr B, you say that for core happiness we need low anxiety. Why then do some prisoners prefer to be in jail? It’s a dangerous place to be.’
Some prisoners feel safe in jail. Perhaps they are part of a gang which protects its members. Further, their life is regimented and the basics, like a bed and food, are provided for them. In the outside world those basics aren’t necessarily provided, and institutionalized prisoners might well feel anxious entering a world in which anything is possible.