What is happiness?

Being happy is not about living ‘life’s spectacular journey’. Nor is it about avoiding pain. A happy person feels all the dark emotions: anger, fear, sadness, grief . . . They’re just not broken by them.
  There are two kinds of happiness: ‘temporary happiness’ and ‘core happiness’.

Temporary happiness occurs when we experience the pleasure of winning money, seeing our team win, being with someone we love . . .  We also feel pleasure when we experience emotions such as wonder, pride, and gratitude. In each instance, chemicals flush our brain to make us feel good. Our happiness soars, but after a while we return to normal.
  In troubling times, like when a pet dies, our happiness can plummet, but we again return to normal.

Core happiness, or ‘set point’ or ‘baseline’ happiness is that general day-to-day sense of wellbeing we experience when nothing in particular is happening, like getting up in the morning, or taking a shower, or walking down the street. It’s innate. It is our default happiness. It’s the happiness which makes life worth living. We are not usually conscious of it, but it’s the lubricant to life.

This book focuses on our core happiness, but don’t get me wrong: pleasure is important. Life would be drab and pointless without it. However, people with access to countless pleasures – think of some celebrities – will still find life unsatisfying if they have a weak core happiness. Conversely, people with a strong core happiness, although they may not have access to many pleasures, will find pleasure in the little things of life.
  Of course, if something bad happens in our life – if our house burns down for example – we will understandably suffer. Our core happiness will be swamped by suffering. But midst the suffering we will still consider our life to be a happy one; we will instinctively know that life is worth living. We will endure the pain with the knowledge that at some point our grief will cease, and our happiness will return.
  Core happiness has nothing to do with joy. It’s what we feel when we are not joyful, and not suffering. As I said, it’s what we feel when nothing in particular is happening. When our house burns down, something in particular has happened, and understandably, our core happiness will be overwhelmed.

It’s helpful to distinguish between the two types of happiness. When I ask people what makes them happy they often say something like, ‘bushwalking’ or ‘being with friends’ or ‘frog racing’ . . . but those things provide the pleasure kind of happiness, not the core kind.
  When we need to make a decision we can ask ourselves the same question the Dalai Lama asks himself:  Will it bring pleasure, or happiness?’

To sum up, to have an enjoyable life we need to experience both the temporary happiness we get from short-term pleasures, and the milder, more pervasive ongoing core happiness. You can figure out for yourself what pleasures give you temporary happiness, but what about core happiness? How do we get that?
  To answer that question we first need to figure out why we have it. We’ll need a basic understanding of the process of natural selection. See you in the next chapter.

‘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 disorganisation, 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.

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Why does poo smell bad? A brief explanation of the process of natural selection.

This is a long chapter and different from the other chapters. If you’re willing to read on, here are four quick and basic examples of how natural selection works. Otherwise, jump to the next chapter, ‘How Did Happiness Evolve?

(1) Faeces smell bad because we evolved to perceive them that way. If our early ancestors had found the smell and taste of faeces enjoyable, or even neutral, then in times of famine they would have eaten their faeces. Or eaten someone else’s. That would have been bad for their health, and they may even have died. Only the ones who found the smell and taste awful would have refrained from eating faeces, and they got to live long enough to mate and pass on their genes.

(2) Camels store fat in their humps and that fat provides them with energy when there isn’t food around. Let’s say millions of years ago a camel is born with genes giving it a bigger hump than most other camels. In a severe drought that camel, having a larger energy supply on its back when food is scarce, is more likely to survive and pass on its genes. Over millions of years, with similar situations occurring, all camels end up with the gene and bigger humps. Natural selection has ‘guided’ a physical change.

(3) Let’s say millions of years ago there lived an animal similar to today’s okapi. On one side of a mountain range there are the open spaces of savannah, and the creatures fight with their heads to win mates. The ones that happen to born with bigger necks will have an advantage, and get to pass on their genes.
  On the other side of the mountain is jungle, and if one of those creatures is born with a bigger neck  it will have no advantage. It might well injure itself swinging its head.
   Over millions of years, in those different conditions, the two groups of creatures will develop so many differences that if you were to bring them together and mate them, they could not produce fertile offspring. They would have become separate species. (Robert E Simmons and Lue Scheepers, National Geographic Jan 15, 2013)
  This may have happened. The giraffe’s closest extant (living) relative is the okapi, which lives in the Congo rainforest. It has a short neck.

 There are other theories about why giraffes might have long necks: it might be that the tallest giraffes could reach leaves other giraffes couldn’t, and that would have helped them in times of famine. Or, the tallest giraffes were better able to scan the landscape for predators.

(4) A monkey born with the propensity to break nuts and eat the kernels has an abundant food source, and is more likely to survive a drought. Over time, all its descendants will have the propensity to break nuts and eat the kernels. Natural selection has ‘guided’ a behavioural change.

So, although gene mutations are random, over generations the mutations beneficial to the species can become normal to the species. That’s the process of natural selection.  It is generally thought that most physical features and behavioural traits of organisms have come about in this way.
  If a zebra were to be born with genes giving it an extra leg it would have trouble running fast, and it would easily be caught by a predator. So, it would not live long enough to pass on its genes. Therefore, we won’t see zebras walking around with five legs.

How do new species come into being?
There are different ways to establish a species and it’s not clear cut. We like putting animals into clear categories, like stamp collectors do with their stamps, but evolution has its own rules, and likes to break them. So, we often end up deciding on a new species based on our rules. A species exists if we say it does.
  Here are four ways we determine a species:
(1) If two animals mate but cannot produce fertile offspring, they’re different species.
For example, if you mate a female horse (mare) with a male donkey (jack) they’ll produce a mule, and if you mate a female donkey (jenny or jennet) with a stallion they’ll produce a hinny. But neither mule nor hinny will be fertile. Therefore, donkeys and horses are different species.

‘Natural selection penalises mating with the wrong species, especially where the species are close enough for it to be a temptation, and close enough for hybrid offspring to survive, to consume costly parental resources, and then turn out to be sterile, like mules.’
‘The Ancestor’s Tale’ by Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong. P389.

(2) When animals could mate and produce fertile offspring, but don’t, they’re different species. For example,
(i) there are frogs that mate only in the morning. They share a waterhole with identical frogs that mate only in the evening. Because those two groups don’t mate, they’re different species.
(ii) Two birds might have the capacity to successfully mate, but if their courtship procedures are not aligned, they won’t mate. They will be deemed to be different species.
(iii) In Africa, red cichlid fish could mate with blue cichlid fish and produce fertile offspring, but they don’t mate. That makes them different species.
  What makes the red cichlid fish different from the blue cichlid fish in the first place? In the book, ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’, it is suggested that if cichlids are separated for a while – for example, if they live and breed in separate reefs for many generations – they can, through random mutations, develop differences like colouring. If that difference in colour is enough to prevent the red and blue cichlid fish from mating when they do happen to meet, that’s enough to make them two species.
  Over time, the genetic differences between the two groups of fish, or frogs, would eventually widen to the point where even if they mated they would be unable to produce fertile offspring.

(3) When the animals are obviously different from one another, even though they could mate and produce fertile offspring.
  (i) For example, polar bears and American brown bears have different physical characteristics,  behaviours and temperaments, so they are considered to be different species even though they can successfully interbreed, and are doing so.
  (ii) Then we have the Hooded crow and Carrion crow. They look different from each other and mate in their own groups, but where their territory intersects they mate successfully with one another and produce fertile hybrids.
  (iii) In the U.S. Coyotes and wolves are interbreeding and producing fertile offspring called ‘coywolves’.
(iv) Homo sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis were two species that looked different, but before we killed off the Neanderthals some of us mated successfully with them, and produced fertile offspring. That’s why about 20% of us have within us a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA.
  The trouble with this method of determining a species is that there are many exceptions: there are animals that look different from one another, but they are the same species. For example, in the case of the Hawaiian happy-face spider (Theridion grallator), both sexes come in countless colours, but they all interbreed, so they’re the same species. Dogs, obviously, can look very different from one another, but they’re the same species. Humans today vary significantly in colour and shape, but of course, we’re the same species.

(4) DNA. We used to think there was one species of giraffe, but according to the October 2019 edition of The National Geographic magazine: “new DNA research has identified four distinct species.” (The Northern giraffe, the reticulated giraffe, the Masai giraffe and the Southern giraffe. There are sub species too.)

Are lizards related to giraffes?
Yep. Their common ancestor goes back more than a hundred million years.

‘An eel-like creature from 505 million years ago was a forerunner to all vertebrates, from fish to humans. Fossil evidence confirms that Pikaia gracelens had a rod of elastic tissue running along its back, making it the oldest chordate ever found.’
New Scientist, 10 March 2012.

Did humans evolve from gorillas, chimpanzees or monkeys?
From none of those animals, though we share with those primates a common ancestor that existed more than sixty million years ago. It probably looked something like a nimble rodent. Over a long time, over large areas, and in varying conditions, those ‘nimble rodents’ evolved into different animals, depending on the environmental forces. A simple and speculative example: if the rodent-like animals lived in rainforests that offered abundant food in the trees, they would probably stay in the trees, and over millions of years become monkeys or tree-dwelling apes.
  Let’s say another population of the same rodent-like animal lived on savannah plains, and found food in the long grass. The ones born with a mutation allowing them to stand on two legs and see above the grass would have had a significant advantage, and be more likely to survive and produce offspring. Over millions of years they might evolve into bipedal, land dwelling apes.
   Susannah Thorpe and her colleagues of The University of Birmingham suggest another possibility: that our ancestors evolved to stand on two legs while still in the trees. Balancing on two feet and using their hands to hold branches for balance helped them reach the fruit on small, outlying branches (New Scientist, 9 June 2007).
  Yet another theory suggests we became bipedal from wading in water. The ones able to stand upright could carry their infants while plucking nutritious weeds. Plus, they could find food in deeper water than could a non-bipedal ape.*
  In pages 112 to 115 of their book, Dawkins and Wong mention anthropologist Owen Lovejoy, who suggested that by standing on two legs, the apes’ hands were freed, and that enabled them to carry infants or carry food. That ability conferred upon them a significant survival advantage.     
  Jonathan Kingdon’s book, ‘Lowly Origin’, gets a mention too. Kingdon has a ‘squat theory’. By being able to squat, the apes could turn over rocks or leaf litter to find insects, worms, snails and other nutritious morsels.
  And, on page 322, Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong themselves suggest the possibility that one particular ape made a habit of standing on its hind legs, and as a result enhanced its sexual attractiveness and social status. The gimmick became fashionable with others following suit, and the ones that managed to maintain their posture mated often and passed on their genes.
  What other factors would have made us human?
  Over time we evolved other ‘game changers’: we evolved vocal cords that allowed complex language, and it has been suggested that we gained a larger brain (with commensurate intelligence) at the expense of our muscle strength and body hair.

What is a subspecies?
Imagine a thousand giraffes on a large island in a river, and they become isolated when the river fills with crocodiles. Over a long period of time those island giraffes develop their own characteristics, such as different markings or shorter necks. If they were transported to the mainland and could still successfully breed with the mainland giraffes, the two groups would be the same species. However, because of their different characteristics the island giraffes, the minority, would be labeled a subspecies.
  As explained above, scientists used to think there were sub species of giraffes, until DNA evidence determined that they were separate species.

Can evolution explain the origin of life?
No, and it’s not meant to. Creationists often try to disprove evolution by pointing to the fact that we don’t know how life came into being. However, the origin of life has nothing to do with evolution. It’s a different topic entirely.

Are there other factors contributing towards evolution?
(1) One factor is epigenetics. That’s when genes are influenced by the environment. For example, a creature living in drought conditions, unable to feed itself properly, might give birth to young smaller than normal. The drought might then break, and the young would grow up in much better conditions. However, when it’s their time to give birth they might also give birth to young that are smaller than normal. Had the drought not ended, then giving birth to smaller young might be an advantage for those young – they would need less food to stay alive.
  Another example: a creature living an abnormally stressful life might give birth to young that grow up more prone to becoming stressed than they otherwise would be, and when they give birth, their young might be born with genes switched on ready to make them stressed, even in mild circumstances. That’s epigenetics.

(2) Some viruses can also contribute towards a creature’s evolution by infecting its sperm or egg, thereby changing the creature’s DNA slightly. Those changes would be inherited by its young, and if those changes are beneficial they will be passed on to future generations. For example, primates like chimpanzees, gorillas and we humans have within us ancient virus DNA that helps our females give birth to healthy young.

What does the process of natural selection have to do with core happiness?
See you in the next chapter!

* That ‘Aquatic Ape’ theory was put forth by Alister Hardy and championed by Elain Morgan, according to Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong in their book, ‘The Ancestor’s Tale. (The Ancestor’s Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong. Weidenfeld & Nicolson  2016)

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How did happiness evolve?

It is hard to speak of evolution without inadvertently attributing to it intent. I might say, ‘beetles evolved to fly’, which sounds like the beetles had a choice in the matter. Of course they didn’t. Or, I might say, ‘evolution guides us’, or ‘evolution wants us’. No, evolution can’t guide us or want us to do anything; it’s not a sentient entity, it’s a process. I use these expressions because they are a convenient shortcut to refer to the process of natural selection.

We evolved happiness in the same way we evolved our eyes, ears and kidneys. Happiness serves a purpose. Consider the first kind of happiness, pleasure: when we engage in short-term behaviours that benefit us and our species, such as eating, having sex or playing (playing hones our skills), we are immediately rewarded with pleasure. That pleasure is evolution’s way of persuading us to engage in those behaviours.
  We are also rewarded when we engage in beneficial ongoing behaviours. However, ongoing behaviours cannot be rewarded with instantaneous pleasure. But they can be rewarded with a milder, ongoing pleasure: a relaxed, general feeling of wellbeing – core happiness. Core happiness is evolution’s incentive, and reward, for engaging in beneficial ongoing behaviours.
  What would those ongoing behaviours be?
  (1) Living in a tribe is one. In prehistory, hominins* born with an inclination to live in a tribe were more likely to live long enough to pass on their genes. Those who didn’t live in a tribe were more likely to starve or be eaten.
  The inclination to live in a tribe involved the need to contribute to the tribe and feel valued for that contribution. That helped them feel connected. Some people call that need for connection ‘the deep need to belong’. When we engage in behaviours that satisfy that deep need to belong we are rewarded with core happiness. When we don’t satisfy that need we feel isolated and unsettled, even anxious.
  (2) However, although we felt the need to be in a tribe we also had to hunt and keep ourselves fed. 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 die. To get the right balance we needed to feel frightened in a scary situation yet feel we could handle it. When we achieve that balance we are again rewarded with core happiness.

In summary, we have an innate need to satisfy our deep need to belong, and an innate need to feel we can handle life. When we satisfy those two needs we feel strong and resilient, and we are rewarded with core happiness.
  And, when we don’t satisfy those needs we feel lousy. That’s evolution’s way of prompting us to change the situation.
  There are other long-term innate needs we need to satisfy, but this book is about those two. How can we satisfy them and become resilient? And in turn, happy?
  Let’s get cracking!

*  (Hominims are, according to the Australian Museum, “the group consisting of modern humans, extinct human species and all our immediate ancestors. Hominids are “the group consisting of all modern and extinct Great Apes (that is, modern humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans plus all their immediate ancestors.)”.

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Getting the balance right.

Every day we experience fears: the fear of failure, of rejection, of looking stupid, the fear that our dinner will get cold . . .  We have a myriad of fears. We can reduce those fears by developing the belief that whatever happens, we will handle it. ‘I can handle failure. I can handle rejection. I can handle looking stupid. I can handle my dinner getting cold.’
  If you feel you can handle those things, you are not going to fear them, are you?
  In her book, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers points out that we only fear what we think we can’t handle. That means: the trick to reducing our fears is not to avoid scary situations, but to learn how to handle them.

‘Peace is not only in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. Peace is in the midst of things as they are, when there is calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.’
(Author unknown)

Imagine pygmy twins: one is raised to hunt spiders, snakes and crocodiles; the other is raised to avoid those creatures. Which twin do you think will grow up competent and confident, and as a result, happier? Which twin will grow up anxious and unhappy?
  I claim the twin who learns how to handle those dangers, rather than avoid them, will most likely become the happier of the two. The twin who avoids those creatures will not learn how to handle anxiety, or life itself, and as a consequence will tend to suffer anxiety and unhappiness. Again, that means the best way to feel safe is not to avoid scary situations, but to learn how to handle them. As Helen Keller says, ‘A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.’

It is often said that people in poorer countries on the whole seem happier that we westerners. It’s a bit simplistic and convenient to think that, because there are countless poor people suffering, but no doubt there are poor communities that do have happy people. In his book, ‘The Resilience Project: Finding Happiness Through Gratitude, Empathy & Mindfulness’, Hugh Van Cuylenburg explains how he was motivated to create his Resilience Project by a village of poor but happy people. He claims they have the tools we need for happiness: gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. He might be right, which prompts me to ask: why do they have those tools and we, presumably, don’t?
  I suspect that people in less fortunate societies learn they can handle hardship, and as a result gain an inner confidence that they can handle life. So, when nothing bad is happening – when they’re not starving, and not diseased, and not in danger – they can rely on a confidence that we haven’t had the opportunity to gain. In our relatively safe, comfortable western society we learn (like our anxious pygmy) to fear our environment, because we don’t get the opportunity to discover we can handle life. So, it becomes easy to be anxious, even over trivial things. Then, it becomes hard to be happy, because we are not getting our evolutionary reward for ‘feeling capable’.
  We could, unwittingly, be fostering unhappiness. An increasing number of children in our western society are not allowed to climb trees, or walk to school alone, or do anything that might be considered risky. So, they don’t learn how to handle situations, or to handle their fears. Instead, they learn how to avoid them, and that’s a recipe for anxiety.
  We adults have rights, and insist upon them, and when they’re not met, we complain to the higher-ups and wallow in the unfairness of it all when we don’t get the outcome we want.
Further, we spend a great deal of time trying to get people to not bully or coerce, and precious little time teaching people to become resistant to bullying and coercion.
  And, we spend a great deal of time vilifying the perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual harassment, and precious little time teaching people how to avoid experiencing those assaults in the first place, and precious little time teaching them how to deal with those assaults as they occur.
  Counsellors, social workers and lawyers can spend plenty of time with a troubled person after the event, trying to help the person feel better. But surely prevention is better than the cure? Though if someone does make the ‘outrageous’ suggestion that we should teach people coping skills, they are accused of blaming the victim.

‘Don’t aim to have an easy life, aim to be a strong person.’
John F. Kennedy.

In short, we’re soft.
  Hugh might be right with his Resilience Project. Perhaps we have become so soft and spoilt that we have lost our capacity to feel grateful, empathic and mindful of the moment. I don’t know. But this book is not about helping you deal with anxiety; it’s about helping you to not become anxious in the first place. It’s about reducing our capacity to become anxious, and satisfying our ongoing innate need to feel that whatever happens in life, we can handle it. That includes satisfying our deep need to belong.
  Satisfy both needs and we have resilience.
  Our reward?
  Core happiness.

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Should we even seek happiness?

Q. ‘Who wants to be a grinning idiot with no real substance?’
Being happy is not about being a grinning idiot. Happy people still suffer; they still feel all the dark emotions – hurt, anger, fear, sadness . . . They just aren’t shattered by them. And when you are not shattered by your emotions, you can grow.

Q. ‘Isn’t suffering supposed to make us happy, in some bizarre way?’
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. ‘If I become happy I will become content and lose my passion and motivation. My chance to excel in life will dissipate like smoke in the wind.’
On the contrary, 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 will know that whatever happens, you will handle it. With a strong core happiness you will be more productive. Happiness is not about contentment. Contentment is for cows.

Q. ‘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.’
That proverb is right in one way: if we try to be happy we will fail. However, I’m not suggesting that we try to be happy. I am suggesting we build ourselves a resilient person. As a result, we will become happy.

Q. ‘Why shouldn’t we try to be happy?’
What does it mean to ‘try to be happy’? To ignore our dark feelings and pretend they aren’t there? To replace our dark feelings with ‘happy thoughts’, and a happy disposition? No. We can’t simply flick a switch and be happy.
  Instead of trying to manufacture an emotion we don’t have – happiness – 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 we gain the feeling that we can handle life. That’s when core happiness comes. If a well-meaning person tells you, ‘try to be happy’, dismiss the advice.
Q. ‘Can we can aim to be happy?’
We can aim to engage in behaviours that will satisfy our innate needs. By doing so, we will become resilient and add to our core happiness.

Q. Even if we can seek happiness, should we? The book, ‘Against Happiness’ by Eric G. Wilson. Eric points out that unhappiness has prompted wonderful art and stirring music. Eric 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 to create things like music or poetry?’
A happy person will still have the agitations of the soul. There will always be something inside each and every one of us that niggles. 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 we have a strong core happiness we 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. Isn’t searching for happiness twee? Surely we have more important things to focus on? Such as living life?
I’m not suggesting the aim of life is to be happy and that we should focus on that. Life is to be lived; happiness is merely the lubricant to make it worth living.

Q. What if our happiness is in our genes? Wouldn’t that mean happiness is out of our hands?
Your genes play only a part. Someone born with ‘glum’ genes can still become happier if they cease undermining their core happiness and become resilient. So can a cheery person.
  I’m not suggesting we can raise our level of core happiness above our natural level, but we can make sure it’s at the level it should be.

In summary: being happy is not about becoming a grinning idiot. It’s not about contentment, or suffering, or not 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 our very soul may shiver we will know, on a deep and fundamental level, that we will not succumb. It’s that confidence, that knowledge that we can handle what happens in life, that allows our anxiety to evaporate, and core happiness to rise in its place.

‘Only through recognising my happiness did I really appreciate it.’
Gretchen Rubin.

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The happiness researchers

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The need to feel safe.

Nephew: You reckon that if we want to add to our core happiness we need to satisfy our innate need to feel safe.

Uncle: You’ve been listening?

Nephew: I managed to stay awake at that part. But we feel safe every day. It’s not like we are in a war zone. When do we not feel safe?

Uncle: Every day we experience fears, like the fear of failure, of rejection, of looking stupid, or the fear that our dinner will get cold . . . Every day we have countless fears. If we can reduce those fears . . . if we can reduce that anxiety, corehappiness will rise in its place. We will feel lighter and more relaxed. And happier.

Nephew: So the less anxious we are, the happier we will be?

Uncle: That’s a big part of it, yes.

Nephew: How do we reduce those fears?

Uncle: By taking control of our life. But I don’t mean trying to control the outside world. People who try to control the outside world – their spouse, the people they meet, the situations they’re in –do so because they’re anxious. They are trying to reduce their anxiety but they are only making themselves more anxious, because we can’t control the outside world.

Nephew. No. James Bond won’t let anyone do that.

Uncle: What? Look, the control I’m talking about is an inner control, an inner authority. ‘I can handle failure. I can handle rejection. I can handle looking stupid. I can handle my dinner getting cold.’ If you feel you can handle what happens in your life, you’re not going to fear it, are you?

Nephew: I guess not. So how do we gain the feeling that whatever happens, we’ll handle it?

Uncle: By taking full responsibility for how our life unfolds.

Nephew: That’s not fair! Why should we take responsibility for everything that happens in our life? If a meteor destroys my home, why should I take responsibility for that?

Uncle: We need to take responsibility for how we respond to what happens. Many people don’t. You’ll hear people say ‘She ruined my life,’ instead of, ‘I have made poor decisions,’ or ‘He made me angry,’ instead of ‘I became angry’. These people blame the world for their troubles, or they blame themselves, which is just as bad, instead of taking responsibility.

Nephew: Yes, but . . .

Uncle: It’s like they are in their little boat of Life, bobbing about in the ocean, and they just sit back hoping for good weather. When a storm approaches they say, ‘Gosh, I hope that storm doesn’t affect me,’ and when that storm does come, and capsizes their little boat, they blame the storm! Or, they blame themselves, and complain about how useless they are.

Nephew: Yeah’ okay.

Uncle: If instead they were to grasp the mainsail, and grasp the tiller, and take responsibility for their little boat of Life, and give their life direction, they’re going to fare a lot better when that storm does come along. They might even say, “Bring it on, I’ll handle it.’

Nephew: Hold back on the metaphors, would you.

Uncle: When we take full responsibility for how our life unfolds we come to understand that our happiness does not depend on the outside world, but on how we respond to it. And then we come to understand that we are in control of our life – we have an inner control, an inner authority, a feeling that whatever happens, we’ll handle it. And, when that happens, anxiety evaporates and core happiness rises in its place.

Nephew: Sounds creepy, to be honest.

Uncle: It’s comforting to know that what I say sounds creepy. Thanks for that.

Nephew: Well, Uncle Sarcasm, I’m going to take full responsibility for how my life unfolds right now. By taking off.

Uncle: Watch out for meteors.

“Peace is not only in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. Peace is in the midst of things as they are, when there is calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.” 
(Author unknown)

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