BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_2668When I was growing up, I distinctly saw two different approaches to life.

One: you work hard to get the job, the car, the house—and then once you have all those things, you’ll not only be satisfied and happy but you’ll have time to pursue the interests, family life and social life that you envision will actually make you happy.

Two: Start by pursuing your passions, even if they don’t seem to make much money, and on the basis of that happiness, satisfaction and success will come.

My older brother followed the first path and I followed the second. Perhaps it was a generational thing—he felt that happiness came from having the right stuff even if you had to work hard at a high-paying job you didn’t like in order to get it. I felt that happiness came from having the freedom to do what you loved in life, even if it didn’t pay much.

And then I learned that you could take the idea of basing your decisions on happiness a step further.

Three: “Expansion of happiness is the purpose of creation.” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, wrote that in his book the Science of Being and Art of Living in 1963, but I didn’t read it until 1972, the year I learned to meditate as a sophomore in college.

Whoa, now that blew my socks off. This was an entirely new idea to me and to most people I knew.

In the Science of Being, Maharishi’s main message was “first meditate and then act.” He explained that the field of true happiness— absolute bliss consciousness ( sat chit ānanda in Sanskrit) — is inside of us. And it can be easily accessed by contacting that transcendental field of pure bliss during the Transcendental Meditation technique.

And when you experience more inner bliss, energy and peace during meditation, you naturally find yourself feeling more happy, dynamic and peaceful outside of meditation, in your daily life.

Maharishi also pointed out that just as a forest can only be green if the individual trees are green, our world will be peaceful only when the individuals within it are experiencing inner peace. Meditation not only helps us fulfill our individual aspirations to be more happy, successful and healthy — it also helps us to create a more healthy society and world.

This made sense to me when I read it, since I was already meditating 20 minutes twice a day, and I was already finding that life was somehow easier, that I didn’t have to study as hard, that frustration was less, that I felt more pure contentment and peace inside. I was able to function better as a friend, a daughter, and a student teacher.

In our society, where achievement and hard work are so highly valued, it’s sometimes hard to explain that you are not being selfish by taking time twice a day to meditate. Moms, especially, have a hard time putting their own happiness, their own “me time” at the top of a list of priorities.

Yet if a mother can keep her own emotional balance by meditating twice a day, she is going to be in a much better position to radiate love to her family than if she feels tired, angry, and resentful due to the many responsibilities of her life.

Recently I was intrigued to read a NY Times Opinionator blog by Daniel M. Haybron, philosophy professor at St. Louis University and author of Happiness: A Very Short Introduction that summed up the research on happiness, and how we, as a society, view happiness. It seemed to parallel the changes in my personal views.

Haybron traces his own responses to three evolving definitions of happiness:

  1. Happiness = life satisfaction. This has been the prevalent definition of happiness for the past 30 years, and is the definition behind much of the research on happiness. This is more of a self-reflective review of whether your life is turning out the way you want it to, Haybron explains. Yet, Haybron points out, this has little to do with our day-to-day experience of happiness, which is more about feelings.
  2. Happiness = feeling good. Also popular with researchers, this correlates happiness with pleasure, and unhappiness with pain or suffering. In the view of philosophers such as Epicurus and John Stuart Mill, this is “hedonism” about happiness. It defines happiness as the superficial pursuit of pleasure, which also falls short, Haybron believes.
  3. Happiness = a state of emotional well-being. This is a more complex understanding of happiness as the opposite of anxiety or depression, which Haybron describes as “someone in good spirits, quick to laugh and slow to anger, at peace and untroubled, confident and comfortable in your own skin, engaged, energetic and full of life.” Happiness as a state of being was not even discussed as a definition of happiness until 20 years ago, and still is not widely embraced by researchers.

And then, to my delight, Haybron went on to say that he found even this more expanded view of happiness to be incomplete. “Our very language is deficient, and so we sometimes reach for other expressions that better convey the depth and richness of happiness: happiness as a matter of the psyche, spirit or soul,” he wrote.

And this is really the crux of the matter. Happiness is not a frivolous, superficial pursuit — it is embedded in our nature as human beings. The impulse to seek happiness and fulfillment is the basic impulse of life, which is, as Haybron wrote, “why there is a long history of philosophical thought that conceives of humans flourishing in terms of the fulfillment of the self.”

Haybron goes on to write, “Human well-being, on this sort of view, means living in accordance with your nature, with who you are. On this way of thinking, we might regard happiness as a central part of self-fulfillment.”

So beautifully expressed. So wonderful to hear a modern philosopher talking about the pursuit of happiness as a spiritual need that is essential to life.

Taking time to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day is not a superficial pursuit. By directly contacting the field of pure happiness through the TM technique, we infuse happiness into our actions and environment. Through regular practice, stress and strain falls away, and our true nature—happiness—becomes our natural state of mind. Then every action we take, every interaction with our friends, family and co-workers, spontaneously becomes a wave of joy, without us having to try to be happy.

As Maharishi wrote in the Science of Being, “The only way to make the entire field of action joyful is to fill the mind with joy. This can only be accomplished through the experience of Being.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, June 9, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_0420If someone asked me, “What’s more important to you, being happy or finding meaning in life?” I’d have trouble answering. Like some kind of trick question in a fairytale, I’m thinking, Why not have both?

This question came up after I read a NY Times Opinionator piece citing a new study that showed today’s generation of young people born after 1980, called millennials or Generation Y, are so altruistic that they are choosing professions that bring meaning to life—rather than seeking personal happiness or more money.

In the forthcoming study conducted by Jennifer L. Aaker, Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs and Emily N. Garbinsky, 397 Americans were followed over a month-long period and asked the degree to which they considered their lives to be meaningful or happy, as well as what beliefs and values they held, and what type of choices they had made in their lives.

This is the part that gets confusing to me—because the study was based on the premise that although meaning and happiness can overlap in some ways, they are ultimately different. Although meaning can vary from person to person, the authors Emily Esfanhani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker explained that “a defining feature is connection to something bigger than the self. People who lead meaningful lives feel connected to others, to work, to a life purpose, and to the world itself.”On the other hand they said that people who want happiness are looking for more money or having an easier, more fun job. People who seek meaning in life are more “givers,” while people who seek happiness tend to be “takers.”

Well. I think it does boil down to semantics to a great degree. I think the study would have made perfect sense to me if they had used the word “pleasure” instead of “happiness.” Then, certainly, I would say that people who seek pleasure above all else tend to be takers. Pleasure is more about fleeting, sensory gratification. To my mind, happiness has a deeper, more spiritual value, and is an important component of living a meaningful life.

In fact, for women, who in general tend to put other’s desires ahead of their own and to give and give and give—to their children and spouses and careers—it’s a good idea to remind ourselves that only a lit bulb can shed light. Only a full cup can overflow. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s when a woman has taken care of herself and is happy inside that she is in a position to give to others without depleting herself.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, referred to this as “200% of life.” By meditating twice a day and releasing stress and fatigue and tapping into the state of pure happiness (sometimes called bliss consciousness) that dwells within us all, we can meet the world refreshed, ready to give to others. We can develop inner happiness, and on that basis, enjoy outer prosperity and spontaneously bring that happiness and prosperity to others as well. When the heart is full, when life is lived in fullness in every moment, then it’s natural and easy to give to others.

Maharishi also said in the The Science of Being and Art of Living that “the purpose of creation is the expansion of happiness.” It is our nature to be happy. Think of a healthy child exploring the world with wonder and joy. Think of the birds greeting the morning with vibrant song. Think of the flowers bursting into bloom in spring. It’s a crazily exuberant world. And we can tap into that state of pure happiness inside us, twice a day, every day.

So I say to the millennials—how completely wonderful that you seek to find meaning in life by choosing careers that will help others. This is a credit to your generation and a step forward for our country. But don’t forget about taking care of yourself, too.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, January 31, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)