Once upon a time there was a little prince. According to prophecy, he was to become a powerful king or a great holy man. His father feared he would follow the spiritual path. To prevent this, the prince was protected from the outside world. He grew up surrounded by wealth, beauty, and happiness.
One day, the prince ventured outside the palace walls for the first time. He was shocked to encounter old age, sickness, and death. He returned to the palace a changed man. Determined to overcome suffering, the prince renounced his title and left the palace.
For 6 years, the prince lived a life of poverty and religious contemplation. After fasting near death, he wondered if there might be a middle way between the extremes of self‐indulgence and self‐mortification.
After recovering, the prince decided to meditate under a fig tree until he solved the problem. After 49 days, he reached Enlightenment—he realized suffering is caused by attachment to impermanent things. From then on, he was known as the Buddha or “Awakened One”. For the rest of his life, he taught others to free themselves from suffering.
The Buddha’s lessons have been confirmed by science. Let’s dig deeper.
Life is suffering.
Suffering arises from attachment to desires.
Suffering can be ended by letting go of attachment.
Follow the Eightfold Path to let go of attachment and end suffering.
Around the world, people rate their happiness an average of 5.5 out of 10. This is influenced by 3 major factors:
Activities and attitudes
First, researchers have found that happiness is 35% inherited.
Second, the most influential life circumstances are income, strong social relationships, and good health. For income, there is a large improvement from escaping poverty and then diminishing returns for more money. Poverty and poor health explain why average happiness is 4.3 in Africa versus 7.0 in the United States.
Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.
Finally, thousands of studies have shown that the following activities and attitudes boost happiness:
The first 5 activities are part of the “Daily habits” section in this book.
Notice that material possessions are not on this list. Materialism lowers happiness. For example, buying a Ferrari is a thrill that wears off quickly. Then it takes a bigger purchase to get the same thrill.
Money doesn’t buy happiness—it buys freedom.
Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who theorized that people must satisfy basic needs before moving to higher needs.
Survival: air, water, food, shelter, sex, sleep
Safety and security: law and order, healthcare, financial security
Love and belongingness: family, friends
Esteem: freedom, independence, respect, status
Maslow’s self-actualization concept was inspired by ancient Greek philosophy. For example, Aristotle proposed that true happiness arises from eudaimonia, being true to one’s daimon or inner self. In Aristotle’s view, you should develop what is best within you. Then use your talents in service of humanity.
It is quite true that man lives by bread alone—when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on.
Meaning of life
People with a purpose in life are happier and live longer. How do you find your purpose?
In his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams says that “follow your passion” is terrible advice because passion usually follows success rather than causing it.
Instead, Adams suggests focusing on things that energize you. For example, some people are energized by talking. Others by reading or making things. Notice what energizes you and develop that talent.
What feels like play to you, but looks like work to others?
Another way to discover your purpose is asking your subconscious mind. In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends an exercise called “Morning Pages”. Every morning, write 3 pages by hand. Write whatever comes to mind—no filter. Over time, your subconscious will tell you what you need to know.
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
The secret of happiness is: find something more important than you are, and dedicate your life to it.
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Happiness was associated with income (effect sizes = 1.39 for life satisfaction and 0.47 for positive affect); social support (effect sizes = 0.77 for life satisfaction and 0.59 for positive affect); ability to meet basic needs (effect sizes = 0.56 for life satisfaction and 0.26 for positive affect); and health (effect sizes = 0.34 for life satisfaction and 0.32 for positive affect)
Marital status had a small effect on happiness (effect sizes = 0.05 for life satisfaction and 0.12 for positive affect)
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A meta-analysis of 9 studies with 47,750 twin-family individuals found that heritability of satisfaction with life was 32%
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The association was stronger in developing countries (effect size = 0.42) vs. developed countries (effect size = 0.34)
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Activities and attitudes
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Eating >3 servings/day of fruits and vegetables was associated with highest happiness
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A meta-analysis of 38 studies with 5,223 participants found that gratitude improved quality of relationships (effect size = 0.51)
Gratitude also increased grateful mood (effect size = 0.31), well-being (effect size = 0.30), happiness (effect size = 0.25), grateful disposition (effect size = 0.23), and optimism (effect size = 0.22)
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A meta-analysis of 15 studies found that forgiveness reduced stress and distress (effect size = 0.66), anger and hostility (effect size = 0.49), and depression (effect size = 0.37)
Forgiveness also increased positive affect (effect size = 0.29)
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Meaning of life
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A meta-analysis of 94 studies found that harmonious passion increased intrinsic motivation (effect size = 0.57), flow (effect size = 0.51), positive affect (effect size = 0.41), life satisfaction (effect size = 0.39), and deliberate practice (effect size = 0.39)
Harmonious passion occurs when an activity aligns with a person’s values and goals
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