How can I be happy?
This seems to be one of the biggest and most common questions of the present day.
There has been a 48% rise in anxiety and depression in children in the past 15 years, suicide in the ages ranging between 10-14 is up by 300% in the past 10 years, 65% of people say that they have experienced a mental health problem and only 13% of people are actually experiencing a high level of good mental health. With one’s own happiness being the main focus we have to ask ourselves if ‘How can I be happy?’ is the question that we should really be asking.
I recently read the book ‘Leaders eat last’ by Simon Sinek, in which he reports what is happening in our bodies biochemically when we experience emotions such as happiness, love, and stress. I found this information ground-breaking as, not only did it provide clear and simple direction to move towards not only happiness but also joy, but it also aligns with what I regard to be spiritual truths. I am going to relay the most important points that he covered in relation to this topic.
We have 4 chemicals in the body that are responsible for making us feel good.
The first two chemicals are to be considered to be the selfish chemicals being that we can release these chemicals all by ourselves.
The function of endorphins is to mask pain. This is something that you would have experienced during exercise and during a time when our body will be put under a lot of physical stress. We actually feel good until it wears off and we feel the effects later on that day. This is the same when we laugh, that’s why we feel good when we laugh and it is because we are actually squeezing our internal organs, therefore when you run out of endorphins it actually starts to hurt. In a primal setting, this would be useful to help us hunt for a long time without giving up so that no one had to starve. It allowed you to feel good so that you actually want to go again the next day. This is why some people get addicted to exercise.
Here we have the 21st centuries favourite and most destructive addiction. It is responsible for helping us achieve short term goals. It is the reason why we would have gone a collected food before we actually got hungry so that we didn’t starve. It helps us to feel good as we make progress. Dopamine should come with a warning label because it is highly, highly addictive. When nothing was too convenient this was fine, but now we have all kinds of things that can give us a quick hit of dopamine, such as Alcohol, nicotine, drugs, gambling, work goals and no surprise our mobile phones. Every buzz, flash, scroll and like is getting us high for a very short and unfulfilling period of time.
A.D.D and A.D.H.D. diagnoses have gone up by 60% and suicide rates have increased by 56% in the past 10 years. Are to starting to see a pattern? Simon does not believe that these statistics are a coincidence. He believes these are a misdiagnosis due to an epidemic of distractibility, not allowing anyone to focus on anything long term with any real meaning. I know that I have personally felt the consequences of this.
One point that I like about this is fundamentally we are all addicted to the same thing. So many of us get hung up on the identification of a specific addiction and create separation between us. One that I have commonly observed is an alcoholic calling someone who uses drugs a druggy. I’ve even seen people on prescription drugs calling illicit drug user druggies. Similarly, a shopping addict or gambler might put down both of the others because they don’t get their dopamine in a specific manner and their ego would have them believe that they are better for not using drugs when in fact we are all addicted to the same thing. Dopamine.
This seems like an opportunity to connect as we are all clearly in the same boat.
The next two chemicals are the selfless chemicals because we can’t get them without the help of others.
Serotonin is the leadership chemical that is responsible for pride, status and happiness. When we have this in our system our confidence goes up. Not only do you get it when you are proud of yourself, but when others are proud of you, they will get some too. In alpha males or females, most serotonin will be present. This doesn’t always mean that they will be the strongest but they will be the most capable and confident in their specific field. In caveman times they might have been the strongest but in modern times it might be an I.T. technician that is the most capable of doing their job.
One thing is common amongst these leaders… they are all prepared to make the most sacrifices, hence the title of his book: ‘Leaders eat last’. Anthropologically in order to be a leader, you must be prepared to sacrifice yourself at any cost to ensure the safety of your circle of trust. This relationship with their sacrifice will give them a long-lasting and sustainable amount of serotonin and allow the entire group to feel safe.
The problem with the modern-day is that we can trick the release of serotonin by attempting to raise our status by buying a new car on finance or a new pair of jeans. It makes us feel really good as we drive down sunset boulevard in our new BMW. The problem is that we have no relationship with hard work and sacrifice so the feeling is hollow and unfulfilling. It easy to see how you can get addicted to this false pride.
Oxytocin is the feeling of love, trust, and friendship. It’s a feeling of safety and it’s that warm fuzzy feeling that we get inside. We get it from physical contact such as hugs and handshakes and selfless acts of generosity.
And again, sacrifice is required. Donating £100 to charity to build a well in Africa is a really nice thing to do and you would feel good but not compared to going to Africa to do it yourself and meeting the people you were helping. This would provide a much greater, wider spread and long-lasting feeling because of the sacrifice you have made. Money can be earnt again but the time spent is spent! You can’t get that back… ever, therefore this is a true sacrifice.
The great thing about it is that it is not just you that gets a hit. The more you sacrifice to help others the more oxytocin you will get, not only that the one that you help will get a hit and the ones that hear about what you’ve done will get some too. The chances are the ones that witness and hear about this will go on to do something nice too. It is good for everyone and it continues to spread far and wide.
Not only that
- it inhibits addiction, yes you heard right! Where there is enough oxytocin present it is far harder to be addicted to things!
- boosts creativity
- and boosts your immune system
Best day ever right?
Cortisol is our fight or flight survival system. We all know this and most of us feel the effect of this chemical daily despite there not being any need to fight anyone or fly anywhere. It is truly a blessing when our life depends on it but when it is not necessary what is going on and why is it present in our system and ruining our lives.
The truth of that matter is that if we are anxious there is cortisol in our system and it is because we feel unsafe.
Symptoms of excessive cortisol levels can be
- Excessive glucose in muscles, causing stiffness
- People around you feeling nervous
- Growth hormone not being produced (bad news for gym junkies)
- The Immune system shuts down
- Oxytocin can’t be produced
I don’t need to tell you how bad high cortisol levels are for your health all round, not only due to the obvious health warnings but mainly for the fact that oxytocin can no longer be produced. If you are anxious all the time then you may want to consider whether your environment supports you. And whether the people around you have your best interests at heart, especially in a working environment, friendships or your intimate relationship, being as this is where most of your time is spent. Things can be a little complicated here if you struggle with trusting people and maybe this is a delicate area that needs to be examined with professional help due to trauma, but in general cases trust needs to be extended to others before it can be earnt so be brave. If everything is looking good then maybe your selfish desires need to be examined as I found out mine did.
Here are some images demonstrating levels of chemicals in the body linked to emotions.
I don’t know about you but anxiety looks like a shit show
I don’t know if you’ve noticed the trend yet but, in my opinion, ‘How can I be happy?” should probably not be the question that you are asking.
Feeling good really is a simple equation in terms of what you need chemically in your body. In every case, there was a requirement of the sacrifice of selfish desires. So clearly we see that without these sacrifices it is not possible to feel good, therefore we must figure out how we can be of service to something higher than ourselves.
In every spiritual text and yes that does include Christianity (as medieval and unrelatable as it is at times). Jesus said you cannot serve two masters for you will love one and hate the other. This didn’t use to mean anything to me but finally, it makes sense as through meditation I have learned that we can only direct our focus to one singular thing. We most often direct our attention to what we want, which means that the only thing in the entire universe that we are serving is ourselves. This is a cortisol fuelled nightmare and it is the life of any addict. We place our service in the bottle, bag, wrapper, store, partner, roulette tables or whatever demon we have fallen in the service of.
I have been in search of universal truth and happiness for a long time. I was always freaked out by questions such as:
- What happens after you die?
- Where is the edge of the universe and how can there be nothing after that?
- What is the meaning of life?
With the material world ever-changing everything that I attempted to hold on to or take shelter in either disappeared, killed me slowly or cause me to suffer. I attempted to take shelter beneath the temporarily blanket of a drug. No surprise after a couple of years it started to express signs that it was, in fact, going to put me in the grave and cause me to intermittently suffer the whole way there.
I left England to escape my vice 6 years ago and since then I have served many things since including, sobriety, sugar, my boss, money and more and each and every time I have been left unfulfilled and still with cortisol running through my veins. I have been incredibly disconnected at times with the feeling that I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.
About a year ago I started practising bhakti-yoga. I stumbled upon a retreat through a friend. It ran for 4 days so I had no choice to immerse myself in the practise. It was there that they explained to me that it was not a business model involving middle-class mums doing stretches with the heating turned up way too high. They explained to me that yoga is a system that has been around for 5000 years and despite there being many types they all have one goal. Yoga means union and that union is formed by connecting your own consciousness (awareness) to God.
The word God can really freak some people out. Believe me, I know, as an ex-atheist/agnostic. I was fortunate to have had an incredibly profound and surreal experience when a friend passed that could not be ignored. If it wasn’t for this I don’t know if I would have come to the conclusion that I have.
If you struggle with this concept then just consider. In life, we only see what we focus on. If you own a red Ford Fiesta you notice every red Ford fiesta you drive past. If you do not look for something the odds are that you will not see it.
The observer effect
Physicists have found that even passive observation of quantum phenomena (by changing the test apparatus and passively ‘ruling out’ all but one possibility), can actually change the measured result. A particularly famous example is the 1998 Weizmann experiment. Despite the “observer” in this experiment being an electronic detector—possibly due to the assumption that the word “observer” implies a person—its results have led to the popular belief that a conscious mind can directly affect reality.
Not only do we only see what we focus on, which has been proved to change atomically under observation, but we perceive reality through our blunt material senses, which only see from infra-red to ultra-violet. I don’t suggest that anyone gets too dogmatic but to remain open-minded to universal truths of which there can only be one version of and are no doubt present in all “religious” texts. I put religious in speech marks because traditionally religion meant that which is absolute and unchangeable. By nature, the material world is ever-changing. Every cell in the body is regenerated every 7- 15 years which means that what you think is you is literally not the same as it used to be. Even your brain has been replaced. The question remains, who am I? Even your identity changes. I am a baby, I am an adult, I am a footballer, I am a lawyer, I am a husband. All of these things that we identify with are changing and often just an idea so what is absolute. The idea is that if we strip away air, water, earth, fire, ether, mind, false ego, and our astral body what will be left is our soul which is eternal and unchangeable. This is the same energy as what all living things are made of. It has other names such as spirit or consciousness and if you strip a material body of this then is can’t live. This is what was originally meant by the term religion. It is also when we identify by any of these material things we always suffer because it constantly changes and we have to keep letting go of the old ideas. If we can learn to identify with our soul we can be stable and feel safe for it does not change.
In the 5000-year-old ancient Indian texts it is stated that absolutely everything is operating under god and that god is present in everything (Probably not a man with a beard in the clouds). I used to think of god-like the windows XP or Mac OS X for the universe). But, if you can’t get your head around that word just replace it with the word universe just for this exercise because most people seem to be able to pallet that or ask it for something when they are desperate. Either way, we are looking for the source so that we can nip our problems in the bud. Addiction is the opposite of connection so it is obvious that what we need is connection to be happy. It also seems that if this source of energy/god/the universe is connected to all things then by connecting to this then it is the highest level of connection possible. The absolute antithesis of addiction and selfish behavior.
I’ve gone off on one here but I needed to stress the scale of what the word is supposed to represent. If you chose to place your devotion (as suggested by what seems to be a universal truth that coincidentally appeared in text all over the planet at different times) to God then you serve everything, therefore, forming a connection with everything. This requires a complete sacrifice of our selfish desires but as the science suggests this is the path to not only happiness but joy.
Anyway, it seems mental doesn’t it. How can giving up what you want to do to help other people and expect nothing in return be good for you? I look at it this way. The unconscious meaning of life to most people is to go to work and then engage in activities that bring pleasure to the senses in one way or another. I also adopted this system for most of my life and it failed me and once I started going deep into the realm of mental health and speaking to people from all walks of life, I could barely find someone who is actually happy.
The picture below shows the senses represented by the 5 horses, pulling the mind (the reigns which have no choice and connect to the intelligence, note how the mind has no control when pulled by the senses.) The person holding the reigns represents intelligence and the soul is in the chariot.
Notice how the soul is having a proper shit time of it. I mean honestly zoom in on that face. As soon as we let sense pleasures rule our life we have no control over anything.
The surrender experiment
I just split up with my girlfriend, I am living in a van, I know hardly anyone in the area and my family are on the other side of the world in a place that I feel unsafe to go to because of drugs. I have no job at the minute and reached a place of desperation a long time ago so I don’t feel like I have many other avenues left to explore. I have plenty of reasons to feel sorry for myself but I refuse to so have decided to do a ‘surrender experiment’. I decided to dedicate an entire month to the service of others. That involves helping with whatever I see anyone needs until I need to rest or recover and making sure that I remain fit for duty. The first thing I did was go to a yoga retreat centre to fix some things for free. I fixed what needed to be done without asking they fed me and asked me if I would like to join in with their program. From there I was invited to their centre in the city where I was offered accommodation and again asked to join in with their program. I was exposed to some amazing things and got an insight into a fascinating culture. I was not asked but again I offered my services, fixing things, washing up and whatever I could, still expecting nothing. I was fed the most wholesome and delicious food imaginable and kindly a woman asked me if I would like to do some reading where she helped me to learn some of the philosophies. I joined her out on the street where they were selling some of their books where I spoke to a stranger on the street about the program. This for me is a big deal and not something that I can do with cortisol in my system. I carried on with the same attitude over the next day and during the middle of the next day whilst walking down the street I noticed something. I was grinning from ear to ear. I was so confused! I had not experienced anything like it for years, and especially not sober. I literally could not stop smiling, I felt great! They have asked me to go back and volunteer for two months. Normally the idea of going to volunteer for something I would avoid like the plague, especially for anything longer than a few hours but I can’t wait!
Not to say that you need to do anything so extreme. It is tricky to balance but if you go to work do it to provide a service to better serve your customers not just for money. If you go to the gym do it to be healthy and fit for service not to get a 6 pack to pull the birds or a peachy bum for the lads, if you have to destroy something make sure that it is for the purpose of making something better.
Everyone is probably aware that Narcotics and Alcoholics Anomalous developed a 12 steps program to rehabilitate people from drugs and alcohol addictions and can be applied to any form of addiction. Russel Brand rephrased the 12 steps in his book recovery so that they may be more easily translated by millennials.
They go like this.
- Are you a bit fucked?
- Could you not be fucked?
- Are you on your own going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?
- Write down all the things that are fucking you up or have ever fucked you up and don’t lie, or leave anything out.
- Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how fucked you are.
- Well, that’s revealed a lot of fucked-up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?
- Are you willing to live in a way that is not all about you and your previous, fucked up stuff? You have to.
- Prepare to apologise to everyone affected by your being so fucked up.
- Now apologise unless it would make everything worse.
- Watch out for fucked up behavior and thinking and be honest about it when it happens.
- Stay connected to your new perspective.
- Look at your life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.
There are a few elements here that I believe are clearly linked to universal truths.
- The first thing that I notice was the element of honesty required. There was never a lie not told in fear and if you are fearful then you are not loving. It then seems obvious that if we are to be happy then we must tell the truth and as Jesus nicely put it “The truth will set you free”. This is something that I have been practising for a while now and I couldn’t believe how often I was inclined to tell a lie even if I thought it to be in someone’s best interest. If you think that by lying to someone it can be from a place of love because you are in fear that you are going to hurt them then you are wrong. If something is destructive and unnecessary probably best to keep your mouth shut. Whilst it might be hard to do this short term in the long-term people will know who you are and where they stand with you, things will be transparent and you won’t have to worry about the spiderweb of bullshit you create every time you tell a lie.
- In number 9 there is an element of Karma where you apologise to everyone for all of the harm that your selfish behaviour has caused. Karma is a big topic and I highly recommend reading chapter 3 (Karma Yoga) of the Bhagavad-Gita (as it is version with the commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami Brabhupada) but the general idea is that if you do something bad you get bad karma and if you do something good you get good karma. This is common knowledge but what I was unaware of is that this is a system based on expectation of material desires and if we receive karma, we will also suffer from it as it comes from a selfish material attachment. We only get good karma if we do something with the expectation of something for it which is inherently self-centred. The idea is that you act without any expectation of material return and you will be freed from suffering. That is very general and imperfect knowledge so if you find that interesting please read it yourself.
- Here is the biggest part. AA and NA say that if someone who has done this program fails to do step 12 then they will fail and relapse into addiction.
Just to be clear…
No service, No oxytocin, No deal!
I woke up this morning with a fine for sleeping in my van which has not been properly certified, anxiety started to creep in but I focused on my service got out my laptop and continued the write this for you. During the second edit charging my laptop flattened my van so now I have to find someone to jump-start my van. (still smiling) 🙂
And I am grateful that I am able to be of service to you and I will continue to do so. I am also grateful for your feedback and humbled when someone reaches out to me and opens up about something that is difficult for them to talk about. If you are having a difficult time and feel disconnected and isolated please send me a message.
A long time ago I remember reading something about how the belief in a higher power increased your chances of recovering from chemotherapy and the statistics being well in the favour of faith. I couldn’t find it but whilst looking I did find this.
“Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego and service is the work of the soul.”
Love and fear can’t exist in the same place and if love is service then serve your highest purpose with all of your heart.
Love = Service
The question that we should be asking is… How can we serve?
Keep on trucking
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