Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is Happiness a Choice?

Over the last couple of days, I've been enlightened by some of the wonderful exchange of ideas that we've had on the blog. In particular, I've come to a conclusion that I believe will sound like complete anathema to many who are avid fans and enthusiasts of the Berkshire version of the philosophy created by Bruce DiMarsico (and come as no surprise to others). Here we go...
News Flash: If you're actively putting into practice the Bruce's philosophy and applying it to daily situations, then you absolutely, positively do not believe that happiness is a choice.
Pretty cool, huh? Now, before you protest (I'm assuming that I'm not the only one for whom this is news). Let me explain.

As I mentioned yesterday, Bruce DiMarsico described his Option Method as "the 'second best method' for becoming happier." The best method is simply to choose happiness. However, Bruce discovered that most people can't grok the best method, so he created Option.

In his philosophical framework, beliefs are a choice, not happiness. By changing our beliefs, we can indirectly change our happiness. The idea of exploring and understanding beliefs is much more palatable and accessible to most of us than the idea of simply changing how we feel. Although, we might struggle with how to go about breaking down a belief into its component elements, logical constructs and assumptions, most of us don't see the process as impossible (especially with the help and guidance of someone else).

So, if beliefs are a choice, then what has happiness got to do with it? In the philosophical framework, happiness is not a choice, but an experience. One that can be desired or not desired. If you desire to experience happiness, but simply can't get there, then the philosophy can help you become an expert in uncovering, disassembling and reassemblingthe beliefs that drive your experience of happiness, beliefs being something that you can comprehend and change.

So, if you're unhappy and pursuing a dialogue to help you become happier, in that moment you're actively believing that happiness is not a choice: otherwise you would just decide to be happy. Isn't that cool?

Why Does this Matter
Recognizing that the philosophy is for people who do not believe (at least operationally) that happiness is a choice is important on several fronts.

Wanting Something Other than What We're Doing
First, I have know idea regarding folks who've learned the philosophy from Bruce, but people who've learned the philosophy in the Berkshires quite frequently use 'want' as an indictment (even if lovingly so). When someone says, "I don't want to be angry right now; I just am!", you'll often hear, "That's not true! If you wanted not to be angry, then you wouldn't be angry. Therefore, you must want to be angry."

This form of response is fine, it just has no place in the philosophy. In fact, applying the philosophy begins with the recognition of undesired emotions and responses, i.e., emotions and responses that you actively do and yet do not want to do. If you could simply change your emotions and responses through desire alone, you wouldn't need the philosophy. If on the other hand, you're never allowed to want something other than what you're actually doing, you'd never start the philosophy.

So, all you folks that have bought into "if you're doing it, you must want to be doing it", well, that's just a nonstarter.

Choosing Happiness in Retrospect
Second, for most of us, really grokking that happiness is a choice is a post-philosophy phenomenon. It's not something that we start with, it's something that we end with. And even then, most of us still don't really buy it, we still use the philosophy to become happier rather than simply choosing happiness.

So, if you wanted to share the philosophy with someone whose never heard of it, starting with the premise that happiness is a choice is probably not the best way to establish common ground or mutual understanding. Especially since, by virtue of the fact that you're practicing the philosophy yourself, you don't actually believe that happiness is a choice; you believe that beliefs are a choice.

For someone who unfamiliar with all this, regardless of how you present it, 'happiness is a choice' is easily viewed as an indictment. You know, "Shit, even my unhappiness is all my fault!"

The Path We Follow
Third, the 'what you do is what you want' assumption sets you on a path that leads to really different results than you would get were you to start with the assumption that you are doing things that you don't want. Starting with the latter will get you to the core of what's going on much more quickly than starting with the former. Starting with the former can lead to endless cycles around something that you've already decided you can't do, i.e., simply decide to be happy.

The Role of Intention
Closely related to want is intention. By recognizing that we can actually experience emotions that we don't want, we can better understand our intentions and beliefs.

Quite frequently, our undesired emotions are a second order effect of beliefs focused on some other activity and intention. For example, your intention might be helping your children to grow and develop in a way that will be most useful to them. As you work to do this, you may experience frustration, fear and anger in the moment as your children behave in ways inconsistent with your beliefs regarding their progress towards these goals.

If you respond to your children in that moment with anger, one might say that it was your intention is to respond angrily. Alternatively, if you take a longer view of intention, you would see that your intention is actually to be loving and supportive of your children, but that due your beliefs regarding that intention, your actions in the moment are inconsistent with or even opposite to that intention. So, the direct correlation of actions and intentions can be misleading or confusing if your goal is to become happier.

In fact, keeping in mind that you have best of intentions (regardless of what you've done) can be a great starting point for becoming happier. Sometimes, just that recognition will do the trick.

As I get clearer about this, it seems that the idea that our emotions are not something we do, but instead, are side effects of beliefs that are inturn tied to seemingly unrelated intentions is at the core the method. Within the framework, it's quite reasonable to do or experience something that you don't intend or want to do or experience.

Isn't that cool.

Maybe it's just me and none of this is news to anyone else, but I'm really excited to get clearer on this distinction.
  1. Happiness is a choice.
  2. For people who don't believe that happiness is a choice (at least from an applied, practical perspective) there's the philosophy.
Within the philosophical framework:
  1. Happiness and unhappiness are not choices or actions; they're simply experiences
  2. We can be unhappy and simultaneously want to be happy
  3. Our happiness and unhappiness are tied to our beliefs about situations, events and stimuli
  4. With a little help, we can learn how to breakdown our beliefs, understand them and then reconstruct them
  5. As we rebuild our beliefs, we change our experience of happiness and unhappiness
OK, not much time this morning, so that's my thoughts for today. Bring it on.



    1. Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more with most of it! As has been my habit lately, I will add some orthodox Bruce. Please allow me to paraphrase, since I am too lazy this morning to look up all my source quotes:

      People are indeed always doing what they want. But, some things are wanted on the basis of being in touch with our perfect freedom, and some things are wanted because we (incorrectly) believe they are necessary for our happiness.

      So, when someone ways, "I don't want to be angry", they mean a) they DO want to be angry, but only because they believe it is necessary to be angry for their ultimate happiness, and b) being imperfectly in touch with, but not completely out of touch with, their inherent perfect freedom, they are aware that if they didn't believe it was necessary to be angry, they wouldn't be.

      The point of the Option Method as Bruce taught it, strictly speaking, is not to question beliefs broadly, but to specifically question beliefs in necessity ("should", "must", "have to", "obliged to", etc.). When someone has the insight that what they believed to be necessary isn't, they may appear to have the identical belief as before, but it is from their freedom. "I have to" can become either "I still want to, but happily", "I want to do something else", or "It's no longer relevant to me".

      As Bruce said, you can always pretend to be unhappy. So, using one of his examples, instead of being angry at a bureaucrat who was obstructing you, after using the Option Method you might still choose to pretend to be angry, or otherwise be extremely forceful, but from your happiness. Or you might not, but either way, you’d be in touch with your freedom.

      The lynchpin of unhappiness is the belief that anything is necessary for happiness. Ultimately, all unhappy beliefs rest on a specific case of this belief, and any other detail about a belief except the “necessary for happiness” part, is ultimately irrelevant.

    2. WOOHOO ~~~~~~Lets choose to 'make-believe' every day as "appreciation day" free hugs for everyone WOOHOO. :)----Like I recall Bears sharing his chuckling reflections on being the one that 'makes the sun come up,' in the morning, and makes the awesome-nest sunsets one can imagine.....WOOOHOOO bw

    3. I have to say.... for the first time in a long time... My head actually hurts as I read this blog. I am happy about the pain because for me it is an indication of important brain matter stretching. An example of my understanding or misunderstanding is that I am experiencing a happy pain because I belive brain stretching is good unlike the unhappiness I am feeling at the same time about my lower back pain due to the beliefs I hold about my current physical health. Similiar stimulus, completely different experience. On another note, I think you clearly articulated one of the latest struggles I expressed last time we met "I intellectually understand it, but I am not doing it, my head and heart are not working together." Better stated: "I want something but I am not doing it". I bought into "if you're doing it, you must want to be doing it" and so I kept going in circles, my version of "non-starting". Focusing on reconstructing beliefs vs continually trying to understand why I am not doing what I want to do even though I am doing what I want to do (circle, circle, circle) makes a whole lot more sense to me.

    4. Hi Ari
      I love your comments -great input.

      I like to also question wants - a great way to be clear about my choises. And happiness - to make it easier to chose it more often...


    5. Kathy, as i reflect on the numerous 'pains' felt in the body, I've found ala Option-think, it useful to process this as my body attempting to communicate to me. In various degrees I choose to seek friendship, harmony....and so I tend to acknowledge it as an opportunity, and express gratitude for my body talking to me as it is meant to, reminding me something requires attention or change towards the harmony and pleasure it is designed to provide. (the natural, Garden of Eden state.)

      Resistance, denial, of this natural state of pleasure our body is wanting for us to acknowledge, I find is the usual percursor to experiencing various states of fear/stress....continuing inbalance, dis-ease.

      When we choose to get distressed, real unhappy, about our body being friends with us, it will naturally, as another alternative, provide an expedient way of us leaving this plane of existance.

      We are free to make our choices, in our relationship with our bodies, and our bodies simply respond on what kind of answers we give it. IMHO BW


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