When I listen to people talk about happiness, I am listening for signs of six popular happiness paradigms. The first four paradigms are commonly expressed by people who believe that happiness exists outside them; the fifth paradigm is commonly expressed by people who believe that happiness exists inside them; and the sixth paradigm is adopted by people who experience happiness as beyond the duality of inner or outer. These people experience happiness as a quality of their essential self.
For each paradigm, I have included a “Red Flag” that highlights a possible block to happiness, and also a “Joy Mantra” that is designed to help you be more open to a greater experience of happiness now.
Paradigm #1: The Achievement Paradigm
This paradigm is driven by a belief that happiness is a by-product of effort, action, and doing. Apparently, happiness does not exist naturally; it is something you must accomplish. A magazine article with a title like “10 Ways to Achieve More Happiness” appeals to people who adopt this paradigm. The ticket to life is in achievement, in the work ethic, and in “making things happen.”
Red Flag: This paradigm overlooks the happiness that is effortless and that exists before you set about ticking off your to-do list.
Joy Mantra: Joy is the organic state of your soul; it is not something you achieve; it is something you accept.
Paradigm #2: The Possession Paradigm
A journalist e-mailed me yesterday asking me to contribute to an article on happiness. One of her questions was, “What advice would you give to someone who wants to get more joy out of life?” Key words to listen for in this possessing paradigm are words like “having,” “manifesting,” and “attracting.” Happiness is related to as an external object, as an “It” or a “thing” that you can find and keep.
Red Flag: To borrow from the great psychologist Erich Fromm, this paradigm encourages a “having mode” rather than a “being mode.”
Joy Mantra: Joy is not in things; it is who you are.
Paradigm #3: The Reward Paradigm
According to this paradigm, happiness is not natural; it has to be earned and deserved. Apparently, it is a medal you win for being good enough, for being responsible, and for succeeding at something. Happiness is a cosmic Oscar bestowed on the worthy. But bestowed by whom or what? Some say by God; I say by your superego, which is the little voice inside your head that drives you on and on and on.
Red Flag: You deny yourself any feeling of happiness until you earn a lifetime recognition award-hopefully not posthumous.
Joy Mantra: Joy is a recognition, not a reward.
Paradigm #4: The Destination Paradigm
Another name for this paradigm is “The Searching Paradigm.” This paradigm is about “looking for love,” and hoping to “find my purpose,” and a belief in the “pursuit of happiness.” The focus is on the future, and the language is about “becoming happy” rather than “being happy.” Apparently, happiness is a finishing line you will cross someday. It’s all about “getting there.”
Red Flag: The more you strive and search for happiness, the more you overlook the possibility that it is here already.
Joy Mantra: The way to get to happiness is to be there already.
Paradigm #5: The Choice Paradigm
People who adopt this paradigm relate to happiness as a state of mind. Happiness is cognitive and affective. They talk about “inner peace,” they experience “joy within,” they believe that you can “choose your life,” and they advocate that “happiness is an inside job.”
Red Flag: What happens to joy when you have a toothache or aperiod pain? Is the joy still there, or does it only exist because you choose it?
Joy Mantra: Joy is a way of being, not just a state of mind.
Paradigm #6: The Identity Paradigm
People who experience happiness as a “way of being,” as “a simple harmony,” and as “our true nature” favor this paradigm. They relate to happiness as an impersonal potential, shared by all, that infuses the whole of creation-on both the inside and the outside of a person. Wordsworth put it well when he said, “I saw one life and felt that it was joy.” In this paradigm happiness is sometimes referred to as a “frequency,” an “energy,” or a “harmonic.”
Red Flag: This idea is too big for your ego “to get”; in fact, it has nothing to do with your ego.
Joy Mantra: The soul is JOY
Excerpted from my book, Be Happy.