Leading a Fulfilled and Happy Life
This Essay tells how people can lead Fulfilled and Happy lives by following the Spiritual Path of Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos. Every year, popular new self-help books come out selling some easy-fix way to reach personal fulfillment. Unlike these books, we will not oversimplify the process of personal growth. Since the Book of Continuing Creation is based on Nature, Reason, and Science, our advice about conducting a Fulfilled Life will be consistent with those three things. Therefore, readers will see that much of our advice in this Essay follows common sense and common knowledge – neither of which is easy to practice.
- What is Continuing Creation? See our Overview Essay on this same website.
- Examples of popular, over-simplified self-help books include The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, The Magic of Thinking Big, by David Schwartz, The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, and The Untethered Soul by Alan Singer.
Many platitudes and folk wisdom, such as “See the glass half full, not half empty,” have been around a long time because they are useful and applicable in real life… but they are not true in every situation. Fulfillment, like most things in life, involves compromise, moderation, and balance.
Our aim is to “tell it like it is.” For example, we hold that happiness and fulfillment usually depend on good health. Exercise, sleep, and diet are all important for good health. In the arena of diet, we don’t advocate vegetarianism or the paleo-diet. We advocate a balanced diet because that is the diet that science has proven to be most beneficial for most people.
Here is the essence of Leading a Fulfilled and Happy Life on the Path of Continuing Creation:
— Harbor no fear, carry no anger.
— Be creative and productive.
— Share love.
What is Fulfillment?
There is a continuum of emotion running from Pleasure… to Happiness… to Fulfillment. What do these three words mean? Pleasure is sensory and also fleeting. Happiness lasts longer, implies inner contentment, and usually involves positive relationships with other people. Fulfillment is mental and spiritual.
Fulfillment lasts. The difference between happiness and fulfillment is the difference between liking something and loving something, where “loving” means a committed, positive and personal involvement with some person, principle, or creative endeavor. Like happiness, fulfillment usually (but not always) includes having positive relationships with other people. (For a more complete discussion of Love, see our Essay, Love’s Role in Our Spiritual Practice.)
Fulfillment includes the long-term satisfaction of attaining goals, making a positive contribution, building something new (including your personal wisdom). We don’t necessarily find happiness in our jobs, but we can still be fulfilled by our work if it makes us feel part of something bigger and more important than ourselves. At a minimum, Fulfillment means having done your best with the cards you were dealt.
Because Our Practice is one of active and creative involvement in the Processes of Continuing Creation, Fulfillment also includes actualization – making one’s human potential become actual in the real world.
A Fulfilled Life Must Be Based on an Ethical and Virtuous Life
The Practice of Continuing Creation holds that a Fulfilled Life must be based on an Ethical (i.e. Moral) and Virtuous Life. Remember that our lives should seek to enhance all three sides of our Moral Triangle: To enhance Continuing Creation, to enhance humanity, and to enhance the biosphere. Consider the paragraph below from our Essay, Leading A Virtuous Life. Here, we have lined through the words “Virtue” and “Virtuous,” and inserted the words “feeling of fulfillment” or “fulfilling.” Yet the paragraph remains just as true:
In Our Practice, productive work that helps people, the environment, or both is virtuous and fulfilling. Work that furthers Continuing Creation (e.g., enhances technology, focuses creative intuition, or increases knowledge) is also virtuous and fulfilling. When productive work simultaneously helps two or even all three of those three things (people, environment, and Continuing Creation), the feeling of Fulfillment from the result is multiplied. Thus, a career that helps people and the environment by adopting and furthering clean-energy technologies and recyclable materials is a calling very well lived.
Is Fulfillment attained just by participating more in life? A common saying is “You get out of it what you put into it.” That is true, except even when putting in only positive things, you may get back a number of negative things. Bad things do happen to good people. Later in this Essay, we’ll discuss “What to Do When Things Go Wrong.”
A fulfilled life is one consists of goals achieved, happiness shared, and a deep spiritual connection attained. How much of those three things is required for Fulfillment? Not much, as long as a person has done their best with the cards they were dealt.
It is never too late to attain a Fulfilled life. If a person admits his or her faults or mistakes and makes amends for them, he or she can begin anew. However, a person who starts late will not be able to build up as long a history of Fulfillment as someone who begins earlier.
The Purpose of a Life on the Path of Continuing Creation
The Book of Continuing Creation says – The purpose of human lives is to contribute to the Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos in ways which preserve and nurture both Earth and the human race. We have that right because our planet, human species, and each human being are a part of Continuing Creation. We have that right because each one of us is a part of the Creative Processes of the Cosmos. In fact, living a Fulfilled and Happy Life is not possible without making our individual positive contributions to these three things: Humanity, Earth, and Continuing Creation.
A Fulfilled life should be rooted in all three sides of our Purpose of Life (which are also the three sides of our Moral Triangle) — people, environment, and Continuing Creation – the same way that architect Frank Lloyd Wright insisted on marrying technology to Nature in his organic architecture. He wrote…
No house [or in our case, no human life] should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill [or in our case, the Moral Triangle]. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each happier for the other.” He also wrote, “Organic buildings [human lives] are the strength and lightness of the spider’s spinning, qualified by light, bred by native character to the environment, married to the ground.” 1
The Four Main Lists of this Essay
Buddhism presents many of its ideas in the form of lists – the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and others. Christianity has the 8 beatitudes, and the three incarnations of God. Judaism has the Ten commandments. Making Lists has proven to be a good way to organize and remember doctrines, and we will also use lists here in this Essay.
Continuing Creation will continually evolve and self-create, with or without humans. But Humans have the opportunity to play an increasing role in deciding how Continuing Creation will evolve, and what those Processes will create. In practice, it is not as difficult as it sounds. We can Achieve a Moral Life by doing the next right thing, and we can achieve a Fulfilled Life in the same way. In both cases, we need to “stay on track.”
Our Essay is divided into discussions of four Lists – A, B, C, and D:
A. Seven Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life
B. Seven Steps of Achievement & Growth
C. Daily Practices
D. Strategies for Life Reorganization, Reformation, Redirection & Renewal
Our Elements, Steps, Practices, and Strategies should all be consistent with the Purpose of our lives, which we have stated just above and in other Essays.
A. Our 7 Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life
- Survival and Health – air, water, food, shelter, warmth, exercise, sex, sleep, metabolic balance, excretion, absence of infection, fitness.
- Safety & Security– Safety and security of body, of loved ones, of property, and of community.
- Belonging & Love – life-partnership (e.g., marriage), family, friendship, work-groups, memberships, citizenship, and Earthship.
- Freedom and Empowerment – The ability to choose where you live, how you make you honest living, your life partner(s), the number of children you have, whom you peaceably associate with, what you say (other than libeling someone or advocating violence), how you spend your time and resources, and your own spiritual path.
- Creating & Achieving – exploration, discovery, learning, accomplishment, mastery, art.
- Enjoyment and Celebration – Possessions, hobbies, fashion, theatre, sports, games, entertainment, novelty, pleasure.
- Connection with Continuing Creation, or The Growing, Organizing, Direction – This seventh Element includes peak experiences of being in the flow, transcendence, actualization, and spiritual-growth. Even during our simple daily activities, the Processes of Continuing Creation are within us, and we are within them. We have heightened experiences of nature, beauty, and wisdom. We perform our tasks and live in our relationships with full attention, calm energy, easy skill, and personal authenticity.
The List of Seven Elements form a hierarchy: generally, the lower-numbered Elements must be in place before the higher-numbered elements can be attained. A person has to Survive (Element #1) before he or she can Achieve or Create (Elements #5, 6, or 7). There are millions of people on Earth today who live in poverty, disease, corruption, violence, war, and slavery. These unfortunates may never have a chance to have health, education, or satisfying work.
In fact, even people of means, ability, and opportunity often fail to attain all Seven Elements, and we will talk about this fact later in the Essay.
Our List of the Seven Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life derive from Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Human Needs,” which has become a landmark principle in the science of Psychology. Maslow listed five human needs when he first published in a1943, but he expanded the list to eight in 1971.
Our List covers the same territory as Maslow, but our List is also more suited to the Creating aspect of life, and less to the personal development concerns of secular psychology. Below, we discuss each of our Seven Elements in more detail.
1. Survival & Health – #1 in Our 7 Elements of a Fulfilled & Happy Life.
“Survival and Health” includes air, water, food, shelter, warmth, sleep, exercise, sex, metabolic balance, excretion, absence of infection, physical vitality, fitness.
We’ll divide the Survival and Health elements into two categories: Physical Health and Mental Health.
The Old Desert Religions had little to say about physical health, except “don’t eat pork or shellfish.” The Hindus said don’t eat meat (but that has more to do with the sacredness of animals than the health of humans). The Buddha correctly taught followers to “follow the Middle Way, avoid asceticism, and eat enough food to sustain the body in full health
The Book of Continuing Creation extends Maslow’s “survival needs” from food, water, and shelter to include the physical vitality and fitness that come with moderate exercise. The mental health of humans also includes positive contact with other humans and periodic rest and relaxation.
Our Practice says: Do not smoke; Do not drink alcohol; Do not take un-prescribed mood-altering drugs. (While some cultures may use peyote, LSD, and other drugs to go on “spiritual journeys,” Our Path holds that the dangers of idle escapism and addiction outweigh any experiences of unity and transcendence that such drugs might bring about. The Path of Continuing Creation is one of active and constructive spirituality, not passive and contemplative spirituality.)
Followers of Continuing Creation (CC) must care for the long-term health of the Earth, which sustains our environment.
Should Followers of CC eat meat? Well, all animals eat other living things – other animals or plants. Humans may have evolved because they ate meat. The extra protein gave them greater endurance, more time to do things other than eat vegetables, more rapidly available muscle strength. For those of us who do eat meat, an important concern is that the animals we eat get to lead natural, healthy, and happy free-range lives – not confined in pens or artificially stuffed with weird foods and antibiotics.
According to a common saying, “If you have your health, you have at least 50% of what life can offer you.” Good health makes the other Five Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy life viable. Hold your body and mind sacred, and do not diminish their effectiveness.
Countless books have been published describing what their authors think is the best exercise program. There are programs of yoga, Pilates, and weight-training. There are aerobic sports, including running, swimming, hiking, basketball, and hiking. All we need do here is point out a few basic truths about exercise:
- Exercise regularly.
- Do stretching before exercise.
- Do some light cardio-vascular exercise to warm up before main exercise.
- Combine cardio-vascular exercise and strength exercises.
- Involve as many of the body’s muscles as possible, perhaps on a rotating basis.
- Let the muscles rest after vigorous exercise.
- Perform your daily tasks (washing the dishes, vacuuming) with mindful attention to the muscle systems you are using. Oppose the active muscles with some resistance, to achieve controlled movement, even “balletic” grace. In this way, even house cleaning can be effective exercise.
- Hold your still positions (sitting, standing) with attention to good posture. “Grip the ground with your feet.” Use your legs and thighs to grip chair you sit in.
It is also important to exercise the mind. For school-age humans, schooling provides mental exercise, while work provides it for most adults. For adults who do repetitive manual labor and also for retired people, mental exercise can be achieved by reading, playing games, exploring, and discussing topics with other people.
We should also practice our Love by expressing it and demonstrating it; and we should regularly exercise our spiritual connection with the Growing Organizing, Direction through meditation and contemplation. We will talk more about Meditation later, when we take up Element #7. (There is also a separate Essay devoted to Meditation and Contemplation.)
Eat Healthy Foods
Avoid sugar, fat, carbohydrates, saturated oils. Eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains. For animal protein, chicken and fish are preferred over beef. Avoid excess salt.
If possible, bathe the body daily or twice per week, and brush the teeth twice a day. Clean our clothing, bedding, and household on a regular weekly or twice-weekly basis.
Avoid “fringe treatments” that are not supported by medical science. Fringe treatments are treatments that have not been approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration, are not recommended by the American Medical Association, and/or are not prescribed or performed by licensed physicians, podiatrists, and dentists.
Fringe treatments include anthroposophy, Christian Science, crystal healing, homeopathy, mesmerism, naturopathy, orgone, osteopathy, parapsychology, phrenology, radionics, reiki, reflexology, aroma therapy, chakra therapy, Asian potions, magic elixirs, apricot-pit powders, Dr. Johnson’s Patent Snake-Oil Tonic (“Good For What Ails ‘Ya”), and many other forms of so-called “Alternative Medicine.”
Note: “The meaning of the term ‘alternative’ in the expression ‘alternative medicine,’ does not mean that it is an effective alternative to medical science, although some alternative medicine promoters may use the loose terminology to give the appearance of effectiveness. The loose terminology of ‘Eastern’ (folk) medicine incorrectly suggests that it is just as effective as ‘Western’ (evidence-based) medicine when in fact it is not.” 2
Note: “The terms ‘Complementary Medicine (CM)’ and ‘Integrative Medicine (IM)’ are used to describe unscientific treatments that are used alongside scientific evidence-based medicine. These terms falsely imply that the complementary treatments are helpful, when there is no scientific evidence that they are.” 3 In fact, significant drug interactions caused by alternative therapies may instead negatively influence treatment, notably in cancer therapy.4 Another example is the use of acupuncture (sticking needles in the body to influence the flow of a supernatural energy), along with using science-based cancer protocols. 5
Mental health greatly affects physical health, and vice versa.
There are a host of serious mental health “disorders,” nearly all of which call for professional diagnosis and treatment by licensed psychiatrists or licensed clinical psychologists.
A quick internet search on “list of mental disorders” reveals a host of ailments, including depression, anxiety, psychosis (schizophrenia and others), dementia, personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, autism spectrum, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, substance abuse, sleep disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dissociative identity disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, narcissistic personality disorder, and substance abuse disorders.
Religions and spiritual paths, including the Path of Continuing Creation, can only help with mild conditions of the two most prevalent “disorders,” depression and anxiety. Spiritual practice can also advance the mental health of people who are already mentally heathy.
In the Spiritual Practice of Our Way, the key is to act your way into a new state of being. “Act as you would like to be, and so shall you become.” Do you lack friends? Act in a more friendly manner. Can’t seem to finish a major project? Break it down into smaller tasks and achieve each of them one by one.
Mental health involves stopping worry. As the Hindu Yogis and Buddhists say, we need to let go of mental “attachments.” Anxiety, part of what Buddhists call dukkha (dissatisfaction or “mental suffering”), comes from worrying about (being attached to) the outcomes of our lives. The solution is to act positively and creatively… and then turn the outcome over to the larger Processes of Continuing Creation.
There are countless sayings about this principle, including, “Let go and Let G>O>D>,” “Just do your best, and let go of the rest,” “One day at a time,” “Live and Let live,” “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” “Plan your work and work your plan,” and “Live in the now.” All of these are admonitions to help us “let go of fear and anger, so that we can share love and show creativity.”
The same principle is expressed in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, and in Chapter 9 of the Tao Te Ching:
The Serenity Meditation for Practitioners of Continuing Creation
May I find in Continuing Creation the Serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can change,
And Wisdom to know the difference.
Chapter 9 of the Tao Te Ching
Fill your bowl to the brim,
And it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
And it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
And your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
And you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
We are only partially in control of our lives. We control our actions, but Continuing Creation controls the outcome.
When we are free from worry, we gain the freedom to act. We also become able to focus and persevere. Thomas Edison tried many, many light bulb filaments before finding the one that worked. We become able to “plan our work and work our plan” and we can see that “a stitch in time saves nine.” If we learn to sidestep worry, we can avoid “Monkey Mind,” where our attention runs chaotically from one “tree” to the next. Steve Jobs demonstrated a high ability to focus his mind and effort, as did Thomas Edison, women’s suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Henry Ford, Pablo Picasso, and cancer researcher Dr. Alfred Knudson.
A young apprentice Zen monk was drawing water and chopping wood at the bottom of a hill. While he worked, he strained to hear the words of the Zen Master who was teaching more senior monks at the top of the hill, but he could not make out the Master’s words. Eventually, the senior monks left the Master alone at the top of the hill. Seeing his opportunity, the young apprentice ran eagerly up the hill and breathlessly asked the Master, “Master! Master!, What is the path to Enlightenment?” The Master paused…and answered the young man by saying, “Draw water, chop wood.”
The wisdom of this story is condensed into the Zen saying attributed to Pang Yun, a lay Zen practitioner of the 8th century, C.E.:
“Miraculous power and marvelous activity — drawing water and chopping wood.”
2. Safety & Security – #2 of Our 7 Elements of a Fulfilled & Happy Life
This Element includes safety and security of our bodies, loved ones, property, and of our community.
It is hard for modern Westerners to comprehend how difficult it is for most of the world’s population to achieve safety and security. Often, when they do get it, it comes at the expense of dictatorship, repression, truth-management and thought control. To see this taking place, we need only look at the countries of Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Venezuela, Russia, and many others.
3. Belonging, Brotherhood, & Love – #3 of Our 7 Elements of a Fulfilled & Happy Life
After meeting our basic needs for sustenance, shelter, safety and security, we are enabled to “harbor no fear carry no anger; to share love and show creativity.
This Element includes the emotional and social attachments in our life-partnerships, family, friendship, work-groups, memberships, citizenship, and Earthship.
“Of all the things that wisdom provides for the happiness of the whole man, by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship.” — Epicurus
Sam Harris, in his book, The Moral Landscape, writes: “Psychologists confirm that people tend to be happier if they have good friends, have basic control over their lives, and enough money to meet their needs. Loneliness, helplessness, and poverty are not recommended.” 6
Even in the worst of times, people have been able to grab what happiness and fulfillment they could. If they were healthy, nourished, and safe (at least some of the time) they could dance at weddings, view the sunset, pet the dog, and enjoy all the other basic pleasures of life.
By “Earthship” in the context of Brotherhood, we mean our relationships with animals, plants, air, water, and climate. Dog owners know that it is quite possible to have a loving relationship with family pets; farmers usually often have an intimate relationship with their land; sailors with the sea.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or Life in the Woods
What is Love?
Love is central in many religions, and it also has a central role in our own Practice of Continuing Creation.
Most people recognize Love as the vital emotion that connects romantic couples or connects parents and children. Christianity models its love of God, and its commandment to “love of your neighbors” on the second of these – the connection between parents and children. (Although, Catholic nuns do become “Brides of Christ” when they take their vows.)
It is not enough to receive love from others. You must also have love for others and give it to others.
However, our definition of Love is broader, and specifically includes people’s dedication to creative and constructive work.
The Book of Continuing Creation’s definition of Love: Having deep, dedicated care for and positive involvement with one or more persons, activities, creatures, causes, or types of work (art, welding, medicine), interests or
activities (astronomy, volunteering, baseball). Many people also love Nature, the Earth, Humanity, and Life itself (which the French call joie de vivre). Finally, people often love the ultimate something that has many names, including God, the Great Spirit, The Creator, the Ultimate, and The Ground of All Being, The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos is a non-theistic variety of that ultimate something.
“Rosie the Riveter”
A Saturday Evening Post cover from WW-2Can we say that Continued Creating itself is a kind of Love? Well, both Love and Creating are positive, they both require energy, and we often love the things that we create. But no, Love and Creating are different. It is possible to love without creating, and it is possible to create without love.
We can ask, “Which came first, Creating or Love?” For people who believe in an anthropocentric Creator-God, Love came first: First God existed and loved, and then He created Earth and its people because of his love.
For people who follow the Path of Continuing Creation, Creating came first – a Creating involving atoms and molecules came first, and love came later with the evolution of sentient minds. In other words, Love emerges after there has been sufficient Creating to generate consciousness. (Emergence is a key Process in the operation of Continuing Creation. (For more about such processes, see our Essay, Complexity and Continuing Creation.)
4. Freedom & Empowerment – #4 of Our Elements of a Fulfilled & Happy Life
Freedoms are required to achieve nearly all six of the other Seven Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life. These include the Freedoms of speech, press, peaceable assembly, travel, occupation, redress of grievances (including the freedom to sue), and freedom to choose and practice a spiritual path. The guarantor of Freedom is the rule of democratically-determined law; including, in the United States, the U.S. Constitution.
Note that President Franklin Roosevelt’s Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear are implied within Elements 1 and 2. However, Maslow’s List of 8 Human Needs doesn’t include an explicit Need for “Freedom.” But the Book of Continuing Creation is conservative enough to know that Freedom, including political Freedom and the rule of law, is hard won and easily lost. We hold that once men and women have known Freedom, it is impossible for them to be happy and fulfilled without it.
5. Creating & Achieving – #5 of Our 7 Elements of Fulfilled and Happy Life.
“To find out what one is meant to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.”
— John Dewey, American Educator, philosopher, and Psychologist
Creating & Achieving include exploration, discovery, learning, accomplishment, mastery, craftsmanship, and art.
Note: This section is about benefits and pitfalls of Creating and Achieving. For advice on how to effectively Create and Achieve, see Section our discussion of the Seven Steps of Achievement and Growth, in Section B below.
Striving versus Strife
Creation and Achievement require effort and striving. There is no Creating without striving. Each of us typically belongs to many groups. We all have conflicting goals, and our minds are divided between individual concerns and concerns for the groups we belong to. In his 2012 book, The Social Conquest of Earth, Harvard Socio-biologist E.O. Wilson argues that this division between competing interests is the source of all human drama, literature, and psychiatry. 7
Without exercise, our bodies weaken. Without mental activity our minds weaken. We don’t want to weaken, we want to strengthen. We are called to what Theodore Roosevelt called “The Strenuous Life – a life of learning, discovery, exploration, creation, construction, reform, progress. Sure, we want things, usually too many things. But few of us would want to take a vow of poverty.
Too often, however, striving becomes strife — internal or external strife. Is it better to take the easy way, accept our lot, and enjoy the simple things of life? No. The best path is to strive with minimum frustration. This is done by fully realizing we are hardly in complete control of our world and our futures.
As we discussed above in our section on mental health, anxiety and frustration can be minimized if we learn to leave the results of our efforts to the Processes of Creation. To repeat what LaoTzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching: “Do your work and then step back. The only way to serenity.” 8 Or as people say today, “Plan for the future, but live in the Now.”
The Tao Te Ching gives us the same message in its Chapter #63:
Act without doing [striving]
Work without effort….
Confront the difficult
While it is still easy;
Accomplish the great task
By a series of small acts.
The Master never reaches for the great;
Thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
She stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
Thus problems are no problem for her.
The Progress Principle
In the field of psychology, the Progress Principle says that “Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.”
Shakespeare captured it perfectly: “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” 9
Addiction to Achieving
A danger of Creating & Achieving is that achieving material and experiential success can become addictive. We easily become addicted to more. A whole “religion of secularity” has arisen around accumulating more things and more fun experiences. (A bumper-sticker of the 1990s made fun of this by saying, “Whoever has the most toys when he dies, wins.”)
We can avoid the addiction to “more” if we remember that we are creating for the sake of Continuing Creation, and not merely for our personal gain. The truly landmark industrialists of history – Edison, Gates, Jobs — were dedicated to creating, not to accumulating. Television host Oprah Winfrey encourages everyone to “find your passion,” meaning that we should do the work that we love doing, provided that this work is in some helpful to others, or at least not harmful.
Ms. Winfrey’s advice concurs with the findings of Positive Psychology, which tell us that individuals derive a positive sense of well-being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something “larger and more permanent than themselves.”
Note: Positive Psychology was preceded in the United States by two important and interrelated social movements: The “Positive Thinking Movement“ and the “Prosperity Gospel.” We discuss both these movements in the Appendix to this Essay.
When people do not have the opportunity to do the work they love, they can often undertake voluntary activities which will significantly increase their levels of happiness.
The social insects — ants, bees and termites — build elaborate nests. What do humans build with our community efforts? The most fundamental thing we build may well be language. As Lewis Thomas writes, “We spend all out time sending messages to each other, talking and trying to listen at the same time, exchanging information. This seems to be our most urgent biological function; it is what we do with our lives… We are becoming a grid, a circuitry around the earth. If we keep at it, we will become a computer to end all computers, capable of fusing all the thoughts of the world into a syncytium.” (A syncytium is a single cell containing several nuclei.) 10
Language permits our construction of buildings, bridges, and technologies. Through the exchange of information, we also build huge edifices of trade, and we have together erected a vast storehouse of interrelated and cross-referenced knowledge. In fact, our brains are likely as large as they are because language (communication) gave us a tremendous competitive advantage over animals who could not communicate as fluently.
Humanity may face a big problem in the not too distant future: When most goods are made by machines; and when most thinking, calculating, designing is done by computers – fewer and fewer humans will be needed to produce the world’s goods and services. So…
- How will the wealth be distributed (“re-distributed”) from the landowners, machine-owners, and information-owners to the rest of the human race?
- What will humans do with their time? Art? Sports? Exploration & discovery (oceans, other planets, history, biology, physics)? Warfare between criminal youth gangs?
- Will the destruction of our atmosphere and biosphere require most of the surviving humans to return to subsistence farming and household solar power?
- Will we by then be able to engineer human brains and bodies so that people are more intelligent or creative or athletic than we are today? But, would the engineering of greater intelligence be an intelligent thing to do?
6. Leisure and Enjoyment – #6 of Our Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life.
“Leisure and Enjoyment” includes fun, entertainment, celebration, hobbies, fashion, theater, sports, social conversation, reflection, wondering, appreciation of Nature, games, drifting, dreaming, and resting.
Lives that are filled with energetic Creating need regular rest and leisure to help us maintain our mental health. Times of rest and leisure allow for renewal of our physical, mental, and spiritual resources.
Every human is entitled, just by having been born, to rest, enjoyment, and leisure during the course of our lives. As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jackie a dull girl.” People require breaks from their work, from their routines. We appreciate a chance to dance and play games; to visit new places and see new things; to be distracted by campfire stories, novels, plays, and movies.
It is also important to have a variety of experiences. “Variety in the spice of life.”
Often, new inspirations and ideas will come during times of rest and relaxation. When the mind is idle, our consciousness is free to roam in new directions, and often makes distant and unusual connections that lead to revolutionary new concepts and inventions.
Sometimes, leisure and rest can be a gateway to a deeper, transcendent wholistic experience. (See our discussion of the Seventh Element, below.)
Is it Fulfilling to Own Possessions? Is it Fulfilling to Acquire Them?
Once the basic Human Needs for food, shelter, safety, and companionship are attained, people can (a) save and invest surplus resources for the future, or (b) spend their time and money on two things: possessions or experiences.
Invested wealth can bring freedom as well as security. Freedom to move, to try new walks of life, to pursue arts and special interests.
Some possessions do bring a fair amount of happiness over a long period of time. They may be gifts from loved ones or reminders of special events. Or they may be viewed as rewards and badges for past effort and achievement.
Wealth can provide Possessions can also enrich some of the other Elements pf a Fulfilled and Happy Life – for example, wealth can enable a person to increase the time spent with her family, to start a school for auto mechanics, or to become a sculptor. Thus, wealth becomes constructive power. In addition, possessions can bring a measure of continuing happiness simply because they are beautiful, or because they are well-made and functional.
People may really be after adventure of shopping and the novelty of the first use. However, new possessions soon become unsatisfying because the novelty of first use wears off. “It’s not the destination, it’s about the journey.” “It’s not about having; it’s about doing.”
The Happiness “Set Point”
Since the 1990’s, social scientists working in the new field of positive psychology have been studying what makes people happy, using formal techniques including experimentation, surveys, meta-analyses of clinical experience, and applied statistics.
This research shows that each individual has a different average level of happiness, called the happiness set-point (also called the hedonic set-point). Some people are naturally (genetically) happier than others. People with a high set-point tend to be, on average, more optimistic and cheerful than people with a low set point.
Pleasant experiences and new possessions can make a person happier for a time, but the effect wears off and people return to their average happiness set-point. 11
Studies also show that “changes in wealth, health, age, marital status, etc. tend not to matter as much as we think they will.” 12 Possessions and power don’t increase happiness very much, and the effects of those things are fleeting. Soon, even lottery winners fall back to their pre-win baseline levels of happiness. Similarly, severely wounded and permanently disabled solders rise up to their pre-trauma baseline levels of happiness. Their “set-point” is pretty happy for some, pretty morose for others, depending on the genes they inherit, not on what happens to them during life. 13
The steadiness of the set-point tells us that our Happiness and Fulfillment are strongly determined by our genetic make-up. Other important factors include how we were raised as children and our friends as children, teens, and young adults.
In the Short Term, Happiness Depends on Comparison
Happiness is often a function of mental comparison.
- We routinely compare ourselves to others. For example, if Mary is an executive who learns that she makes $20,000 less than her co-worker, Jane, of equal rank, then Mary will be unhappy. But if Mary found out that she makes $20,000 more than Jane, she feels good. But suppose Mary has a happy marriage, while Jane is going through a nasty divorce. Or, suppose Mary’s inherited happiness setpoint is well above average, while Jane’s setpoint is well below average. Unfortunately, Mary has no way of knowing everything about Jane. Maybe all salaries and bonuses should be publicly disclosed. In any case, envy is one of the Seven deadly sins. (For more on envy, see our Essay, Leading a Moral Life.)
- The best comparisons to make are to our own past selves. If we have “progressed,” we feel good, and rightly so.
New Experiences Bring More Happiness than New Possessions
Relationships bring more happiness than experiences, and experiences bring more happiness than possessions.
In particular, many psychological studies show that possessions do not create lasting satisfaction. A decade of psychological studies show that pleasant experiences bring more happiness than the acquisition of pleasant possessions. 14
Time Is Our Most Valuable Possession
After meeting our basic needs, time is the most valuable possession. And as we age, time becomes increasingly valuable. We can each free up our time by using daily practices that organize our events and our surroundings. Time saving practices include simplification and budgeting. (See the Section on Practices later in this Essay.)”
Excessive Pursuit of Entertainment and Possessions
People can become addicted to possessions, sex, love, gluttony, alcohol & drugs, gambling, excitement, and work. Within all the Seven Elements, Possessions and Leisure are the most prone to abusive excess.
Conspicuous consumption is seen among wealthy people all over the world.
When possessions or experiences are purchased one after the other, two things usually happen. First, the Law of Diminishing Returns take effect, and each new acquisition brings less pleasure than the one before. Second, to counteract the diminished pleasure of each purchase, the buyer requires bigger purchases, and wants them more often. Both of these are classic signs of an addiction.
Many people accumulate possessions and leisure entertainments, as well as status and influence, out of the urge to compete, or in a continuing series of addictive fixes. In nearly all these cases, the possessions and activities bring only fleeting, and often hollow, gratification. Taken to the extreme, pursuit of possessions, fun and leisure easily lead to the moral failings of Greed, selfishness, gluttony, and substance abuse.
Addictions are initially pleasurable activities (often involving chemical substances) that a person pursues in an attempt to escape reality. Addictions can be coupled with Obsessions and/or Compulsions. Obsessions are recurring intrusive and unwanted thoughts. Compulsions are ritualistic behaviors (like repeated hand-washing) that a person feels he or she must do to quell unpleasant anxiety. Obsession and Compulsion frequently occur together in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Using Wealth Constructively for The Greater Good
Many of people who have great wealth come to the realization that they can find more happiness and Fulfillment by building worthy organizations and structures, and/or by investing their money in projects that achieve environmental improvement, improved healthcare, and improved learning.
To this end, many captains of industry created the world’s great charitable foundations, including Henry Ford, Dale Carnegie, Alfred Nobel, Sebastian Kresge, John and Catherine MacArthur, Howard Hughes, W.M. Kellogg, the Rockefeller family, William Hewlett, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg, and many others.
Bill and Melinda Gates, in particular, are known for developing rational and valid ways to measure the effectiveness of their philanthropy. Such methods and metrics are increasingly adopted, greatly enhancing the impact of charitable giving in general. [need a reference]
Constructive charity is similarly undertaken by thousands of families whose wealth is smaller, and in the aggregate likely more important than that of the “great name” philanthropic foundations.
Asceticism — Why Not Retreat from Possessions and Pleasures?
Since the acquisition of possessions, and even experiences, are often not really fulfilling, and since they can lead to excess and even addiction, some people choose to turn away from them. They choose instead to take up an ascetic lifestyle in a disciplined effort to move closer to God or Continuing Creation. They eschew sensation and possession, and concentrate instead on meditation, yoga, cultivation of virtue, prayer, meditation, mindfulness, and a search for “enlightenment.”
All the major religions have a sect or a school of believers who practice varying degrees of asceticism – the renunciation of pleasures, company, and rich foods in an effort to move closer to God, Nirvana, or the equivalent in Hinduism — moksha. These groups include the Sufis in Islam, Hindu Sadhus, Christian Hermits, Stoics of Ancient Greece, contemplative Catholic monks and nuns, the Jewish Essenes of 200 BCE to 100 CE, and other groups.
Certain orders of Catholic priests, monks, and nuns practice an asceticism that includes vows of silence, poverty, and chastity. Ascetics in the Christian and Hindu traditions may also practice mortifications of the flesh, including wearing sackcloth and hairshirts, unhealthy fasting, and even self-flagellation.
The Buddha famously tried such practices from the Hindu tradition; but found that they brought him no closer to Nirvana. Therefore, Buddhism denied mortifications and adopted “The Middle Way” of moderation in meeting bodily needs and comforts.
One of the most extreme ascetic cults are the Hindu Sadhus known as the Aghori, who often live naked in charnel grounds where they smear cremation ashes on their bodies, drink water from skulls, and eat only enough food to barely stay alive. Their objective is to practice non-attachment by mentally cutting mental attachments to material pleasures and material suffering. Hinduism and Buddhist argue that both pleasure and suffering are illusory and insubstantial. By mentally detaching from them, one can arrive at non-striving and non-anxiety, which in turn leads to spiritual liberation (moksha or nirvana).
Similarly, in the United States during the 1960’s and 1970’s, it was fashionable to “tune in, turn on, and drop out” — using psychedelic drugs to fuel a full retreat from a conventional life of constructive engagement, whether that engagement consisted of building better computers, demonstrating against the war in Vietnam, nursing patients in a hospital, or marching for civil rights.
At the other extreme, there are milder versions of ascetism. The ancient Stoics, like the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, followed a military discipline of duty, reinforced with simple but healthful foods, spartan, battle-encampment living, and strict attention to honor, duty, wisdom, and virtue.
More recently in the West, clinical psychologists employ cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce suffering, depression, and worry, by using disciplined reason to deconstruct falsely negative visions of our life situations.
Modern medical doctors often prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSI’s) such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro which can have the same effect, but without any asceticism or disciplined effort by the patient. Alas, the long-term effects of repeated use include drug dependence and memory loss.
The Practice of Continuing Creation Rejects a Life of Withdrawal
We reject the idea of lifelong withdrawal and detachment. On the Path of Continuing Creation, meditation should be an intermittent activity performed to rest and rejuvenate a person’s mind and spirit so that he or she can return refreshed to a life of active Creation. (Buddhism itself honors its Bodhisattvas – people who find nirvana and then return to life in order to teach others. The Buddha himself was a Bodhisattva.)
Modern research has shown that we really do have to accumulate a number of basic possessions – regular food, dependable shelter, warm clothing, personal safety – before anything more advanced can be possible. In other words, research confirms Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Would any of us really want to be hermits? Or silent 8-hours-per-day meditators? The answer for the vast majority of us is no. Even in the Asia, withdrawal from active life is usually reserved for older, retired people. On the other hand, would we want to be utterly dependent on and involved with our social groups? Like ants and bees are involved with their colonies? Clearly, we would not. Our inner conflict between our individual selves and our social groups is the essence of what the humanities call the human condition. This conflict is the theme of countless plays, novels, poems, and songs.
Actually, we understand that most Indian Sadhus do pretty well. They move freely among India’s thousands of temples, where they can usually eat something and spend the night under the shelter of the temple roof. As for the naked and ash-covered Aghoris, well, we suspect that they may be mentally ill.
Simplifying Our Lives
Instead of completely withdrawing from life and continually meditating to attain nirvana, the Book of Continuing Creation recommends Simplification of our Lives, coupled with periodic (perhaps daily) meditation.
In 1947, the “Minimalist” architect Mies van de Rohe said that in design, “Less is more.” This has become the theme of the modern Simplicity Movement. The prime example of Simple Living is probably the years that Henry David Thoreau spent in his self-made cabin on the shore of Walden Pond. His description of his simple and solitary life there in the book Walden (1854) has become a masterpiece of American Literature.
Today’s Simple Living Movement calls for tiny houses, off-the-grid energy self-sufficiency, backyard organic gardening, composting, recycling, yard-sales, thrift shops, bicycling to work, the “gig-economy” (holding a series of impermanent local jobs, and intentional living (such as practiced at Black Bear Ranch). “Downsizing” and “de-cluttering” are popular trends within the simplicity movement.
Many contemporary publications come out of today’s simple life movement, including www.lifeedited.com, and the Small House movement.
Moderate simplicity can certainly be a good thing for many people. Research shows that “while having some choice is generally good, it seems having too many options tends to undermine our feelings of satisfaction, no matter which option we choose.” 15
Simplification is a popular type of Life Renewal. We discuss Simplicity more fully in our section called “Strategies for Life Renewal” later in this Essay.
7. Connection with Continuing Creation – #7 of our Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life
The Seventh Element of a Fulfilled Life is the Spiritual dimension of our Path of Continuing Creation. In fact, we Weavers of Continuing Creation define Spirituality as a deep and constructive Connection to the Processes of Continuing Creation.
In the late 1940s, beginning with Abraham Maslow, biologists, physiologists, and behavioral psychologists began to study how happiness and fulfillment happen in the human brain. Other key figures in the Psychology of Well-being and Positive Psychology were Martin Seligman, Erich Fromm, and Carol Ryff. Positive Psychology is a forerunner of the Way of Continuing Creation.
The field of positive psychology was given its name by Princeton Professor Martin Seligman in 1998. Instead of focusing on diagnosing and treating mental disorders, this branch of psychology studies how and why people find motivation and happiness. Seligman described the good life as “using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification.”
Active Connection with Continuing Creation brings an experience of oneness with Nature and the universe. It feels like we are in a state of “flow,” where we seem to perform steps without thinking about them. We may experience a heightened or even transcendent sense of natural beauty, love, and/or wisdom. When we engage in tasks authentically suited to us, we perform them with full command, little hesitation, and peak performance.
Connection within Continuing Creation Takes 3 Interrelated Forms:
- Peak Experiences,
- Participating in the Flow,
Peak Experiences during Connection with Continuing Creation
It used to be thought that peak experiences, being in-the-flow, in the groove, and transcendent connection were always religious experiences. In the Desert Religions, they were (and still are) seen as gifts of “God’s grace.” In Christianity, the feeling of being “born again” is an example of receiving God’s grace. In the Bible, conversions and spiritual awakenings usually happened suddenly (Saint Paul’s sudden conversion while on the road to Damascus being a famous example).
In the 1960’s, secular experimental psychologists began to study and explain these feelings as natural functions of the human mind, and not as gifts from God. (Today, we can see this as an example of Creative Processes including feedback loops, trigger effects, chain reactions, emergence, dissonance reduction, and many others. See our Essay, Complexity and Continuing Creation.)
When your author, J.X. Mason, was 26 years old, he had an unforgettable “peak experience.” He was sitting on the floor in his living room, with his back to the sofa, looking across the room at homemade shelves of staggered lengths, holding books, keepsakes, and a television set. From the other side of the wall he could hear his wife preparing dinner in the kitchen. Over the course of 20 to 30 minutes, Mason became suffused with a fulsome sense of positive well-being. Effortlessly looking along the shelving, he would recall an interesting theme from each book, savor it in his mind, and then effortlessly segue into a related theme from an adjacent book, or into a memory associated with one of the keepsakes. He also experienced a heightened appreciation of each wooden shelf and its architectural relationship to the shelving as a whole. After about 20 minutes, Mason was called in to dinner, and his mind returned to normal.
Peak experiences during Connection with the Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos can happen almost anywhere. They often occur when we are experiencing beautiful features of nature – the seashore, a peaceful forest, a babbling brook, the Grand Canyon. Beautiful buildings, music, and art can have the same effect, and that effect is often intended by the artists who create them. Examples include the Roman Coliseum, the Christian Cathedrals of Europe, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s house “Fallingwater.”
The peak experience concept was originally developed by Abraham Maslow in 1964, who described peak experiences as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality.” 16.
Peak Experiences often feature the following characteristics:17
- Feeling whole and harmonious, without inner conflict
- Relaxed orientation within time and space
- Feeling spontaneous, expressive, creative, open, and unconstrained by others
- Without inhibition, fear, doubt, and self-criticism
- Feeling completely mindful of the present moment
Maslow’s research (using interview and questionnaires) convinced him that peak experiences happen most often in the arenas of art, nature, sex, creative work, music, scientific knowledge, discovery, extreme sports, playing music, and introspection. 18
Flow Experiences During Connection with Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Universe.
Peak experiences are passive, but Flow Experiences are active – there is always a human being doing something, and doing it with great skill and control. Studies also show that flow is greater during work while happiness is greater during leisure activities. 19
For example, say a famous jazz band is performing an extensive improvisation based on the song, “In the Mood.” Someone in audience can have peak experience listening to the band play. At the same time, one of more of the musicians, can be “in the flow” as they play.
The skill of the jazz artists is so developed that they do not have to think about what their lips, breath, and fingers are doing – all that is surrendered to the flow. Their minds may be thinking about their next riff, but if the flow is sufficiently complete, even that becomes unconscious, and the music seems to “play itself,” just as a brook “flows itself.”
However, musicians usually say they are “in the groove” instead of “in the flow.” Top performing athletes usually they “are in the zone.” In the sport of fencing, muscle-memory takes over and the competitors “have a conversation of the blades.” Flow also called “being on auto-pilot.”
Flow refers to a state of absorption where one’s abilities are well-matched to the demands at hand. Flow is experienced when there is a positive match between a person’s talent and skill and their current task, i.e. when one feels confident of accomplishing a chosen or assigned task. Flow is the sense of immersion, absorption in a task felt by individuals when optimally engaged with their primary activities. A highly experienced professional waiter can often run an entire full dining room single-handedly: all is in its place, all is in proper sequence, all needs are foreseen, and the service “moves itself.”
Flow is intrinsically rewarding. It can also assist in the achievement of goals (e.g., winning a game) or in improving skills (e.g., becoming a better chess player). Anyone can experience flow, and in different domains, such as play, creativity, and work; but it happens most often when people are doing something they love – they are in their “bliss,” or they are pursuing their “passion,” or they are practicing their “knack.” 20
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, famous for his study of flow-states, identified nine indicator elements of flow:
- Clear goals exist every step of the way,
- Immediate feedback guides one’s action,
- There is a balance between challenges and abilities,
- Action and awareness are merged,
- Distractions such as worry and physical pain are excluded from consciousness.
- Failure is not worrisome,
- Self-consciousness disappears,
- Sense of time is distorted — time “flies by.”
- The activity becomes “autotelic” — intrinsically rewarding; an end in itself
Csikszentmihalyi says this happens because people only have so much attention available to them in the brain. If all the attention is on the activity, everything else falls away. We can only process about 100 bits/second of information. Listening to 2 conversations at once takes 60%. A Flow State takes nearly all 100%.
Although Flow is often called spontaneous flow, it usually requires lots of training and practice. A person needs to be well-trained and well-practiced in tennis, mathematics, writing, drawing, filleting fish, or flying an airplane before he or she can experience Flow in such activities. Drawing a professional cartoon might be effortless today, but wasn’t during the cartoonist’s learning years.
People in the flow state describe these features: Focus, timelessness, intrinsic motivation, inner clarity, serenity, total confidence that the task is doable, feeling part of something larger, the work is its own reward.
Transcendence During Connection with Continuing Creation.
“Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball — I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me — I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances — master or servant, is then a trifle, and a disturbance. I am a lover of uncontained and immortal beauty.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
The key to Transcendence is a deep connection of the Self with what Emerson called the Universal Being. Emerson describes it as losing himself in the Universal Being – “I am part or particle of God.”
People may give this “Whole” the name of Universal Being, God, Continuing Creation, Nature, the Numinous, the Ultimate, the Ground of All Being, the Source, Higher Power, Prime Mover Unmoved, the Alpha and Omega, etc. Similarly, Emerson’s phrase “loses herself in connection with” can be restated as “becomes immersed in,” “identifies with,” or “unifies herself with.” 21
Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and others leading the Transcendentalist movement in the United States emphasized achieving a Transcendent connection with Continuing Creation>D> through direct appreciation of Nature.
(Note: Both Emerson and Thoreau were key figures in the philosophical-spiritual movement known as Transcendentalism that developed in the United States in the late 1820’s and 1830’s. Transcendentalism is a forerunner of our Path of Continuing Creation. For more, see our Essay, Forerunners To Our Spiritual Path.)
However, many Weavers in Creation would say that Our strongest sense of transcendence comes when we do something creative. While transcendence through appreciation of Nature is essentially passive, transcendence through creating is active. So, while meditating on trees can be transcendental, planting new trees to help Earth sequester carbon may be even more fulfilling.
Many famous artists – Van Gogh, Walt Whitman, Beethoven – found creating so fulfilling that they would endure poverty, physical disability, and family tragedy in order to keep practicing their art. Even the multi-billionaire Bill Gates would have said, in his early days, that he wrote software for personal computers because he enjoyed that challenge, not because he foresaw it would lead to a personal fortune.
In the Old Desert Religions, Transcendence is often called an “awakening” or a re-birth; and as such, it is thought to have lasting, even permanent, effects on the person’s mindset, happiness “set-point,” character, and life occupation.
On our Spiritual Path, Transcendence is an integration of the Self into and for the Whole of Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos.
Let’s re-cap: Connection with C.C., which is our Element #7 within a Fulfilled & Happy Life, encompasses these 3 things:
- Peak Experiences usually last a short time, and the person having the experience is having it passively. He or she plays only the role of a “receiver.”
- Flow-States last longer and the person having the experience is actively engaged in a task. She is exercising all her faculties with such mastery that the work seems effortless.
- Transcendent Experiences happen when a person “loses himself” in connection with (or spiritual union with) Continuing Creation as a whole. A person having a transcendent experience may feel like an observer, or like a participant.
What About “Self-Actualization”?
For secular humanists, “Self-actualization” means integration of the self within the self; or possibly within society. For participants in Continuing Creation, Actualization is an integration of the Self into (and for) the Whole of the Growing, Organizing, Direction.
The Practice of Continuing Creation sets aside Maslow’s term, “self-actualize,” because it implies that individuals reach Fulfillment on their own. Instead, We hold that a person can attain all Seven of our Elements only with help from other people, and only with strong and active connections to the Processes of Continuing Creation.
We must remember that the Processes of Creation are integral to all the systems around us as well as inside us. So, instead of “self-actualized,” we say a person “lives an Actualized life,” or “lives a Fulfilled Life.” These lives are, by definition, happening in the actual (“real”) world, and not in an escapist fantasy. For us, Fulfillment and Actualization are synonymous.
Characteristics of a Fulfilled / Actualized Life
A Fulfilled/Actualized life includes all the peak experiences, flows, and transcendence of a person’s recent life; it employs all of a person’s best faculties, talents, and virtues; and it embraces a deep connection to Continuing Creation that pervades and integrates one’s entire life, and gives it purpose. Agents of Continuing Creation say that the strongest “Peak and Transcending Experiences” happen when one of us (or a team of us) successfully completes an important goal: a useful invention that works, a new book that is well-reviewed, a garden that blooms, a worthy child that is raised to a moral, loving, and productive adulthood.
Fulfilled / Actualized People Have These Qualities of Character:
- Efficient perceptions of reality. They are able to judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to the fake and dishonest, and they see reality “as it is.”
- Comfortable acceptance of self, others, and nature. They accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance.
- Reliance on one’s own experiences and judgement. They are resourceful and independent, and do not always rely on authority, culture, or environment to form their views or approve their actions.
- Spontaneous and natural. True to oneself, rather than being how others want.
- Task centered. Most Actualized People have had a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem outside themselves to pursue. Humanitarians such as Albert Schweitzer are considered to have possessed this quality. 
- Continued freshness of appreciation. Fulfilled people renew appreciation of life’s basic goods. They will experience a sunset or a flower as intensely the 100th time as they did the first time. Mindfulness provides them with “an artist’s vision.”
- Profound interpersonal relationships. The interpersonal relationships of Fulfilled people are marked by deep loving bonds. Close friendships rather than many shallow acquainta
- Comfort with solitude. Despite their satisfying relationships with others, Actualized people value solitude and are comfortable being alone. 23
- A non-hostile sense of humor; they have the ability to laugh at themselves.
- Peak experiences and flow-states. These occasions were marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning.
- Socially compassionate; possessing humanity.
- Feelings of being at one with the universe; stronger and calmer than ever before; filled with light, beauty, goodness, and so forth.
In summary, Fulfilled/Actualized people are actively connected to Continuing Creation. They feel nourished, sheltered, safe, loved and loving, appreciated and esteemed, compassionate, fully themselves, fully alive, calm, and connected to Continuing Creation. They live life to its full potential.
Usually, Fulfillment/Actualization becomes possible for people who have met the more basic needs of having the esteem of people around them, as well as the cognitive need for knowledge and the aesthetic need for symmetry, order, and beauty.
With those Elements in hand, people have the self-confidence and the inner power to be their “true” selves, their “authentic” selves, instead of always trying to please others. They can search for and find their “true calling,” their “bliss,” what they were “meant” to do and to be. Fulfilled Actualization is finding and manifesting the individual’s highest and best capabilities out in the world. 24
We can identify many famous individuals who are regarded as Fulfilled / Actualized, including Plato, Jesus of Nazareth, Saint Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I, George Washington, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Henry Ford, Frank Lloyd Wright, Meryl Streep, Mary Oliver, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mary Barra. But to really know if these people were Fulfilled / Actualized, we would have to read thorough and accurate biographies about them or meet them in person. They may have had terrible family lives, depressions, phobias, poor self-images, incessant worry, secret addictions, inability to fairly people, and a host of other character flaws.
Famous achievers are not always fulfilled / actualized, and vice versa.
Fulfillment / Actualization Within Continuing Creation is Difficult to Achieve
Maslow writes that personal growth mostly takes place once lower order needs have essentially been met. Since meeting Human Needs 1 through 5 (out of 8) are quite difficult for the missions of people who lack adequate food, shelter, and medical care, and those who lack opportunity for satisfying work, Maslow believed “self-actualization … rarely happens … certainly in less than 1% of the adult population.” 25
What to Do When Things Go Wrong!
“If living were easy, everyone would do it.”
Most of the feel-good self-help books out there in the bookstores paint a rosy picture. They often convince us that we can achieve our dreams! This is nonsense. Even people who have intelligence, talent, motivation, education, and resources have a very difficult time building a happy and fulfilled life. Something almost always goes wrong. Here are some examples:
- You go to work in the profession of your dreams and find that you hate it; but you can’t afford to change because you have children to support.
- You have an accidental, unplanned child.
- You, your life partner, a child, or a parent contracts a chronic and expensive disease.
- New technology makes your job obsolete.
- Most of the jobs in your industry, including yours, are outsourced to China.
- Uncle Sam needs your help fighting a war.
- Your company is over-leveraged and goes under.
- You love your work, but your boss is a cruel control-freak.
- Your company is merged with another firm, your job is seen as redundant, and you are laid off.
- Your city experiences its fifth “100-year flood” (or forest fire) in a decade, and your home is wiped out.
- You and your life partner go through a painful and expensive divorce.
- You suffer under adverse events in federal or state government.
- You decline into a massive depression.
- Never good at handling money, you run up $90,000 in credit card debt and are forced into bankruptcy.
- You, your spouse, or your kids become addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, or hoarding and you have to pay for Rehab, or even multiple Rehabs.
- You aspire to a life of achievement, but you suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which prevents you from actualizing it.
Repair and Re-balance
Hopefully, the bad life-event can be sufficiently repaired and rebalanced so that a person can move on. The disease is cured, or goes into remission, and life resumes on its same track as before. The pain of the divorce passes, the person remarries, and things move forward pretty much as before. Some rebalancing might be required. For example, after remarrying the person may have two sets of children to care for and nurture. In Section C of this Essay, we discuss Daily Practices for Life; and in Section D we take up Strategies for Life Reorganization, Reformation, Redirection, & Renewal.
You Feel a “Calling” that Cannot be Denied
However, when one or more of bad things befall us that cannot be “repaired,” life can get down to a choice between changing things to find our “bliss,” our “true, authentic self,” or playing it safe and fulfilling our responsibilities to the loved ones who depend on us – our spouse, children, parents, close siblings. We are faced with a choice between Fulfillment and Duty. What is the answer?
One answer is keep pursuing your passion no matter what. Many people who choose this answer feel a life-purpose that cannot be denied.
Maybe you’re like the great painter Paul Gauguin, whose marriage fell apart when he was driven (“called”) to paint full time. His paintings had limited success in the art galleries. In 1891, at the age of 43, he said goodbye to his children (and to France) and moved to Tahiti. Living in a bamboo hut in a tiny native village, he blossomed into greatness with a style of painting all his own. However, his greatness was not appreciated until after his death. He did return to Paris in 1893, living in part on the charity of friends; but he returned to the South Seas in 1895 where he continued to paint masterpieces until his death from a painful undiagnosed ailment, in 1903.
Today, when we look at Gauguin’s art, we might conclude he must have led a happy and fulfilled life. But if we read one of the fine biographies about him, it is not clear that he himself felt happy and fulfilled… although he must certainly have had many peak experiences and flow states. In his journal, Gauguin had written:
“No one is good; no one is evil; everyone is both, in the same way and in different ways…
It is so small a thing, the life of a man, and yet there is time to do great things, fragments of the common task.”
Artists like Gauguin are not the only people who feel compelled to do something. Inventors and entrepreneurs often risk all their resources to pursue an invention or a new business. Some succeed, many fail. Some rise up to try again and again.
If we feel compelled to preach, write, or paint or start a business, we can decide to sacrifice everything for a “calling,” as Paul Gauguin did. However, while many of us would like to paint as well as Gauguin, or write as well as William Faulkner, most of us find that we cannot. Similarly, many entrepreneurs find that they cannot tolerate the business risk that many entrepreneurs assume.
Can a Life of Duty be a Fulfilled and Happy Life?
Whatever the reasons, when life can’t be repaired, we must choose between our “passion” and our responsibilities. So, most of us (especially if we have dependents) choose financial family stability over a slim chance at fame, fortune, high art, missionary work, saintliness, or nirvana. So, can a life of duty be a happy and fulfilled life?
Of course, many people find family life and child-rearing to be their arena for a happy and fulfilled life. Other people who have high happiness set-points are happy and fulfilled pretty much regardless of where life takes them happens to them. But suppose you are not one of those people.
First, we must remember that a fulfilled life must, by definition, be based on a moral and virtuous life. We have a moral obligation to support and raise our children.
If we raise children with love and skill, we deserve praise and honor. Is this not a Fulfilled and Actualized life? The great Roman stoic, Marcus Aurelius, who we have quoted several times is this Book, would say that it is. He advocated duty not only to family, but to his country as well. (He was Emperor of Rome at its high point, 161-180 C.E.)
A good strategy for creative people is to maintain our art as an active hobby. After all, we are making art for art’s sake, right? If we are not doing it for the sake of doing it, that activity may not be our authentic “bliss.” (Your author, J.X. Mason, is writing this Book of Continuing Creation even if it garners only a handful of readers.)
Bloom Where We Are Planted
Remember that we cannot blame our problems on “God” – some mythical super-person — who is punishing us for non-sensical “original sin.” Instead, we need to bear in mind that although the Progress of Continuing Creation is upward, its cuts a zig-zag path. We individuals are part of Continuing Creation, but Continuing Creation is not about our individual lives.
Is that harsh? Not if we maintain our connection with Continuing Creation. If our connection is strong, we still remember the successes of our own life, can still feel the joy of our loved ones’ lives, and still see leaves growing in the tree outside our window.
Just as the Old Testament’s Job would not renounce his God in the face of great adversity, we should not renounce Continuing Creation in the face of great adversity.
If we maintain a positive attitude, we can each be happy and fulfilled without a dream job, and without a perfect family. Many techniques are available to us, including mindfulness, letting go of suffering, practicing simplicity, meditation, physical fitness, and yoga. Read on further to find out about these and other “Daily Practices,” and read on still further to learn about our Strategies for Life Renewal.
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need !
— Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones
Whether you are in Actualized Fulfillment, making good progress toward it, or struggling with life’s problems, the most important thing about a Fulfilled life is to practice it. In fact, if we practice the traits of Fulfillment, they will become our habits, and our habits will become our Flow. We should all use these mantras to stay in continual contact with Continuing Creation during the days and hours of our daily lives:
- Move my body and my mind will follow.
- Just do the next right thing.
- Do my best and let The Positive Processes of the Universe do the rest.
- Existence precedes Essence. (from the existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre)
- Act as I would like to be, and so shall I become.
- One Day at A Time.
- Be Mindful — Do Only What I Am Doing
- Play the Cards I have been dealt.
- No pain, no gain.
- Bloom Where I Am Planted
(Note: All these sayings are the essence of modern Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). You can also see a professional psychologist to help you with ACT. Many of these sayings are also found in the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve-Step Programs.)
Through practice, we will find that these habits will build up in our minds over time. Then, some final thought or experience may happen at a critical tipping point, causing a cascade of new interconnected ideas to gain dominance, leading to an “awakening” or a “sea change” in our being. (Note: tipping points, triggers, cascades, domino-effects and chain-reactions are prevalent in all the processes of evolution, throughout chemistry, biology, culture, and technology.)
We can also use our Seven Steps of Cultivating Happiness & Fulfillment (discussed later in this Essay), except that in this context we would use them not to shoot for the moon, but to do the best with what we have; to play the cards we have been dealt; to bloom where we are planted.
And to completely “re-start” your life, see Section D — Strategies for Life Reorganization, Reformation, Redirection & Renewal, also later in this Essay.
Active Over-connecting to The Growing, Organizing, Direction
Is it possible to over-connect with Continuing Creation? Yes, and it can happen in two ways, actively and passively.
An active over-connector might be a frenetic preacher, a fanatical self-flagellant, or a suicide bomber. A passive over-connector might spend endless hours meditating in the lotus position in an effort to gain “Nirvana.” (Of course, we might argue that all these folks are not really connected to The Growing, Organizing, Direction; but they will surely think they are.)
Passive Over-connecting to The Growing, Organizing, Direction
One of humanity’s great religions – Buddhism – holds that all life is “suffering” (dukkha in Sanskrit). Today in the West, we know that physical suffering is being beaten back by continuing advance of medicine, agriculture, and technology. Nevertheless, most of us endure physical pain, privation, isolation, and grief during our lives, and for many of us these are severe. While this Essay is about attaining a Fulfilled and Happy Life, later in this Essay we will also talk about dealing with this severe pain that happens when things go wrong – and sooner or later, things do go wrong. We can call these types of pain Physical suffering (or physical dukkha).
However, many authorities on Buddhism say that the original Sanskrit word for suffering, “dukkha,” really should not be translated as “suffering,’ but rather as “worry,” “anxiety,” “dissatisfaction,” or stress. For clarity, we can call this psychic suffering or psychic dukkha.
Buddhists say that psychic suffering results from attachment (Upadana), i.e. from natural human craving, or desire to have attractive things and experiences. Western psychologists often say that it’s comparison that leads to dissatisfaction (psychic dukkha).
Buddhism teaches that we should discipline ourselves to extinguish psychic dukkha and its underlying craving by practicing the thought and behavior patterns of The Noble Eightfold Path – principally by meditating. The idea is to just “let go” of all attachments.
The Book of Continuing Creation holds that a certain amount of psychic suffering is indeed a fundamental part of human nature. It is the price we pay for our ambition, achievement, and progress. Our big brains make us effective in the world; but at the price of psychic pain. We must not give up our achievements – our worldly progress – just so we can avoid psychic conflict and pain! Endlessly sitting and/or walking in meditation leads to cessation of material progress and cessation of the growth of scientific knowledge.
Remember that pain and difficulty are a spur to progress. Without challenge, there is no progress. It is not the aim of Our Way for all humans to be perfectly happy; the aim is to positively participate in Continuing Creation.
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
“I think that as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time, at peril of being judged not to have lived.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1851.
“The philosophy of non-attachment is an affront to human nature.”
— Jonathan Haidt, quoting Robert Solomon 26
“Life without attachments is not really living.”
— J.X. Mason’s wise and wonderful wife
Nevertheless, full withdrawal may be the best thing for the small portion of the human population that is “called” to a passive Spiritual Life. In some cultures (e.g. in Japan, India), withdrawal is particularly taken up by retired or elderly people.
Moderate Meditation is Very Useful in Living a Fulfilled and Happy/Actualized Life
Moderate and periodic meditation can be a very useful tool for calming the mind, for handling personal setbacks, and for the restful enjoyment of a centered spiritual life. Through meditation, and through
mindfulness, we can learn to live in the now. We can learn to plan with less worry. We can learn to remember without suffering; or at least with less. (See our Essay on Mindfulness.)
Zen Buddhism in particular teaches that psychic dukkha can be quelled while preserving effective action in the real world. In fact, practical effectiveness can be increased through the discipline of moderate meditation. Samurai warriors with minds quieted by Zen meditation are able to achieve more accurate archery. Zen artists are able to create pottery, gardens and flower arrangements with a unique beauty that come out of simplicity. Zen Buddhist traditions can play a significant role in a person’s Practice of Continuing Creation.
Participants in Our Practice use periodic meditation to enhance the other 4 Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life, to recharge their “batteries,” and to focus their attention and energy. (See our Essay, Meditations For Co-Creators.)
The Book of Continuing Creation also says that Taoism presents the correct combination of action and non-action, of yin and yang, essence and existence, acceptance and courage to change.
Combining and Balancing All Seven Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life
Finally – The Way of Continuing Creation is to combine and balance all Seven of the Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life. It is the way of optimal living.
If we arranged our 7 Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life Fulfilled and Happy life in a pyramid, like Maslow arranged his Human Needs, #7 would be at the top, meaning that it depends on having previously attained the lower five Elements.
The first three of our Seven Elements are the elements of Survival. These must be achieved and in place before the second three Elements (the Elements of Achievement), and the seventh (the Element of Connection with Continuing Creation) – can be accomplished. In addition, all the elements work together dynamically through complex interactions. If cultivated properly, the seven form feedback loops and strengthen each other. In this way, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the seven parts, just as a symphony is greater than the sum of its notes.
Despite the fact that early Elements are foundational for the latter Elements, it is useful to consider all seven in terms of “balance.” As Aristotle wrote, “All Things in Moderation;” but a better saying might be, “All Healthy Things in Moderation.” Many people, especially famous people including entrepreneurs, saints, top artists, discoverers, often emphasize one or more area of Happiness and Fulfillment over the others. For example, Einstein lived a cerebral life of great learning and discovery and Picasso lived a life of high creativity. Yet both these men had bullying, unfaithful relationships with their wives and/or mistresses. The Seven Elements of their lives were out of balance. They were Actualized in their callings, but they may well have been unhappy in their personal relationships.
B. Our Seven Steps of Cultivating Fulfillment & Growth
The Seven Steps of Achievement & Growth for Followers of Our Spiritual Path can be used to achieve, build, or grow almost anything: a deck on the back of your house, your career, your character, or happiness and fulfillment itself.
Since this Essay is specifically about building Happiness and Fulfillment through personal growth, our explanations and examples of the Seven Steps will be in that arena. (The Seven Steps also appear in our Essay, Leading a Virtuous Life.)
Pure pleasure leads only to addiction and/or eventual dissatisfaction. Achievement, which must be aligned with The positive Direction of Continuing Creation to be true achievement, is the goal and satisfaction of Fulfilled living. And achievement requires work, sacrifice, effort, and a degree of suffering.
Depending on what you apply them to, the Seven Steps of Fulfillment can be done yearly, once a month, or every day. Many of the “Practices” that we will talk about later can also be done as often as daily.
Step #1 — Explore. The first step is to experientially and mentally explore your surroundings and your life, to seek out what life-path may be best for you. Meditation can be used in this process, and so can study and life-experience. Old-fashioned day-dreaming can also yield new ideas and new paths. Reflection on your individual nature can help you find your true talents and interests – what Joseph Campbell and Oprah Winfrey call our “bliss.”
Step #2 — Positively Visualize. Visualize your goal-state, and the successive actions you must take to reach it. It is important not to plan until you know what you are planning toward. We want to begin with the end in mind. In other words, our Seven Steps are goal-directed.
Step #3 – Be Mindful. Do your visualization thinking mindfully, meaning with focus. “Do only what you are doing,” without the anxiety and distractions of yesterday’s trials or tomorrow’s worries. Mindfulness takes place throughout all Seven Steps.
Step #4 – Plan. Use positive thinking (but never romantic foolishness) to plan your own course of action. At this point, your visualization and your practical planning enlist your motivation, preparing you for action.
Step #5 – Act. You act, moving closer to your goal. If your goal-of-concern is improvement of your joy and well-being, each act is a unit of practice — changing a habit, building a relationship. “As you act, so shall you become.” If your goal is a creative achievement, each action accomplishes a step toward that goal, and also builds your skills. You practice – repeat — your good actions.
Step #6 – Review, Evaluate, Meditate, Re-plan, Accept. Step back, evaluate, appreciate, reflect, savor, reflect, relax. Meditate – you mentally practice your good, positive habits, and you consider next set of The Seven Steps.
Step #7 – Participate. Increase the power of the first Six Steps by participating in a community that shares your goals. It is much easier to reach your life goals if people close to you are working toward allied goals. You will offer each other encouragement, feedback, advice, and support. This function can be performed by professional societies, meditation classes, churches, book discussion groups, self-help meetings, sports teams, and simply close friends and relatives.
These Seven Steps of Cultivating Fulfillment & Growth establish a feedback loop. Thoughts form, they lead to actions, then the actions feedback to help us form new thoughts and plans, and finally, those revised thoughts lead to new actions. In the arenas of morality and virtue, thoughts and actions together form character. In the arena of achievement, thoughts and actions together form one’s state of Happiness and Fulfillment.
Over time, our positive emotions, applied in a system such as our Seven Steps above, build skills and resources. For example, curiosity about a landscape becomes valuable navigational knowledge; pleasant interactions with a stranger become a supportive friendship; aimless physical play becomes exercise and physical excellence; learning a skill becomes mastery of that skill.
In contrast, cycling through negative emotions prompts only narrow survival-oriented behaviors. For example, the negative emotion of anxiety leads to the specific fight-or-flight response for immediate survival. ]
Four Powerful Mantras Derived from Our Seven Steps of Cultivating Happiness & Fulfillment:
- Positive thought leads to positive action; and positive action leads to positive thought.
- Positive actions lead to positive habits; positive habits lead to positive character.
- Plan your work, then work your plan.
- Review your Results, then revise your vision
Read Biographies for Inspiration
If you want to make a big change, but you don’t know “to what,” read inspiring biographies or memoirs instead of other types of non-fiction or fiction. Consult with other people. Talk to friends who know you, and to individuals in the walks of life you are considering.
C. Daily Practices for Achieving a Fulfilled and Happy and Life
Although Happiness and Fulfillment depend greatly on genetics and childhood experiences, they can also be cultivated through concentration and practice, the same way that a person learns to play a sport or a musical instrument. We can replace old habits by learning new habits; we replace self-defeat with Fulfillment.
The Practice of Re-Visiting Our Springs of Well-being
We have learned that Happiness and Fulfillment depend on our Seven Elements. It follows that an excellent Practice is to make periodic visits to the Seven springs of well-being that are contained within our Seven Elements of a Happy & Fulfilled Life:
- Relationships with Others,
- Rest & Recreation,
- Creativity, and
- Connection to Continuing Creation
- Periodic mental visits to the Element Freedom, in the sense that we must always be on guard to prevent the loss of our Freedoms.
Some of the Practices that people use to reach into these wellsprings are:
Mindfulness, reflection, meditation, envisioning, simplification, acceptance, praying, positive thinking, chanting, journaling, simplification, attending self-help meetings, yoga, dieting, discussion with family and friends, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, psychoanalysis, religious/spiritual services, physical exercise, athletics, hobbies, games and puzzles, reading, budgeting, relaxing, reflecting, visiting, exploring, keeping a “gratitude list,” and spending time outdoors.
As mature adults, the practices and disciplines that are most helpful in developing our Happiness and Fulfillment are Mindfulness, Positive Thinking, and Meditation. These three “Life Practices” are interrelated.
Daily Poems and Recitations
In a few places above, we suggested mantras to reinforce our dedication when we are pursuing the Seven Elements and using the Seven Steps. Here, we add two poetic verses which serve the same purpose.
— The Serenity Meditation (Serenity Prayer) is excellent for this:
“May I find the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.”
— Reinhold Niebuhr
The supreme good is like water,
Which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
And don’t compare or compete,
Everybody will respect you.
— Lao Tsu, The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8
Daily Inventories and Gratitude Lists
It is useful to employ a spiritual practice upon waking in the morning and just before sleeping at night.
While lying in bed in the morning, resolve to be positive, productive, and kind throughout the coming day. Think of specific things you can do to make that happen.
- At breakfast, make a List of Five Things You are Grateful For. (Take care not to repeat any that you wrote in the prior days or weeks.)
- In bed before sleeping, take a mental inventory of your day.
- Search out and note the good things you did, and the things you did well.
- Search out and note instances where you hurt or disappointed others.
- Resolve to apologize to those people and to behave better in the coming day.
Positive Attitude and Intention
Maintain a positive attitude. Align ourselves with Continuing Creation. Open ourselves to the Flow of Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos. Channel its power.
Fine, but how do we do that in concrete terms? We do it through our morning resolutions, our all-day mantras, and our nightly reviews. We seek the company of positive people, and we are kind to people who suffer under habitual negativity. If our first thought in the morning is positive, the second thought has a greater chance of also being positive, followed by the third, and so on. Your author likes to sing this classic American song to himself:
Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street!
Can’t you hear the pitter-pat
And that happy tune is your step
Life can be complete
On the sunny side of the street!
I used to walk in the shade with those blues on parade
But I’m not afraid because this rover crossed over
And if I never had a cent
I’d be rich as Rockefeller
With gold dust at my feet
On the sunny side of the street!
— On the Sunny Side of the Street, (1930), Songwriter: Jimmy McHugh
So, how did “Rover cross over?” He took the first step… and then kept on going. Take the positive action, and with stubborn practice, positive attitude will follow. It’s an existential choice: existence (action) before essence (being).
Using terminology of positive psychology, we can say it this way: Optimism is the belief that one can influence the future in tangible and meaningful ways. Much as our happiness set-point is largely inherited, so is each person’s degree of inherited optimism. However, optimism can also be learned by consciously challenging negative self-talk. It is particularly important to learn that a “failure” in one area of life does not imply failure in other areas of life. Clinical positive psychologists seek to encourage acceptance of one’s past, excitement and optimism about one’s future experiences, and a sense of contentment and well-being in the present. 28
Note: People with diseases of addiction often join Twelve-Step Programs. The twelve steps call for them to turn their lives and will over to the care of “God as they understand Him;” or as Followers of Continuing Creation would say, to “align our lives and spirits with The Interlocking Processes of Creation.” Through the 12-step process, a pro-active, fulsome, and healthy connectedness with God or Continuing Creation replaces the former connection with the addictive substance.
Demonstrate Love for Our Loved Ones
We should also practice our Love by expressing it and demonstrating it; and we should regularly exercise our spiritual connection with Continuing Ceation through meditation and contemplation. At least once a week, and as often as once a day, tell your loved ones that you love them and give them a compliment. If they are physically present, give each of them a hug or a kiss.
The Practice of Daily Simplicity
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand;
Instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden
There are two types of “simplicity,” although they do overlap. One is the practice of appreciating all the simple things of our lives. It includes modest rearrangements in our daily living, but not major changes in life strategy. This path strategy is highly related to Mindfulness and Living in the Now. We call this the Practice of Daily Simplicity and we will discuss it here.
We call the second type of simplicity Strategic Simplification, because it entails a major reorganization of our lives. We’ll take up this second type of simplicity in our section, “Strategies for Life Renewal,” later in this Essay.
Daily Simplicity, the first type, can be well explained by the following three quotations:
“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, and acquiring less so I can have more.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn
“I live to enjoy life by the littlest things, feeling the grass between my toes, breathing fresh air, watching the wind sway the trees, enjoying the company of loved ones, a deep conversation, getting lost in a good book, going for a walk in Nature, watching my kids grow up. Just the feeling itself of being alive, the absolute amazing fact that we are here right now, breathing, thinking, doing.”
― Marigold Wellington
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
— “Simple Gifts,” by Elder Joseph of the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine.
People often Practice Simplicity by doing less in one area of life, so that they can do more in another area of life. After all, we each have the same number of hours to “spend” each day. For example, we can spend less time watching political campaigning so we can spend more time with our children. If we decide to serve on the PTA, we can spend less time on rebuilding the engine in our ’32 Ford.
We can also find ways to make things more efficient, saving time and energy for other things. We eliminate distracting noise. Shorten our commute. Budget our spending to have increased control over our time, money, and health.
The goal of simplification is to produce a richer and deeper set of connections within the person’s life. When we seek simplicity in possessions, we want it to lead to complexity in creative action, to a richer connection to Continuing Creation.
When possessions (and/or activities) are scaled back, each remaining one becomes more valued, and the connections between them become more apparent. Simple Zen stone gardens and flower arrangements achieve perfection in their balance and proportion.
For well-fed people living in a prosperous industrial or post-industrial society, the Buddha’s psychic “Suffering” is the same as Thoreau’s “Quiet Desperation.” Thoreau sought simplicity by moving to a (simple) cabin near Walden Pond. His aim was greater appreciation of the things and events of his life. As he wrote in his classic memoir, Walden; or, Life in the Woods:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” 29
Practicing Simplicity is Not Retreating from Active, Creative Living
We Practice Simplicity to amplify our active lives in Continuing Creation, not to retreat into passive, inactive, isolation.
Many people know that Thoreau went into the woods to simplify, to get closer to nature and to look within. But few know what he did when he came back out of the woods. When Thoreau returned from the woods he embarked on another significant life-change. He invented a new type of lead pencil and actively managed a successful factory producing those pencils.
According to Robert Sullivan’s book, The Thoreau You Don’t Know,30 Henry David Thoreau returned home to work part time in his family’s pencil company, Thoreau and Company, whose products were “the best-known pencils in the United States, praised by artists and artisans.” If that sounds like the life of quiet desperation par excellence, Sullivan reassures us that Thoreau was actually an “excellent pencil maker” who made significant technological innovations, including figuring out a way to inject lead directly into the hollowed-out pencil. (Previously, pencil makers had to cut the wood in half, fill it, and then glue it back together.) He also invented a machine that made an unusually finely ground graphite. 31
The Practice of Helping Others
When things have gone wrong, when dreams have been broken, few things restore one’s self-esteem and lead to renewed Fulfillment as much as helping the people around you.
Helping others begins with everyday kindness. A kindness given is often paid forward in a long, unseen chain of goodwill. Small good deeds cost little, they can be frequent, and they usually have an immediate “payoff” in received appreciation.
Teaching an honest skill or art is unquestionably valuable to the learner, and to Continuing Creation itself. Coaching and mentoring can lead to close and lifelong friendships. Helping Construct lives could be the most important work within all of Continuing Creation.
D. Strategies for Life Reorganization, Reformation, Redirection, & Renewal (the “Four R’s”)
Earlier, we talked what we can do when “Things Go Wrong.” Here in Section D, we want to talk further about what to do when things go wrong and/or when the Seven Steps and the Daily Practices simply haven’t worked for us.
What can we do when our Combined Seven Steps and our Practices fail to bring us Happiness and Fulfillment? We need thorough-going, even radical strategies to get us back on the Path of Continuing Creation.
Strategies include making one or more major life-changes, including: where we live, the work we do, life-partner, life-style, level of energy independence, level of economic self-sufficiency, level of accumulated possessions, level of technology used, level of media connectedness, level of political activity, environmental responsibility, level of physical activity, major decisions about children, major decisions about aging parents, level of social activity, level of charitable involvement, type of diet, reversal of addictions, and the nature and intensity of our spiritual path.
The saying, “In life, whenever a door closes, and new one opens” is not always true, but it is frequently true. If you lose a job, you will likely find another. It may not be as grand as your old job, but every type of work that is honest and constructive contributes to Continuing Creation.
Even if you lose a loved one, you can eventually redirect your time, energy and emotion in new directions. (For more, see our Essay, Dealing with Death On the Path of Creation.)
Reorganizing Your Life
Of the “Four R’s” (Reorganization, Reformation, Redirection and Renewal), in the title of this Section, “Reorganizing” your life is usually the easiest, because it doesn’t call for any major new thing; it just calls for re-arranging the things we already have. Life Reorganization means setting new priorities, freeing up wasted time and energy, and re-committing to goals. A person can end up doing more, or doing less.
For example, an aging couple may decide to sell their big two-story house and move into a smaller one-story home, so they no longer risk a fall when they are going up and down stairs. On the other hand, buying or building a “tiny-house,” so they can better practice caring for the Earth and spend more time traveling, that would be a decision of Reformation, Redirection, & Renewal. It would call not just for a new house, but also for a reformation of the couple’s values and characters.
Thoreau’s move to Walden, and his later work in the pencil industry, are both examples of Strategic Simplification, because they were radical decisions that required much thought about goals and methods.
Strategic Simplicity has been undertaken by many groups of people across history and across the globe. There are orders of monks and nuns; protestant sects including the Amish, Shakers, Mennonites, and Hutterites; Jewish groups such as the Nazirites (John the Baptist was a Nazirite); the ancient Greek Cynics; and (to some degree) the Stoics and Epicureans.
Today’s simplicity movement is buttressed by the search for off-grid power consumption, vegetarianism, small cars and tiny houses; all of which aim to reduce global warming. (See also — Ralph Blumenthal and Rachel Mosteller, “Voluntary Simplicity Movement Re-emerges,” May 18, 2008, New York Times.)
You may decide to simplify your possessions and activities, but you do it only after an energetic and non-simple thought process of self-examination and goal-setting. We all have the same amount of time – 24 hours — to spend every day of our lives. We can use it to purchase new baubles, or we can use it to construct deeper connections between ourselves, family, the Earth, and The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos.
Reforming and Redirecting Your Life
Perhaps Reorganizing seems inadequate, or just plain wrong, to you. You feel pushed and or pulled to strike out in a new direction; to reform yourself, and create a different life. Moving in a new direction includes things like taking a new job, divorcing, retiring, returning to school, or living in a new location.
Reforming and Redirecting often employ the time-honored spiritual process of Retreat, Introspection, Confession, Atonement, Letting Go, and Recommitment. Many of these strategies also include some type of significant simplification in one or more area of our lives.
Our outward lives may need major changes. Often, however, we first need to reform, to re-form our own fundamental character.
If so, this process must deal with our personal flaws of character, past wrongdoings, and continuing resentments. Most religions have a process for this. Twelve-step programs, psychotherapy, and ACT Psychology are also designed to handle this.
- The most primitive religions in the world require making an “offering” to God intended to bribe Him to lend a helping hand.
- In early Judaism, the process required a burnt offering at the Temple.
- Hindus and Buddhists believe in karma — that past sins will inevitably be punished either in this life or in a person’s next life after reincarnation. Bad karma (bad acts) can only be countered by good karma (good acts).
- Christianity holds that a person can be forgiven of their sins if they truly take Jesus into their lives as their personal savior. Thus, Catholics routinely go to confession, vow to do better, and say prayers of penance.
- The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have a similar process to “clear away the wreckage of the Past.” People admit their “character defects,” to God and to another human being, make amends for past wrongs, dedicate themselves to a path of rigorous honesty, accept “God’s will,” and “turn their lives over to the care of God as they understand Him.”
The same sequence of actions can be used on a daily basis. Individuals can review each day in their minds before going to sleep, identifying the good and bad things they did during the day. In the morning, the person can spend time meditating, reflecting, and envisioning (i.e., what religious people would call “praying”). They can remind themselves of things to be thankful for, setting up the day to be met with optimism and positive action, and they can apologize to the people they wronged on the prior day.
When All Else Fails…
… When all else fails, get yourself a dog – an “ambassador from the biosphere” —
“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things – a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”
― John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, 2005, Harper Collins.
APPENDIX to this Essay: Additional Information on Leading a Fulfilled & Happy Life
Part I. Additional Information on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Part II. Additional Information on the “Prosperity Gospel”
Part III Additional Information on the Positive Thinking Movement and Self-help Books
Part IV. Additional Information on the Positive Psychology Movement
Part V. Additional Information on “PERMA” and The Yale Course on Happiness
Part VI. Additional Information on Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Part VII. Additional Information on What Old Religions Say About Happiness & Fulfillment
Part I – Additional Information on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
The Book of Continuing Creation’s Seven Elements of a Fulfilled and Happy Life are similar to Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” which first appeared in a 1943 issue of the Psychological Review. In 1971, Maslow list was amended to include three additional Needs, for a final total of eight. 32
In both lists, Maslow argues that our physiological and security needs must be met first, then social needs can be met, and then we can pursue our more conceptual needs – aesthetics, self-actualization, and transcendence.
Maslow’s Needs are often presented in a pyramid, with #1 on the bottom, #2 next higher, and so on up to #5 at the top of his 1943 List; and up to #8 at the top of his 1971 List. The pyramid shape illustrates that the lower numbered Needs must be satisfied first, before people can more up to satisfy the higher-ranked needs. Here is a diagram of the 1943 List:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 1943:
- Physiological Needs
- Safety Needs
- Need for Love and Belonging
- Need for Esteem
- Need for Self-actualization
Maslow’s Reformulated Hierarchy of Needs, 1971:
- Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
- Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
- Belongingness and Love needs – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
- Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
- Cognitive needs – need for Knowledge & Understanding.
- Aesthetic Needs – need for symmetry, order, variety, beauty.
- Self-Actualization needs – need to realize personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
- Need for Transcendence — to connect to something beyond the ego or to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential.
( The List of 8 Needs can be seen at http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/conation/maslow.html )
The few major studies that have been completed on hierarchies of needs seem to support the proposals of psychologist William James (1892) that there are three levels of human needs: Material (physiological, safety), Social (belongingness, esteem); and Spiritual. Clayton Alderfer (1972) developed a comparable hierarchy with his ERG (Existence, Relatedness, and Growth) theory.
Today, there are quite a few different factor-models of well-being, and our own List of Elements is one of them. Here’s another one: In 1989, Professor Carol Ryff published her Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being, and results from additional testing of its factors was published in 1995. Her model postulates six factors which are key for well-being, namely:
- Personal growth,
- Purpose in life,
- Environmental mastery,
- Autonomy, and
- Positive relations with others.33
Neuroscientist and well-known critic of religion Sam Harris, writing in his book The Moral Landscape, sums up his important factors in just two sentences:
“Psychologists confirm that people tend to be happier if they have good friends, have basic control over their lives, and enough money to meet their needs.
Loneliness, helplessness, and poverty are not recommended.” 34
Part II – Additional Information on the “Prosperity Gospel”
In 1905, one of the founders of sociology, Max Weber, wrote The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Before the Protestant Reformation, Catholicism had assured people that they could get to heaven if they sincerely asked for God’s forgiveness of sins and did penance. After the Reformation, new Protestant denominations, particularly those influenced by Calvinism, said that since God is omniscient, He had, from the beginning of time, preordained who would go to heaven and who would not. Asking forgiveness and doing penance would have no effect on the outcome.
Weber argued that these Protestants began to look for “signs” that they were among the “chosen” who were going to be saved. So, if a person owned a factory that used child labor, that business was good in God’s eyes, because He had caused it to exist. Therefore, the factory owner would be self-confident and work hard because any monetary success he might enjoy would be a “sign” of his coming salvation. This argument is clearly ridiculous by today’s standards of morality and child-labor laws.
In other words, self-confidence and prosperity took the place of priestly assurance of God’s grace. Moreover, it was obviously a good thing for the factory owner to reinvest and make this clothing business grow – growth would be an additional sign of God’s favor. Giving money to the poor, or paying his workers higher wages, would only “waste” the money on people who were evidently not in God’s favor.
During the 20th century and into the 21st, there have been many Protestant ministers, (and at least one Buddhist teacher) who have preached the “Prosperity Gospel,” which encouraged people to find material prosperity by becoming self-confident true believers in God. The Prosperity Gospel drew (and still draws) draws on both pop-psychology and religion.
Part III – Additional Information on the Positive Thinking Movement and Self-help Books
Note: The Positive Thinking Movement is historically linked to the Prosperity Gospel. Both of them are older and less rigorous than Positive Psychology, which is an evidence-based social science. (None of these are to be confused with the philosophy of Positivism, which is about the scientific method and the nature of truth.)
The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In Europe in the mid-1700’s, the Enlightenment got people thinking about democracy and the “pursuit of happiness.” In the 1800’s and 1900’s, the Industrial Revolution provided a huge new middle class with enough time and prosperity to pursue happiness and satisfaction in their lives.
In the 1950’s, popular American authors started to write best-selling “self-help books” promoting “Positive Thinking.” The Positive Thinking Movement was all about achieving a Fulfilled and Happy Life (and for some authors, riches as well). (For more about the Positive Thinking Movement, read One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, by Mitch Horowitz, 2014, Crown Publishing.)
The central message of the Positive Thinking Movement was, “If you think it, you can make it so.” Especially if you think it over and over, try it out, correct and improve, and try it again (the cybernetic feedback loop).
Examples of “Positive Thinking” Best-sellers:
— Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
— Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich (1937)
— Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (1952)
— Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics (1969)
To see a list of Tom Bowden’s list of the “50 Self-Help Classics” of all time, click on the link below:
50 Self-Help Classics. (See http://www.butler-bowdon.com/classicslist.)
Here are some of the many Prosperity Gospel Preachers and/or Positive Thinking writers, along with a characteristic quotation from each:
- Carol S. Pearson – “The way to free ourselves of shadow possession is to awaken our heroic potential.”
- Wallace Wattles – “A thought is a substance, producing the thing that is imagined by the thought.”
- Napoleon Hill – Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.”
- Norman Vincent Peal – “There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.”
- Dale Carnegie – “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
- Maxwell Maltz – “The self-image is the key to human personality and human behavior. Change the self-image and you change the behavior.”
- Stephen R. Covey – “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
- Joel Osteen – “When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.” (Your author J.X. Mason remarks, “If you could wring the pomade out of Osteen’s hair, you would double the nation’s petroleum reserves.”)
- Thich Nhat Hanh – “There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way.”
- Scott Peck, “If we know exactly where we’re going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we’ll see along the way, we won’t learn anything.”
- Ellen J. Langer, “Mindfulness can encourage creativity when the focus is on the process and not the product.”
Note: Mitch Horowitz, a best-selling author and vice-president and editor in chief at Thatcher/Penguin, has written an excellent history of the Positive Thinking Movement called, One Simple Idea (2014, Crown Publishers).
Part IV – Additional Information on the Positive Psychology Movement
Starting in the 1930’s, social scientists started to study Happiness and Fulfillment, particularly behavioral psychologists who carried out controlled behavioral experiments.
We quote three paragraphs from the Wikipedia entry for Positive Psychology as it appeared in April, 2019.
“Positive psychology is “the scientific study of what makes life most worth living,” or “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.” Positive psychology is concerned with what the Ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, “the good life,” reflections about what holds the greatest value in life – the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life.
“Positive psychology began as a new domain of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Christopher Peterson, and Barbara Fredrickson are regarded as co-initiators of this development. It is a reaction against psycho-analysis and behaviorism, which have focused on “mental illness,” meanwhile emphasizing maladaptive behavior and negative thinking. It builds further on the humanistic movement, which encouraged an emphasis on happiness, well-being, and positivity, thus creating the foundation for what is now known as positive psychology.
“Positive psychologists have suggested a number of ways in which individual happiness may be fostered. Social ties with a spouse, family, friends and wider networks through work, clubs or social organizations are of particular importance, while physical exercise and the practice of meditation may also contribute to happiness. Happiness may rise with increasing financial income, though it may plateau or even fall when no further gains are made.” 35
Part V – Additional Information on “PERMA” and The Yale Course on Happiness
In 1981, Psychology Professor Laurie Santos’ course on happiness, titled Psychology and the Good Life,” became the most popular course in Yale’s history, with approximately one-fourth of Yale’s undergraduates enrolled. 36
The Yale course on Happiness is largely based on PERMA, an acronym for Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments
In his 2011 book Flourish: A Visionary Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, 37 psychologist and author Martin Seligman argued that “meaningful life consists of the following five things (as quoted in the Wikipedia article, on Positive Psychology, referenced April, 2019):
Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments, or PERMA for short.
- “Positive Emotions include a wide range of feelings, not just happiness and joy. Included are emotions like excitement, satisfaction, pride and awe, amongst others. These emotions are frequently seen as connected to positive outcomes, such as longer life and healthier social relationships.”
- “Engagement refers to involvement in activities that draw and build upon one’s interests. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains true engagement as flow, a state of deep effortless involvement, feeling of intensity that leads to a sense of ecstasy and clarity. The task being done needs to call upon higher skill and be a bit difficult and challenging yet still possible. Engagement involves passion for and concentration on the task at hand and is assessed subjectively as to whether the person engaged was completely absorbed, losing self-consciousness.”
- “Relationships are essential in fueling positive emotions, whether they are work-related, familial, romantic, or platonic. As Christopher Peterson puts it simply, “Other people matter.” Humans receive, share, and spread positivity to others through relationships. They are important not only in bad times, but good times as well. In fact, relationships can be strengthened by reacting to one another positively. It is typical that most positive things take place in the presence of other people.”
- “Meaning (also known as Purpose), prompts the question of “why”. Discovering and figuring out a clear “why” puts everything into context from work to relationships to other parts of life. Finding meaning is learning that there is something greater than one’s self. Despite potential challenges, working with meaning drives people to continue striving for a desirable goal.”
- “Accomplishments are the pursuit of success and mastery. Unlike the other parts of PERMA, they are sometimes pursued even when accomplishments do not result in positive emotions, meaning, or relationships. That being noted, accomplishments can activate the other elements of PERMA, such as pride, under positive emotion. Accomplishments can be individual or community-based, fun- or work-based.”
Each of the five PERMA elements was selected according to three criteria:
- It contributes to well-being.
- It is pursued for its own sake.
- It is defined and measured independently of the other elements.
Part VI – Additional Information on Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Quite a few authors have sold best-selling books about steps for goal achievement. Below is Stephen R. Covey’s list of steps from his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.: 38
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergize
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Covey explains his “Upward Spiral” model in the sharpening the saw section of his book. He says that if we repeatedly cycle through his 7 Habits, we will build an upward spiral of growth, change, and improvement. The Upward Spiral model consists of three parts: learn, commit, do. The spiral will propel one along the path of personal freedom, security, wisdom, and power. This is similar to the “broadening and deepening” effect we expect from our own Seven Steps. 39
“Self-help” and “Effective Habits” According to the Prose Poem, Desiderata.
We can think of Max Ehrmann’s famous prose poem, Desiderata, as a kind of early self-help book, or as an early list of “habits for effective people.”
Desiderata (Latin: “desired things”) is a 1927 prose poem by American writer Max Ehrmann (1872–1945). Largely unknown in the author’s lifetime, the text became widely known after its use in a devotional, after subsequently being found at Adlai Stevenson’s deathbed in 1965, and after spoken-word recordings in 1971 and 1972. 40
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Part VII – Additional Information on What the “Old Religions” Say About Happiness & Fulfillment
Today, in the twenty-first century, we Agents of Continuing Creation must talk at length about achieving a Fulfilled and Happy Life because it is intertwined with our Spiritual Path. But this was not always the case. For most of pre-history and recorded history, human energies were consumed by finding food, finding shelter, and staying safe.
In ancient and medieval times, people struggled for simple survival. They were beset with disease, hunger, famine, war, oppression, and early death. What they sought from Religion was largely escape – rescue by a semi-divine Messiah who would establish a Kingdom of God on Earth, or knowledge of how to achieve individual transcendence to the higher spiritual plane of Nirvana. And if all else failed, Old Religion taught the common people to endure, believe in the “right” God, and eventually qualify for new and perfect life in heaven.
The Book of C.C. contains individual Essays on many of the major world religions. For our purposes here, we simply give the following highly abbreviated remarks about how some of those religions address the concept of a Fulfilled and Happy Life:
The Torah – The Jewish People wait for the Messiah to free them from political domination by other tribes. Meanwhile, God’s laws and commandments must be followed. After the Romans destroy the Temple 70 CE and rabbinical Judaism is evolved, the path of mystical retreat is also available to believers through obsessive study of the Torah, Talmud, and Kabbalah.
New Testament – Jesus preaches that the Kingdom of God on Earth is imminent. The Messiah will come and overthrow the Romans, ushering in an era of world love and peace.
Buddhism – Individual practitioners can transcend (escape) into the spiritual state of nirvana; becoming oblivious to suffering.
Islam – The word “Islam” means “surrender.” Followers are to God’s law and observe God’s rituals. Doing that will give them peace of mind and earn them a place in Paradise.
Unlike the Old Religions, Old Philosophies provided considerable advice on how to handle daily life:
- As early as 500 BCE, Lao Tsu wrote the masterful Tao Te Ching, which is all about daily living.
- The Ancient Greeks, particularly Plato, developed a sophisticated philosophy of well-being that is still powerful today.
- The Romans, particularly Marcus Aurelius, wrote with great wisdom about achieving happiness and fulfillment through Stoicism.
- Zen Buddhism, can be applied to make us a better craftsmen, soldiers, and human beings.
Of course, in addition to their philosophies, the ancient Greeks and Romans had slaves and servants to help them with their daily lives. Senior Zen monks had (and still have) junior Zen monks to do all the housework. Although almost nothing is known about the daily life of the real or imagined sage of Taoism, Lao Tsu, ancient Chinese artists pictured him as last seen wandering west into the mountains alone, riding on a water buffalo.
The Taoist sage, Lao Tzu. (But not riding on his water buffalo)
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- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Flow, the Secret to Happiness,” February 2004, Ted Talk, http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.
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- Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods, 1854.
- Robert Sullivan, The Thoreau You Don’t Know, 2009, Collins.
- http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/thoreaus-pencil/?_r=0. See also,
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- Carol Ryff, “Carol Ryff’s Model of Well-being,” Living Meanings, at http://livingmeanings.com/six-criteria-well-ryffs-multidimensional-model/
- Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, 2010, Free Press (Simon & Schuster), p. 183.
- Wikipedia article footnotes 1,2,3,4,5,6.
- David Shimer, avid (2018-01-26). “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness,” 1-26-2018, The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. See also Jever Mariwala, “Santos Course Breaks Enrollment Record,”1-22-2018, Yale News.
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- From Wikipedia – Covey’s Seven Habits of Effective People (at work)
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