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Happiness as the basis for defining love.

September 12, 2008

Thanks to everyone for the wonderful comments on yesterday’s posts. By no means do I wish to curtail the conversation themes that are being played out through the posts started on September 11th, but I would like to create a new post to continue to feed the love.

Some of the criticism and concern that has been voiced to me as I have started assembling ideas and energy for this Love-Revolution experiment regard the choice for using the word “love.” I have been warned by some intelligent and articulate folks that the word is too ambiguous and too charged with divergent meanings for people and that the ideas about “love” are all over the map. Whereas one person might think instinctively of maternal imagery upon hearing the word “love,” another might be mentally directed toward erotica or intense romantic meaning. All of these are valid. I would like to deliberately hijack the word, though, in large part exactly BECAUSE it is so disparately charged. If anything, the coalescence of a common understanding for the word “love” in the context of Love-Rev-related conversations is, itself, symbolic of what the experiment is all about: namely, bringing wildly distinct backgrounds and ideas to a common table where we as a part of the same human family can enjoy one another’s company, recognize and support the things we share, and learn to respect the things we don’t. I’m convinced that when we see each other rightly, we will increasingly learn that our hopes, needs, fears, joys, and aching are more common than we might initially appreciate.

Having said this, I would like to direct the focus of the conversation to the emerging field of science known as “positive psychology.” Do not be deceived by the doleful sounding term. Far from a superficial “happy-ology,” the field of positive psychology is committed to rigorously and seriously investigating what it is about the experience of human life that produces the phenomenon of happiness. Short of spilling my guts to attempt a summary of the findings from the field, let me suggest that you investigate the website created by Marty Seligman, a major pioneer in this exciting field. The link to his site is:

Authentic happiness. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we are all seeking? Both for ourselves and for our loved ones? Beyond alleviating the suffering of others (a very necessary engagement), can we develop a set of skills and traits that will empower us to actually enable happiness in other human beings? Can we learn to include our un-loved ones in the group for whom we seek to enable authentic happiness? In essence, can we learn to become the type of human being who is both capable and inclined to create a radius of happiness in the world of people around them, regardless of the kin status, past experience, or potential for reward from those in our perimeters of influence?

Happiness is complex. But I believe that by understanding its nature and its roots, we will have a more secure anchor point for our work to include the entire human population in our circle of people for whom we wish this phenomenon of happy living.

This is the experiment—to see if we can truly understand the nature of happiness more comprehensively. Then, to challenge our own heart and emotion and psychology to reach beyond the realm of convenience and actively wish for this phenomenon of happiness to be a part of the lives of our fellow human beings.

Thoughts? Is it possible to define happiness? Is it possible to study happiness empirically, objectively, or even as a field of science at all? Are the root experiences of happiness so far different for every human and human population that any pursuit of this sort is doomed from the start to dissipate into vagueness, or to become so broad that it would become meaningless?


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