The Nature of Happiness



Saving the World by

Rediscovering Happiness

Despite all that modern civilization has wrought in terms of conveniences, entertainment, travel, and the freedom to do about whatever we want, most people are not all that happy, not even the wealthy.

Though we put on a positive face, we live with a deep sense of uncertainty about life’s meaning, and where things are headed. Instead of feeling connected with our deeper selves in our relationships with others, we mostly go through the motions, doing what is necessary to get through each day. In view of all we have, and of our sincere desire to live meaningful, abundant lives, why do we feel so unhappy, isolated, and unfulfilled?

I am Chet Shupe, author of Eden—Regaining our Spiritual Freedom. These essays introduce my unique perspective on what is going on. My views are based on 30 years of thought and study that began when, as an adult, I was successfully medically treated for Attention Deficit Disorder. My life before treatment could be described as largely a story of surrealistic horrors. The experience of suddenly having the synapses of my brain function normally, after a lifetime of dysfunction, provided me unexpected insight regarding what those billions of neurons are doing up there. That experience, combined with my professional background in system control theory, has provided me with a unique perspective from which to view the human condition.

Our general state of unhappiness is not new. Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been trying to solve problems that have no solutions. Even if we could solve them, it wouldn’t help us achieve happiness. Happiness comes only when our day-to-day activities are aligned with our souls. Only then do we sense the deeper connection with one another for which we yearn.

The problem is, we are focusing on the wrong things: Life’s question isn’t, “What should I accomplish in life,” but, “Am I being true to my soul in my relationships with those around me?” After all, we can hardly expect to satisfy our most heartfelt yearnings, if we are not being true to ourselves.

Focused, as we are, on the wrong things, our attempts to control world problems are fueled by the assumption that we can control the future. But how can we presume to control the future when, by and large, we can’t even control our personal relationships to mutual satisfaction? Instead of trying to solve world problems by conventional means, maybe it’s time to look for the answers inside ourselves, for nowhere are our problems more evident than in the pain of our most personal relationships.  

Jerry Seinfeld, in one of his standup routines said, “Men want to make their ladies happy. I know many of you ladies don’t believe that, but we really do. We want to do it, but we don’t know how. Sometimes we do it, but we don’t know how we did it!” This comment brought the house down in laughter because almost everyone there had experienced it’s truth.

But, is it really funny? Does laughing at our near universally-shared experience of frustration and even pain make it okay to continue enduring the pain? After all, don’t we usually recognize pain as a sign that something is wrong?

An acquaintance recently told me, “When I don’t have a girlfriend, I wish I did, and when I have one, I wish I didn’t.” Another said, “After many disappointments in trying to establish a meaningful relationship with various women, I finally settled for solving the problem of companionship by getting a dog.”

In my own life, around a year and a half after the divorce that my ex-wife, Joyce, did not want, she and her bridgeplaying female buddies all agreed that their divorces were the best thing that ever happened to them. Though happy marriages do exist, the fact is that unhappiness in our personal relationships is so widespread that many people are now turning away, not just from marriage, but from male-female attachments entirely. More than half of American adults now live alone. Combined with a 50% divorce rate and overcrowded abuse shelters, this suggests that the institution of marriage—and even the concept of pair bonding, itself—are on the verge of collapse. If this trend continues, someday the typical family will consist of a mother with her children, each fathered by a sperm bank donor!

In a way, our unhappiness shouldn’t surprise us. Since the earliest civilizations, marriage has never been about happiness. It is a male-inspired, state-authorized arrangement that gives a couple the right to have and raise children. From the traditional perspective, for a couple to divorce because they are unhappy is selfish, because it ignores the needs of children. But does raising children in unhappy families make sense?

Some want to alleviate the problem by eliminating no-fault divorce laws, and thus make divorce more difficult. Or we could eliminate divorce entirely, by returning to traditional cultures in which women have virtually no legal rights whatsoever, as things remain in many parts of the world today. But there aren’t many who want to go there.

If we can’t go back, then what do we do? Well, as long as we believe our present state of affairs is tolerable, we won’t do anything. Anybody who has been through a divorce knows the sense of failure, uncertainty, and anguish involved. There are also the many years of disappointments, frustration, and pain leading up to the divorce. Divorce is such an agonizing process that many couples avoid it by staying together for life, in various states of discontent. Add to that how this whole scene affects the lives of children, and we can surely agree that this is hardly a tolerable way for humans to live.

In contrast, I see no evidence in the animal world of such suffering from lack of happiness in relationships. Why do our human relationships seem so unnatural and difficult that even “successful” ones must be “worked at,” while the relationships we observe among the other species seem so natural, comfortable, and right?

Do we endure our present state of affairs because we are pleased with it, or have we simply learned to tolerate it because we have no idea what else to do? For instance, we have traditionally been taught that marriage is ordained by God. Breaking our marriage vows thus becomes a transgression against our creator, or in religious terms, a sin. It is quite natural, therefore, for people to believe that, by remaining in an unhappy marriage to avoid sin, they are gaining favors with God which will be returned sometime in the future.

The belief that we will receive our due rewards in Heaven can make nearly any situation tolerable. In other words, being unable to do something to be happy, such as rejecting our God-ordained marriage, what can we do to be happy, other than accept a belief that promises to reward us with future happiness? This example shows how essential is a belief in the afterlife—or in the promise of any other imagined future—is to the emotional health of people who live under civil rule. The promise of an imagined future enables people to endure situations that would otherwise be intolerable. Indeed, that is why the mind-body creates beliefs—to emotionally survive circumstances in which it is not free to satisfy its feelings in the normal way, through direct action. 

Viewed from this perspective, it’s easy to see why the human organism creates belief systems, and also what enables humans to tolerate so much emotional pain—whether from unhappy marriages, loneliness, disagreeable work situations, or etc. Through belief in our plans, dreams, and institutions, we are able to overlook present difficulties, by anticipating happiness in the future. Looking to the future for happiness results in a tunnel vision that largely blinds us to the pain  of our day-to-day lives. And it helps us to ignore the insanity of a way of life that forces us to place the environment at risk when doing the things required for our personal survival. 

Because of our beliefs, modern humans are so focused on future concerns that, when the Dalai Lama was asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said: 

“Man. Because he is so anxious about the future, he does not enjoy the present, the result being that he does not live in the present or the future, but lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The Dalai Lama was pointing out the mindlessness of seeking happiness in the future by reminding us that happiness, like life, itself, either happens in the present, or it doesn’t happen at all.

We may think that, by devotion to our grandiose designs on the future, we will eventually achieve the happiness that we pursue. The problem is, until the future becomes the present, which it never will, we will never know. But, from the perspective of our emotional nature, which gifts us with the ability to be happy, for each day that we ignore the unhappiness of the moment in pursuit of future happiness, we lose another day of our spiritual/emotional life.

Is there a way for us to live in the moment, and thus again know the happiness that our prehistoric ancestors must have experienced each day of their lives? I believe we can, but only if we regain the interdependent relationships that were intrinsic, both to their happiness and their ability to survive.

The first step is to recognize that, as members of a social species, we were configured emotionally by the processes of evolution, so that our primary source of happiness is in the intimacy of interdependent relationships. But, through the practice of pair bonding, over time, we incrementally disband the close-knit extended families we had always depended on to survive. Consequently, human families are now separate, isolated units incapable of surviving alone. For us, as social creatures, that emotional isolation is an overwhelming source of unhappiness.

Having artificially sanctified the practice of pair bonding as the only legitimate means of having and raising children, humanity has left itself bereft of any natural path to happiness. By disbanding our natural families, we have created a culture in which we have no choice but to seek happiness in the pursuit of wealth and privilege.

But there is no real happiness in wealth and privilege, just the disappointments of dreams (both realized and unrealized), the continual need for ever-more wealth, and the proliferation of destroyed habitats resulting from the feverishness of our activities.

Given that one has access to basic needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, happiness has nothing to do with wealth and privilege. It has everything to do with relationships. Without interdependent relationships, we simply are not emotionally there for one another. Instead of finding pleasure by taking care of, and being taken care of by others—as humans did throughout evolution, up to only a few thousand years ago—we have created a culture in which our individual survival depends solely on our ability to manage our personal futures.

We are unhappy, not because of personal failings, but because not taking care of one another leaves us all emotionally stranded. As such, there exists no social context in which being true to our souls in our relationships with those around us is even possible. Furthermore, as competitors for wealth and privilege, we have also become emotional enemies spiritually estranged from one another. Pursuing wealth and privilege does serve an important function, however. It keeps us occupied, which relieves us of having to experience the full measure of our present state of unhappiness.

Regaining our natural state of happiness doesn’t require that we surrender our beliefs, be they invested in religion, nationalism, ideology, or the promise of science and technology. Given our present state of spiritual isolation and estrangement, belief systems are essential for our emotional survival. The more isolated and estranged we are, the more beliefs are needed to fill the spiritual chasm. Indeed, the strength of our beliefs is a direct measure of how much we are deprived of relational intimacy, and thus of the extent of our core unhappiness. 

Like all living organisms, humans flourished throughout evolution by satisfying feelings through direct action—never belief systems. The point I emphasize in my book, Eden—Regaining our Spiritual Freedom, is our need to again embrace natural relationships, which would leave us free to satisfy our feelings by doing something, rather than just believing in something through which we hope to satisfy our feelings in the future.

Free to satisfy its emotions naturally—by doing something—the mind-body would no longer seek resolution in belief systems. No longer needed, belief systems would vanish into thin air, as surely as they materialized out of thin air when groups of humans first became focused on securing imagined future needs, rather than attending to real present ones. That process probably began more than twenty thousand years ago and eventually led to the first civilizations some six thousand years ago. I associate the beginning of civilization with our metaphorical expulsion from the Garden of Eden as related in Judeo-Christian traditions, hence, the title of my book, Eden.

Some argue, like it or not, that we are stuck with civil rule. Indeed, mankind is so invested in law and order that, in our minds, it just has to work. Any suggestion to the contrary, no matter how sound, is regarded as impractical, and thus beside the point. Whether or not we are stuck with civil rule, I can’t accept it. I see too clearly how our emotional natures communicate to us the survival wisdom of our species. I also see how civil rule, by focusing us on imagined future needs, instead of present experienced ones, represses virtually all our emotions about sharing, even as it outlaws most of our emotions regarding relationships. Civil rule so stifles the wisdom of our souls that to remain under its influence would soon mean the end of mankind. It would also mean that humans—for as long as we last—will be doomed to pursuing happiness, instead of ever again knowing the real thing.

Rather than accepting that we are forever emotionally stranded by our fear of the future—the basis for our subjugation to civil rule—I prefer to believe that, because of the irresolvable issues allowed to fester in the presence of cultural dysfunction, there will come a time when the ageless wisdom of the human soul again gains control.

Though millennia have passed since we last trusted our genetic wisdom, it remains with us and accessible, even to this day. When we call upon it, the soul stands ready to guide us, but not to some idealized notion of a future in which all human needs are eternally satisfied and all sources of human conflict forever resolved. The soul will guide us to a very different place, a place of real happiness and of oneness, with each other and with Nature, that can be reached only through interdependent relationships—a place where human needs are dealt with when they arise, and conflict is freely engaged in when people feel the need.

To again become viable expressions of life on this planet, we must recognize the simple mistake that overruled our souls and has caused so much unhappiness, separation, and mayhem. Once we recognize that we must be true to our souls to be happy, we will refuse to accept any way of life that requires us to persistently lie about how we really feel, for the sake of our personal wellbeing. Happiness, you see, is the signal our emotional nature uses to inform us that we are being true to both ourselves and to life. That is how rediscovering happiness will save the world.


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In the Natural World vs. In Our World


Happiness Requires that we Live in a Natural Setting

In the natural world humans evolved by surviving the rigors of Nature. From Darwin, we’ve learned that physical fitness results from the process of natural selection. The most physically fit are the ones most likely to survive. But that is only part of the story of evolution and, regarding happiness, the minor part. Survival requires emotional fitness as well. Emotions motivate individuals to do the things they feel happiest doing. Our emotional nature evolved by virtue of the fact that individuals who felt happiest when doing the things required to survive were indeed the ones most likely to survive, and thereby passed their genes on to future generations. Natural selection, therefore, insures that happiness is the inevitable outcome of evolution. However, this applies only for individuals living in their natural environment.

In our world our environment is not natural. For survival, we depend on the abstractions of money and law, instead of on the reality of Nature and of one another. Without the intimacy of interdependent relationships, unhappiness is rife in our world. Unhappy people tend to feel like failures. But I don’t believe unhappiness is the result of personal failure. It is caused by having to spend most of our lives in unnatural relationships, and having to do unnatural things to survive the emotional cage into which we are born.

An animal raised in a cage will see its life as normal. Indeed, it will become dependent on whatever its captivity offers. The less offered, in terms of food, relationships or shelter, the more it values what is offered. As captives, ourselves, not only do we likewise treasure the meager emotional amenities of our societies, we also see our general state of unhappiness as normal. As unwitting hostages of legal and monetary systems, most of us have never experienced the boundless love inherent in interdependent relationships—relationships that are indispensable because, without them, humans could never have survived the natural world.

Happiness Requires that we Belong to an Extended Family

In the natural world humans are utterly dependent on tightly-bonded extended families for both happiness and survival. They count on their shared commitment to their families for everything that is important in life, including food, shelter, safety, and companionship. As a result, they share deeply-felt bonds of interdependence and intimacy. Without such relational intimacy, modern humans feel insecure and emotionally stranded, which inevitably forces us, for the sake of emotional survival, to become a true believer in something—kings, gods, political leaders, religion, institutions, constitutions, ideology, technology, the future, the afterlife, etc.

In our world family is not based on the emotional and material interdependence that is the hallmark of the natural family. It consists of a legal arrangement authorized by the state. Instead of surviving by taking care of, and being taken care of by others, individuals must look outside the family to earn money and accumulate property to survive. Rather than knowing relational intimacy, which is the principal food for the human soul, we suffer from its opposite, spiritual alienation, often even within our family units. Indeed, respectability requires that we depend on money and law, rather than on one another, to survive.

Happiness Requires that we be True to our Emotional Nature

In the natural world survival requires that we be true to the innate desires, needs and concerns embodied in our emotional nature, which communicates to us our species’ survival wisdom. We are happy when being true to our emotional nature because we are doing what we want to, be it to accept or reject, to sacrifice, or to kill. And, since our emotions reveal the natural laws that enable our species to flourish, being free to do what we want means we are free to be true to life. Happiness is unavoidable in a natural environment, because Nature’s law, as revealed by what makes us happy, is the only law.

In our world we cannot survive by honoring natural law. To be honorable, we must obey manmade laws. Instead of being true to our emotional intelligence, survival requires that we be true to the expectations of everyone in the land, according to the precepts of a monetary and legal system. Rather than knowing ourselves as the loving interdependent beings we really are—except when reacting to a personal offense, or to a violation of our territorial claims—we know ourselves by an artificial paper identity, which is our legal status as defined by marriage, property, vocation, wealth, income, etc. The issue is: How can we be true to our emotional nature, the basic requirement for happiness, when we must honor a legal persona to survive?

Happiness Requires that we be True to the Moment

In the natural world feelings of the moment, not instituted laws, govern our behavior. As such, the moment is all there is. Feelings arise mostly from instinct, but are also informed by memories of past events, and from our knowledge of expected future events that regularly recur, like sunrises and changing seasons. But the reality that feelings project still applies only to the moment. This is the same reality all animals experience, and the one that humans experienced throughout evolution.

In our world, life’s rewards reside mostly in the future: When I get educated, a job, married, a nice home, retired, or when I get to heaven, life will be wonderful. In effect, the future is all there is. That we will rarely feel happy in the present is virtually guaranteed. We must eternally strive to achieve life’s major gratifications, all of which reside in a future that we can only imagine, and which—given the unpredictability of all futures—we erroneously perceive as real. So long as we keep this charade going, by depending for survival on a legal and monetary identity, rather than one another, the act of being true to the feelings of the moment is the one activity we can least afford.

Happiness Requires that we be True to Life

In the natural world our emotional nature, having evolved as an expression of life, inspires us to naturally do the things required to sustain life. By the authority of our emotional nature, we care for one another and also our habitat, because life needs both. In other words, our needs and life’s needs are inseparable. When being true to life, the moment is all we ever need. When not being true to life, we could live a hundred lifetimes, and it would never be enough.

In our world survival requires that we be true to the monetary system, not to life. We survive by purchasing food, shelter, and all other resources necessary to live. How can we be true to life when dependent on money, when we have no idea how our purchases infringe on life’s needs across the planet? Money destroys habitats by disconnecting human souls from the environmental consequences of human activities. If happiness is how evolution rewards us for being true to life, then our present general state of unhappiness is a warning, a grim daily reminder that, because of the things we must do to survive, we are not free to be true to life. Likewise, the current problematic state of human affairs is, by evolution’s standard, an outward reflection of our inner state of unhappiness.

Happiness Requires that we Experience Relational Intimacy

In the natural world, happiness results from our total commitment to life which is the inevitable consequence of our dependence on our habitat and one another. When experiencing the intimacy of interdependent relationships, we automatically have a natural sense of wellbeing. This is because, for millions of years, pre-humans and humans have gained their sense of security primarily through their relationships. Given a functional brain and a habitat that isn’t undergoing serious disruptions, such as droughts, floods, or locust plagues, happiness is unavoidable in the natural world. Even when suffering environmental distress, we aren’t totally bereft. We still have one another. Indeed, one irony of our present situation is that one of the few times we now experience relational intimacy is when taking care of one another in the wake of natural disasters—in other words, when “the system” breaks down.

In our world, an individual’s survival is not dependent on relational intimacy or the wellbeing of life around us, but on the “wellbeing” of our bank account. Our commitment is to our bank account, not to life. Rather than knowing the happiness inherent in relational intimacy, we endure its opposite, the pain of spiritual alienation which we experience as loneliness, whether in crowds or in families inadequate to our emotional needs. Early humans survived by serving people, not bank accounts. People offer us something that bank accounts can’t. When we survive by loving people, people love us back.

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What Happiness Is and Isn’t:

Happiness is a Response to the Moment

Just as you can’t store the warmth of the summer sun to manage the cold of a winter night, you can’t store happiness for later benefit. Nor does the act of anticipating happiness produce it. Like our ability to sense air temperature, happiness or lack thereof registers our mind-body’s reaction to our present circumstances. The main reason we anticipate happiness is to escape the unhappiness we’re experiencing at the moment. Happiness, like life itself, either happens in the moment, or it doesn’t happen.

Happiness is Not a Goal

Establishing goals is a technique we have adapted to provide a reason for living, even though we are not happy. Whenever one does achieve a goal, the happiness one experiences is fleeting. Once the excitement of the accomplishment subsides, we are again aware of unhappiness. We must then refocus our thoughts and efforts on the future by establishing a new goal.

Happiness Cannot be Promised

When we promise someone a lifetime of happiness, we presume that our feelings for them will never change. But, feelings apply only to the moment, and therefore do change—indeed, it is normal that they change. When we try to be faithful to a promise of happiness we’ve made to someone, but our feelings for them are no longer the same, we have to pretend that we feel the same as when the promise was made. Pretending that we feel other than we do is not only hard work, but also a lie. Consequently, relationships based on promises typically result in a lot of work and a lot of lies. Furthermore, pretending never results in real happiness, because body language, the language of the soul, always reveals our true feelings, thus also our lies.

Happiness Does not Imply an Effortless or Trouble-free Existence

In the natural world, life is neither effortless nor trouble free. Consider the effort that migrating birds expend when flying thousands of miles to their wintering grounds, or that beavers exert when building a dam. There is nothing those birds or beavers could be happier doing than putting forth that effort, because it represents their emotional adaptation for species survival. This is true just as surely in the process of humans surviving the natural world, where skills must be perfected, obstacles overcome, trouble and danger dealt with, territory defended, and relationships of cooperation maintained. Our innate desire, our commitment, our effort and participation—in short, the sum total of all that contributes to our collective success at survival—is the only real source of life’s purpose and meaning, and thus of true happiness, for human beings.

“A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.”—Helen Keller.”

Happiness Doesn’t Exist in Hierarchical Societies

Humans generally agree that we are a social species, yet we behave in a way that no other social species does. By bonding in pairs we fly in the face of our innate sensibilities, thus isolating ourselves emotionally from the larger community. This act would be an overwhelming source of unhappiness for most members of any social species. Our resulting unhappiness is reflected in a 50% divorce rate, overcrowded abuse shelters, and ever more children needing foster care.

If emotional isolation is indeed causing our unhappiness, then how can we return to the natural extended families that originally formed organically around the core needs of females, which is to provide a safe haven in which to bear and raise their young? This matriarchal structure can still be seen among social species today, such as lions, elephants, and bonobo chimps, where females, united by their higher calling to raise their young, still have the spiritual authority to be their species’ compass for life’s purpose and direction. As it did throughout evolution, the females’ shared purpose makes them a united front, relative to the males, who do not socially bond (men will bond, but only when they have a common mission, which, in the natural world, would likely be to protect and help provide for the women and their children).

While matriarchies occur naturally, patriarchies do not. Instead of being governed by innately-based feelings, patriarchies require emotional subjugation to laws instituted to control each individual’s access to relationships and property. The very first laws, 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, probably enshrined the practice of imposing lifetime claims on women by men. With women thus enslaved, the sisterhood, and the power of its spiritual authority, were destroyed. Our species thus lost the emotional compass that had always guided it in a sustainable and meaningful way of life.

With humanity thus deprived of its natural sense of direction, patriarchies moved in to fill the vacuum, by establishing hierarchical systems of rule. By organizing us en masse, hierarchies have since enabled humans to accomplish amazing feats, like building pyramids, going to the moon, or reshuffling the genetic code of life. But hierarchies are unable to manage the two things that are crucial to our happiness, and ultimately to our survival—authorize families that satisfy our emotional needs, and to manage a sustainable way of life.

To recover from the coercive authority of hierarchies will require that women reassert their innate spiritual authority. This will happen only when the hearts of individual women recoil sufficiently from the unhappiness that dominates the lives of their children and the other people around them. Only then will they reconnect humanity with Nature and the wisdom that sustains life. They will do this through the conscious decision to socially bond by trusting their lives to a number of other women whom they have come to care deeply about, instead of to the promises of men, legalities, or personal bank accounts. They will do this for precisely the same reason females in social species have bonded for millions of years: To ensure a happy, secure, and functional family in which to bear and raise their young How large will these groups be? Probably between five and seven women, but that won’t be known until each bond forms, and their souls inform them of the number that feels right.

Happiness is Not Fame

We like fame, because it satisfies our need for acceptance—an innate need that evolving humans felt acutely, since they couldn’t survive without acceptance in their close-knit family groups. But fame ultimately fails to satisfy, because it involves a relationship with millions, which is not a natural state. One can relate to millions only by maintaining the image with which the followers are enthralled. This can, and often does, drain the soul, leading to crushing disappointments, even nervous breakdowns. Famous people can experience happiness, but only to the extent that they have people in their lives with whom they are emotionally intimate.

Happiness Does not Result from Wealth and Privilege

We like wealth, because we want the freedom to have and do whatever we want. But to be happy, we must be true to life, and nothing else. This requires that we be true to our instincts, which happens naturally when we are free to honor our feelings of the moment. When having to seek wealth and privilege, on the other hand, we are trying to satisfy imagined future needs. Small wonder, then, that attaining wealth and privilege does not result in happiness, but in an insatiable appetite for more of the same—the more we have, the more we want. When being true to life, on the other hand, all feelings can be satisfied. Indeed, the only freedom our emotional nature wants, the only freedom that brings rest and satisfaction to our souls, is the one our present way of life does not permit—the freedom to answer to our souls. In truth, the very reason life gifted us with souls is to enable us to be true to life.

Happiness Cannot be Pursued

We think we are pursuing happiness, but all any individual human or animal can do is to try to survive our circumstances as reasonably and comfortably as possible. If we lived in a culture governed by instincts like the one in which our emotions evolved, we would naturally be pleased with the relationships it offers and with the activities required to survive. We would be happy. In a culture governed by money and law, however, our instincts are offended by the relationships and activities required to survive, and we are not happy.

Our subconscious mind reacts to our surroundings with feelings. Happiness is thus based on our subconscious mind’s reaction to our immediate circumstances, not on anyone’s plans or assumptions. The prominence in our lexicon of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” is evidence of the high value we place on happiness, but also of our realization that we have not achieved it.

Our tendency is to blame ourselves, someone close to us, or our leaders—in other words, people—for our unhappiness, when, excepting instances of specific brain dysfunctions, unhappiness actually indicates a cultural, rather than a personal failure: Unhappiness occurs when the relationships our culture offers, and the things we must do to survive, are dysfunctional—they do not contribute to the wellbeing of life. If people are largely unhappy, that is a message from our souls that our culture is breeding unhappiness, and thus that we are being coerced to be destructive of life for the sake of our personal survival.

To be happy, instead of to pursue happiness, we have only one option. We must reject cultures based on laws created to satisfy imagined future needs, and we must reestablish natural human cultures by anchoring our lives in relationships that satisfy our immediate shared needs. The fruit of such cultures is the sense of security and wellbeing accessible only through the relational intimacy for which our emotions were created.

We can again experience the happiness of relational intimacy, but not until our hearts are ready to lead us to it. To ready our hearts for action, we must first remind ourselves that pain is one of the ways our mind-body inspires us to action, as when we remove our finger from a hot surface, or eat when hungry. When we feel the pain of unhappiness, that’s our mind-body trying to get us to do something. It wants us to take care of life. But we are not free to do what our mind-body wants us to do, because, to personally survive civil rule, we must be true to instituted law, not to life. As things stand, our options are limited to either continue to suffer the pain of unhappiness, or repress it in the only way we can—by devoting our lives to the future through our plans, hopes, and beliefs.

As long as human life exists, it will never let us off the hook: Regardless of how much civil rule has separated us from our natural state, our emotions remain inexorably connected to Nature and its drive for life. To actually be happy, instead of pursuing it, we must take care of life by attending the needs of those around us in the moment. Jesus’ message reflects this truth, which has not changed in 2,000 years, nor will it ever change.

Entertaining pleasant, and even grandiose designs on the future offers only quick fixes to our pain. This is why our beliefs are so addictive, including the belief that happiness is a matter of personal choice—which, as with all beliefs, presumes that we are subjects of our own  imaginations.  Emotionally  dependent  as we are on our beliefs, instead of on one another, we have to keep convincing ourselves and others that what we believe is true.

I too engage in this practice because, as a civilized man, I live in a world where no one can know the intimacy of interdependent relationships—except sometimes on the battlefield. We speak, we promise, we convince, but we continually fail to act on life’s behalf—to take care of life in the moment. Finding resolution in our beliefs, instead of by acting on life’s behalf, results only in greater unhappiness, in the need for ever-more quick fixes, and, eventually, in life’s end.

Should we, instead, embrace what our mind-body wants, and learn from our unhappiness, the day may come when, to our surprise, we are inspired to actually take care of life. The first and essential step will be to trust our lives to people we have come to care about, and to do so without benefit of separate monetary or legal identities, and without rules on file prescribing how we intend to serve one another. Anchoring our lives in the promise of intimacy, instead of the promise of rules and laws, would liberate us from the illusions of comfort, purpose, and safety imposed by the emotional cage that presently confines us. That would be quite a step, possibly mankind’s greatest accomplishment ever.

Possessed, as we are by our fear of the future, the idea of facing the future without the promise of institutionally-authorized plans seems as crazy to us as a man jumping from a cliff. But, if what we learn from attending to our unhappiness inspires us to take the leap required to reach our spiritual homes, we will be in for an immediate and most-pleasant surprise, as would be the hypothetical cliff jumper who suddenly discovered a parasail strapped to his back.

Spiritual homes, you see, are the only kind that exist outside the imaginary bars of our emotional cage. In our pursuit of happiness, it is the intimacy of a real home, our spiritual home, that we have unknowingly been seeking all the while. Only when buoyed by the immediate and shared concerns of those around us are we free to live in the moment, the singular act that makes it possible to participate in life’s real journey. And, like the hypothetical cliff jumper who unexpectedly finds himself buoyed by the uprushing air, we will find it a most-pleasant, even exhilarating ride. It is, after all, this ride, this journey, for which life has been preparing us since its first stirrings on earth.






Happiness is not an objective. Survival is the objective. If we survive by natural means, we will naturally be happy. Otherwise we won’t.




Happiness occurs only when our emotional natures are pleased with our relationships. That’s how it always was among humans back when our relationships were governed exclusively by our emotions. But, with the advent of civilization, humans accepted institutionally-imposed law as the sole basis for order, and this rendered our feelings meaningless, or worse, agents of disorder. By the authority of written law, our emotional natures, forged by life’s purpose over evolutionary time, were supplanted as the source of order by our intellects, which are oblivious to life’s purpose. But, how can we be happy in relationships over which our emotions have lost virtually all control? We can’t, really. To embrace a way of life in which our emotions again control our relationships requires that we “regain our spiritual freedom.”



Copyright © Chet Shupe 2013, author of:

Eden – Regaining our Spiritual Freedom  ISBN 978-1-935089-27-8, 360pp

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