Happiness. Some would argue that, like a unicorn, it is the most elusive of human quests and may not even exist. The wizened Monks of New Skete do not seem to think so. Nor do I.
As a psychiatrist, I have asked hundreds of patients what happiness is. I have received hundreds of different answers. But despite the fact that each person may ultimately view happiness differently, I am convinced that there is a common thread - a most unexpected one - to be found in all those who have established an enduring sense of happiness. Through my clinical work, my readings, and my personal experiences, the nature of this thread has become clearer and more tangible. It is a thread that is of the utmost utlility. It is the thread that leads to happiness.
In the following pages we will meticulously track down this thread. We will sculpt a definition of happiness that provides us with a compass for better understanding how to pursue it. Our quest will lead us to search out the very nature of man, where we will uncover a new and exciting model - the human matrix. This contemporary model of human nature will show us what it is that limits our ability to find happiness and what it is that allows us to transcend those very same limits.
In our quest, we will pull upon a vast array of resources, trying with every step to see the world anew from as many perspectives as can shed light on our pathway. We will hear from saints and sinners, quantum physicists and poets, avatars of analytic thought and those who trust more the realm of magic and hope. We will also tap the wisdom of my patients and the wisdom I have gained through my own quirky encounters with the strange wonderment we call life. As we pull upon all of these resources, we will find ourselves exploring the nooks and crannies, the nuances and shadows, the details and the unknowns of everyday existence, for it is in such nuances that wisdom often waits.
I should also mention what the book is not. Our book is not a scholarly or academic treatise filled with case studies and statistics. I believe in such writings, and, indeed, have spent much of my career writing them. But the goal of this book is not proof. It is provocation. It is incantation. It is an invitation to think creatively, to view our very existence with a new lens. And with this fresh lens - the human matrix - to search for the type of applied spirituality where we find bits and pieces of our self and our purpose in our daily encounters.
As we wrap up this Introduction, you will note that I keep using words such as "our book" and "we shall uncover", as if you, the reader, were, in reality, one of the authors of the book. The reason for this choice of words is a simple one - you are.
Not in the sense that you are writing the words, but in the sense that only the reader can determine the final meaning of the words. Each reader puts his or her own stamp on a book's meaning as surely as any editor puts his or her stamp on its words. Many gifted writers have been keenly aware of this fact - that their final period does not end the creative process. It begins it.
The goal of the writer is to spark creativity and excitement in the reader, to create movement. In truth we really are co-creators of this work. As the author I am fully aware that I am not the one who has ultimate control of the creation. You are. In that sense I hope that you have great fun with it and that you create marvelous works of living art in the pursuit of your quest for happiness.
The gifted novelist John Fowles wonderfully captures the peculiar nature of this co-creation between writer and reader. From the very first time I read the following excerpt, it had a strange fascination for me. It seemed to hint at the magic that occurs between an author and a reader, for I truly believe it is a magic of sorts:
As you read this book, I hope that you palpably feel this tension between the writer and the reader, between you and me, between you reading the book and the book reading you. Happiness Is. will read you in the sense that it will trigger memories, moments and laughter that are unique to you and no other reader. This coming face to face with one's own story is critical for understanding the unique pathways that each of us must find in our pursuit of happiness.
In the following pages the explorations of some of my patients, as they sought the meaning of their stories, are told. In all instances their names have been changed, and, at times, distinguishing characteristics or facts have been altered to further protect their identity without disrupting the essential reality of our work together.
As we conclude, I am reminded of a Zen parable. In it, the attributes of a man of true wisdom, a monk of the highest order are described. The list of attributes is a surprisingly short one. Great masters seem to share the following three traits: 1) they are very funny and particularly good at laughing at themselves, 2) they are driven by an intense sense of compassion, and 3) despite years of practice, they approach every aspect of Zen with a "Beginner's Mind", always open to new ideas and fresh solutions.
I believe this is a good standard by which to judge our co-creation. If we both do our jobs, we can only hope that when we are done, that the writing and the reading of "Happiness Is." will have made us laugh loudly, stirred our sense of compassion, and opened our minds to the endless wonderment of our never ending ability, as Homo sapiens, to be both the creator of our problems and the designer of our solutions.