The Happiness Series:
Part III – Happiness and Self-Actualisation
BSc, MSc, DipAdvHyp
In Part II of the Happiness Series, we discovered that all emotions, including happiness, are nothing but the subjective experience of objective mental energy patterns. I explained that happiness is a pleasurable emotion because it arises from objectively harmonious mental energy patterns (which we shall now refer to as mental harmony), whereas painful emotions are painful because they arise from objectively disharmonious mental energy patterns (which we shall now refer to as mental disharmony).
But what does it really mean in a practical sense when we use the phrases mental harmony and mental disharmony? How can this be translated into subjective terms; into a way that we human beings can understand and apply to our own lives?
These questions will form the basis of this article.
Energy Is Dynamic
The first thing to consider is the nature of energy itself. Energy is dynamic, meaning that it constantly changes and transforms. Energy is never static. As the great Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “There is nothing permanent except change”.
Since everything in existence is ultimately composed of energy, it follows that everything in existence also dynamically changes.
We can easily see this fundamental truth when we look anywhere around us. On a cosmic scale, trillions of stars and billions of galaxies spread out across the vast reaches of space and constantly change and develop. New stars are born, old stars die. Some stars explode into supernovae, while others implode into black holes. Planets and moons are created from the remnants of dead stars, forming new solar systems.
Here on Earth, the natural world is fundamentally dynamic, and this is best exemplified in the wonderous tendency of living organisms and creatures to adapt and evolve in response to wider changes in the environment.
We need only take a look at our own lives to see that we too are a part of this never-ending dynamic process of constant change. We physically develop and change as we age. We experience all kinds of positive and negative experiences. We begin new relationships, and we sometimes end old relationships. Relationships that don’t end inevitably change, often in profoundly positive ways, sometimes in painfully negative ways. At times, we decide to pursue a certain path in our lives, but later we change our minds to pursue another. Our tastes, interests, hobbies and passions grow and develop, as does our skill and knowledge in areas we concern ourselves with. We experience painful situations that change us, whether for better or for worse.
Wherever and however you look at the human condition, change is an absolutely fundamental and inescapable force that permeates all aspects of our lives. Our minds are constantly changing, and this process of change never stops.
How can this alter our understanding of happiness? Well, like all emotions, happiness is dynamic, and naturally fluctuates, changes and develops. Though we might wish it, permanent happiness is not only unnatural but is also formally impossible.
In fact, would you even want to experience complete, unwavering and total happiness for all time? Really think about this. Is it solely the pleasure that happiness beings that gives it its value? Or instead, is it both the pleasure of happiness and the pain of unhappiness that makes us truly appreciate happiness when we experience it?
Life is a journey, and during that journey, we experience the kaleidoscope of all emotions, from positive emotions to negative emotions and everything in between. This is the real juice of life, the thing that makes life worth living.
Thus, happiness is cyclical. Happiness comes and happiness goes. We miss happiness when it’s gone, but its absence moves us to seek it out once more. To truly know the full, warming, pleasurable embrace of happiness, we must know the empty, cold, painful sting of sadness.
The great test of life is to understand this cyclical process and to resist the temptation to try and escape from unhappiness using quick, easy and superficial pleasures.
Life Has A Purpose
It is also important to realise that while your mind is dynamic and constantly changing, it does so purposefully and not arbitrarily. In other words, change does not happen for no reason, nor is change ever random or inexplicable. There is always a reason to explain anything that occurs, and the changes that occur in your mind and in your life are no exception to this truth.
I believe that life is teleological—which means that life has an ultimate purpose—and I believe that change reflects the journey towards this ultimate purpose.
What is this ultimate purpose? I believe it is to strive towards what is known as the state of self-actualisation.
The path to self-actualisation involves becoming everything that you are capable of becoming and actualising all of your potential. It involves learning about who you are and overcoming all of your weaknesses, fears and flaws. The self-actualised individual defines their own life and is a slave to no one.
If we define self-actualisation as a destination at the end of a path, we can imagine that some people are further along down the path (i.e. closer to self-actualisation) than others.
People who are further away from self-actualisation are riddled with inner conflict and turmoil that psychologically pulls them apart. In objective terms, their mental energy patterns are disharmonic, muddled, inefficient, unclear, asymmetrical and inconsistent.
On the other hand, people who are closer to self-actualisation are far more psychologically integrated, autonomous and balanced. In objective terms, their mental energy patterns are harmonic, ordered, efficient, clear, symmetrical and consistent.
Becoming self-actualised is like solving a puzzle within yourself. If your mental energy patterns are disharmonic, asymmetrical and unbalanced, the task is to transform them so that they become increasingly harmonic, symmetrical and balanced. In subjective terms, this involves growing and developing as a person, learning who you are, owning who you are, overcoming your weaknesses, flaws and fears, and developing your knowledge, skills and talents. It means facing your inner demons, re-evaluating your desires, motives and wishes, and gaining the power to take control of your life.
The Actualising Tendency
The psychologist Carl Rogers coined the phrase the actualising tendency, which refers to a natural, innate and universal inner desire for human beings to strive for self-actualisation. I believe that the actualisation tendency is ubiquitous across all nations, cultures and groups of human beings. In other words, all of us are naturally and automatically compelled to strive for self-actualisation, whether we like it or not. It is simply part of who we are as human beings and reflects a fundamental purposeful, meaningful and teleological aspect of existence itself.
Ultimately, I believe that true, enduring happiness can be found by embracing this actualising tendency. If you wish to be truly and enduringly happy, then you must walk the path to self-betterment, self-improvement, self-ownership, and self-overcoming. I firmly believe that the process of self-actualisation is the true source of lifelong happiness because it allows you to discover the ultimate meaning and purpose of your existence.
Self-Actualisation = Self-Empowerment
The more self-actualised you become, the greater self-empowerment you wield. What do I mean by self-empowerment?
Well, I am not referring to social or economic power—both of which ultimately involve power over groups of people—but rather the degree of power you have over yourself.
In general, power is defined as the ability to act (see https://bit.ly/2kHkRNa). Thus, self-empowerment means knowing exactly what you want and having the ability to effectively act upon what you want.
Your self-empowerment is yours and yours alone. Nobody else can claim it and nobody can wield it, only you can.
By increasing your level of self-actualisation, you increase your level of self-empowerment. This is because self-actualisation involves knowing exactly who you are, overcoming your limitations, fears and weaknesses, and increasing your skills, talents and abilities, all of which give you greater power to know what you want and the ability to act upon what you want.
Greater Empowerment = Greater Happiness
I have proposed that emotions are subjective experiences of mental energy patterns. Harmonic mental energy patterns lead to pleasurable emotions, while disharmonic mental energy patterns lead to painful emotions. I have also proposed that greater mental harmony equals greater power.
Thus, it follows that if pleasurable emotions are the subjective experience of mental harmony, and mental harmony represents an increased degree of self-empowerment, then pleasurable emotions are the subjective experience of increased self-empowerment, while painful emotions are the subjective experience of decreased self-empowerment. In other words, we experience pain when we feel disempowered, and pleasure when we feel empowered.
Now, this is a very general explanation of what emotions are, and of course, different emotions are defined by unique circumstances that increase self-empowerment or decrease self-empowerment. For example, while excitement and happiness are both pleasurable emotions, we can distinguish between them by the fact that excitement is an intense emotion that arises from anticipation of a future situation that is believed will lead to an increase in self-empowerment, while happiness is a less intense emotion that arises from reflection upon a past or present situation that has led to an increase in self-empowerment.
But this is a very deep and very broad topic that will be explored another time. For now, it is important to understand that if we wish to cultivate enduring happiness—and other pleasurable emotions—we must increase our self-empowerment, and to increase our self-empowerment, we must walk the path of self-actualisation. In other words, if you wish to be truly happy, you must find and commit yourself to your ultimate purpose in life. Simple, quick and easy forms of pleasure cannot ever lead to enduring happiness, but personal growth and self-empowerment certainly can.
The take-home message from this article is that we experience happiness when we feel our self-empowerment has increased, and we experience unhappiness when we feel our self-empowerment has decreased. To increase our self-empowerment, we must walk the path of self-actualisation.
In the next article, we will explore how you can pursue self-actualisation in your own life.