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Category: Skillful Means

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Throughout the ages humans have gnawed on the conundrum of getting to “happy.”  We know we want it.  We’ll do a lot to get there, we say, as we set up and set out on some course of action or other to “pursue” our own kind of happy.

There are whole libraries of wisdom-words from past generations of sages and wise guys, from the research and cogitations of scientists and other smarty-pants over the past half a century, as well as from the everyday musings and head-scratchings of the man (or woman)-on-the-street that we can tap.

Everybody agrees.  Happy is better for us humans – physically, mentally, and spiritually — than not-happy.

“Live in the Moment, Remember the Past Fondly” by Wade Morgen via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
What people may have a hard time agreeing about, however, is what “happy” is and where it might be located and how we are supposed to get ourselves over there into the “happy-place.”

“Into the Jungle” by Stokes rx via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
And there are more than one school of thought about all this happiness stuff as well.

  • Do we run towards or after happy? Or do we sit there and wait for it to land on us?
  • Is happy inside us? Or does it come to us as a gift from the World, the Universe, the Divine or something other than ourselves?
  • Can someone else make us happy? Or is it a D.I.Y. project?



It seems to me that the problem with the whole “pursuit” thing and with seeing happiness as an end-goal or even as something that is outside our own selves is addressed in this extraordinary YouTube video, “Happiness,” uploaded in 2917 by Steve Cutts:

Ouch!  That one sure feels familiar, doesn’t it?

If the Big Happy is not in us, then we are likely to be in for a really rough struggle getting to our “happy place” and the odds aren’t looking so good for us.  Recovering-Control-Freak Me has a really hard time accepting that one as a viable, sustainable option.

“Always bring your own sunshine” by Kendra via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]


In the mid-1990’s a couple of social scientists, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks, began a most intriguing study never before tackled by smarty-pants of their ilk.  They wandered around the countryside and then the world asking, “Who is the happiest person you know?”

In every town or village or organization the researchers visited, there was usually some consensus about who the happiest-seeming person was in that place.  In the course of their three years of research the pair tracked down hundreds of extremely happy people.

“Happiness sign” by Mike Rastiello via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Most of the people the researchers interviewed were just ordinary folks.  They embodied a wide variety of belief systems, cultures and family backgrounds.  They came from every socio-economic level.  They ranged in age from 16 to 101 and represented all races and every kind of social relationship construct as well.

Like all good scientists, the first thing the researchers did was ask the people who did it best to define what “happiness” was.

Here’s the definition they formulated out of all the answers they got:

…true happiness is a profound, enduring feeling of contentment, capability, and centeredness – the 3 C’s.. It’s a rich sense of well-being that comes from knowing you can deal productively and creatively with all that life offers – both the good and the bad.  It’s knowing your internal self and responding to your real needs, rather than the demands of others.  And it’s a deep sense of engagement – living in the moment and enjoying life’s bounty.”

That definition feels just about right, it seems to me.  It’s sufficiently complex and complicated enough to be real, yet simple enough to get your head around.  It’s just ordinary in an extraordinary way.

“Happy” by Charles Williams via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The researchers collected stories and more stories. Then they started analyzing the stories.

Happiness, it seems, doesn’t come from any specific circumstance.  Happiness begins with each person and the patterns of choices they make that work together to create a kind of synergy, an energy field, that builds up around them and affects how the mega-happy people move and what they do.

It also became evident that how these ultra-happy people move and what they do affect the way they see their worlds.  The perspectives they develop as a result of their actions generate (bet you guessed it!) their own brand of happiness.

“Happy!” by nolifebeforecoffee via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
As Foster and Hicks studied these stories, they began to notice certain patterns that kept repeating themselves in the stories they heard.  The researchers found that every one of the happy people they talked to consistently used the same nine foundational choices to build greater happiness into their own lives.

Integrating the nine choices into the way they lived their lives gave these happy folks lives filled with meaning and mana.  The side-effect of that was the feeling of happiness, as defined by those who lived this way.

Using the patterns they discovered, Foster and Hicks made a “happiness model” that became the basis for their book, HOW WE CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY:  The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People – Their Secrets, Their Stories, which was first published in 1999.

The book, one of the first of its kind, was an instant bestseller.  It has been on bestseller lists ever since.


If you look over the table of contents in Foster and Hicks’ book, you’ll get a quick overview of the nine choices:

  • INTENTION: an active desire and commitment to be happy and the decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that promote happiness;
  • ACCOUNTABILITY: choosing to create the life you want to live and assuming personal responsibility for your actions, thoughts and feelings while refusing to blame others for your difficulties or to view yourself as a victim;
  • IDENTIFICATION: the ongoing process of looking deeply within yourself in order to find out for yourself what makes you happy;
  • CENTRALITY: a non-negotiable insistence of making whatever brings happiness to you the center of your own life;
  • RECASTING: a two-step process that you can use to transform stressful problems and trauma into something that has meaning for you and is a source of emotional energy;
  • OPTIONS: deciding to approach life flexibly by creating multiple scenarios and being open to new possibilities in any situation;
  • APPRECIATION: choosing to deeply appreciate your life and the people in it and to savor the present by turning every experience into something precious;
  • GIVING: choosing to share yourself and what you have with the world – family, friends and community – without expecting a “return”;
  • TRUTHFULNESS: choosing to always be honest with yourself and others;

You will note, I think, that none of this stuff is rocket science.  They’re just regular stuff you’ve probably been told since you were a kid that it’s good to do.

The moves the authors have highlighted are not extraordinarily complex or anything.  They are things anybody can do.

“A hoop of happiness” by Helen Taylor via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
You may, however, want to check out the book to find out how (and why) each one works and ways you can develop and expand them in your own life and what they can do for you.

I think it’s just cool to know that these simple yet profound choices have actually been scientifically and empirically proven to work over and over again by thousands of folks who’ve tried them since the researchers constructed their roadmap.

Happy happens when you do these things.


The Foster-Hicks happiness model of nine choices was used all over the world by universities, corporations, hospitals, and churches and has been acclaimed by major research institutions as a groundbreaking analysis of how people create happiness and as a key to the mind/body connection.

Through the years since the book was published the authors continued to dedicate themselves to studying people and communities that thrive.

Their work, which apparently generated a roadmap to happiness, physical and physical well-being as well as success, had them traveling to very many places in all the seven continents of the world (even Antartica).

The researchers are sought-after lecturers and have written several other books that grew out of the paths they’ve chosen to follow using their roadmap.

They’ve collaborated with others to develop intriguing ways to use the nine choices to form a synergy of energy that also proved to be good for the world around its practitioners in the worlds of business, medicine and social change.

Click on the button below to take a look at their website.



It isn’t often that a person comes across something that delineates a lot of what sounds true and weaves these truths together into a useful and useable form.

What absolutely thrills me is knowing that the researchers didn’t go ‘round to experts or extraordinary people with special knowledge and outré experiences to generate some esoteric wisdom thing.

Foster and Hicks did not go around like metaphorical lepidopterists chasing down magical butterflies, anesthesizing them and sticking the dead bugs onto foam-core backings with pins, trying to analyze some dead thing to get insights into the living, breathing version.

“happiness is chasing a big bubble” by steve: they can’t all be zin… via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
They just stopped in and talked to neighbors and regular folks about ordinary, everyday stuff as well as the Big Questions and reached their conclusions and built their theories out of the lives these people live.

“Promise me you will always remember who you are” by Bloody Marty via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The lives of the people who were interviewed went on as before.  The results of the stories that were analyzed by the researchers and the systems, programs, and applications that were developed out of Foster and Hicks’ analyses, however, made a huge impact on the rest of the world.

No unicorns were harmed in the production of this work.

“Unicorn” by yosuke muroya via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
One of my favorite passages in the book comes from the introduction written by the authors for one of the later editions of their book.  They say,

Is happiness within your grasp?  Yes.  Have we created a tangible, clear guide to happiness?  Yes.  Can we make you happy?  No.  You have to make yourself happy.  What we can give you is a portrait showing you how to grow, learn and change.”

That one, too, sounds real.

“Happiness is not for sale” by Yngwie Scheerlinck via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


(Finding Out What Nourishes You)

So maybe they were wrong –

All the ones who told me

“happy” was all about

Filling up a treasure house

Full-full-full with worldly wonders.


Seems to me that treasure house thing’s a crock:

Who wants to be the one to dust all that stock?


Maybe they weren’t right –

The ones who said having

All the toys made the birds sing sweeter,

The sun shine brighter.


Who wants to fix all those ridiculous toys,

That blink and squeak and make all that noise?


Maybe they were lying –

The ones who said trudging through

The mud and the blood and the beer,

Bringing home the latest and the greatest

The new and improved, the bestest of the best

Would take me to incredible heights of ecstasy…

Right now, right here.


They never mentioned that ecstasy’s not all it’s cracked up to be

When the one who pays the bills is me.



They were definitely wrong.

Tried it.

Didn’t work.

Now what?

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo:  “Euphorical issues #2” by Daniel Horacio Agostini via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  It’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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The Light of My Life likes to tell a story about how he learned one of the most important lessons an artist can learn about doing line-work well.

In the village of Masset in Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia), Mathew happened to wander into the studio of a local artist, Wayne Edenshaw, who works in the Haida Indian traditional style.

In case you’ve never seen Haida art, here’s a short YouTube teaching video, “Haida Art!!,” uploaded in 2020 by Art Around the World with Morah Brooke.  It shows some of the “form line” shapes and patterns that are typical of the style.

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UBUNTU (An Un-Seeing Exercise)

UBUNTU (An Un-Seeing Exercise)

The stress of coping with the effects of the global pandemic in 2020 and beyond – social distancing, forced quarantines, and travel restrictions as well as the awkward and unsettling changes in day-to-day living and the resulting changes in our accustomed lifestyles — led many of us to re-examine what makes our own lives meaningful.

I suppose it should not come as a surprise that making connections with other people and working on keeping these connections going and growing will always play a large part in adding meaning and richness to our lives. 

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DIFFERENT-BUT-SAME (Un-Seeing Exercise)

DIFFERENT-BUT-SAME (Un-Seeing Exercise)

Lately I’ve been stumbling over books and assorted other offerings by shiny people and various sorts of life-advisors parsing out all the advantages (plus some of the disadvantages) of “being different.”

If you do this, they say, you will stand out.  You will be an “interesting” being.  You will be a Winner-with-a-capital-W.  Maybe you’ll even get to be rich and famous.  And isn’t that a cool thing?

The problem, as these life-advisors will also tell us, is that “being different” can turn your world into a battlefield.

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“Sanctuary” is a word derived from the Latin, “sanctarium,” which means “a container that keeps a cherished or sacred thing safe.”  The word, as used by the Greco-Romans referred to places of holiness or safety.

Even though the word is often traced only as far as the Greek and Roman empires and their temples, the concept of a place of refuge is universal.  It appears in almost all of the cultural and spiritual traditions from all over the world and has been around for thousands of years.

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JOURNALING 201 (Mind-Mining)

JOURNALING 201 (Mind-Mining)

Journal-keeping and diary writing – tracking daily events and happenings in some sort of record book – has been going on for centuries.

Except for wanna-be smarty-pants and wise guys (i.e., the “intelligentsia”), poets and writers and Creatives of every stripe, and young girls teetering on the brink of woman-ness, the keepers of these journals mostly recorded daily events and happenings with an exterior point of view.

People with a visual orientation did sketchbooks.

Most everyday journalers used their ledgers, record books and such to document and track their doings in the world, stay on top of their obligations, commitments and schedules, and note the progress made and the results of the actions taken.  

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WHICH SELF? (Another Un-Seeing Exercise)

WHICH SELF? (Another Un-Seeing Exercise)

I bet you’ve heard it more than a time or two, from moms, dads, assorted other relatives, besties, advisers and counselors of all sorts.

“Be yourself,” we’re urged, and the person telling us this stuff usually has a kind of self-righteous look on their face, as if they’ve imparted some grand wisdom saying or other.

You’ve probably even given out this specious piece of advice your own self – usually to someone who has been plucking at the one single nerve you’ve got left, after you’ve been all empathetic and compassionate and caring in the face of all of their self-doubts and whining and moaning about how unsure they are about getting on with walking through some social situation or other that is new to them. 

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Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that every human in the world has at least one thing in common:  We, all of us, struggle.  No matter who we are, struggle seems to be a fact of life.

Some of us have great obstacles to overcome and some of us have more massive ambitions than others do, but, every one of us does have some sort of difficulty making it from where we are now to where we really want to be.

Sometimes we’re struggling with other people walking through our worlds.  Their ideas or life views might not mesh with our own and there will be bumping and grappling involved when we try to get to a meeting of the minds.

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For years now, I’ve heard about the “Slow Movement.”  The ideals of keeping to a human pace, puzzling out and enjoying inherent creative processes, caring about human interactions and needs, and savoring life’s little moments one by one have always resonated with me.

But, hey…I’ve been busy!  As the consensus-world kept picking up speed and going hyper, all kinds of interesting things were popping.  The razzle-dazzle got brighter, and the pyrotechnics were grand.

Busy, busy, busy was the order of the day.  I felt like the littlest cousin again, chasing after the big kids yelling, “Hey, guys!  Wait for me!”

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One of the most-quoted (often illustrated) inspirational bits hanging about on the Internet platforms and in assorted posts and books is this one:

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination. For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.”

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