Find Happiness – A Review of What Happy People Know by Dr. Dan Baker

How do we find Happiness in our lives?  Dr. Dan Baker gives us some major clues in his book What Happy People Know.

Here are some of his key points in his book that resonate with me:

  • Happiness is the whole aim and the end of human existence – Aristotle
  • Happiness is the art of responding well when trouble strikes.
  • One of the biggest problems there is is to build a full life without making yourself crazy.
  • Millions of people kill themselves by putting all of their energy into just one dimension of life – usually work.
  • Your life is better than you think.
    • Take the time to live it
    • Focus on the right things and contentment will settle over you
    • Multidimensional living is important
  • Work = survival = most primal instinct.  The things we do to survive are the things that end up killing us.
  • The greatest enemy of happiness is fear, which we are hardwired for, and which has allowed us to evolve.
  • The fabric of fear is woven into our brains.
  • The hardwired fear response is faster and more powerful than the process for rational thought.
  • Your neurological fear network is the single greatest enemy of your happiness.
  • What is good for survival is not good for happiness in modern life.
  • Fear can manifest itself as anger, perfectionism, obsession, insecurity, shyness, guilt, pessimism, low level anxiety, depression, or feelings of isolation.
  • Blame will not help, you must address your fear system.
  • Fear poisons each moment it touches.
  • The antidote to fear is appreciation:  Happiness is the art of responding well when trouble strikes.
  • To be happy, we need to be willing to charge headlong into the inferno of our most horrific fears, eyes open, intellect and spirit ready.
  • Reason and intellect can take you out of the darkness of fear and into the light.
  • The key to happiness is having the higher brain functions (Intellect, spirit, intuition) lead the lower brain functions (fear, fear hormones).
  • You must learn to override the lower brain functions (reptilian brain focused solely on survival) with the higher brain functions of thought and spirit.
  • The higher brain functions can receive lower brain functions and tell it to settle down, nothing is wrong, sending message of comfort and confidence.
  • The lesser life:  life is there but the living is gone (wasteland).
  • The better life:  put your life into perspective to the cancer ward (appreciation).
  • The 12 qualities of happiness: Happiness is profound but simple:
    • love
    • optimism
    • courage
    • a sense of freedom
    • pro-activity
    • security
    • health
    • spirituality
    • altruism
    • perspective
    • humor
    • purpose
  • Factors that ensure survival:
    • fear of not having enough
    • fear of not being enough
  • The reptilian brain is dedicated solely to fear, because fear keeps us alive.
  • Your biological fear system will challenge your happiness until the day you die.
  • Your mind, body, and spirit working together in concert can make you happy.
  • Your neurological fear network is the single greatest enemy of your happiness.
  • Faces of fear:  perfectionism, obsession, insecurity, shyness, guilt…
  • We try to find something to blame, but our chronic angst will only make sense when we understand the biology of the fear system.
  • Thriving is a much higher calling than just surviving.
  • There are happiness traps, which can hold you down forever, and tools to get out of them.

6 Happiness Tools and 5 Happiness Traps:

    • Happiness Tools (tools about taking action):
      • Appreciation
        • The first and most fundamental.  It is impossible to be in a state of appreciation and fear at the same time; thus appreciation is the antidote to fear.
        • Fear is strong, but love is stronger:  People huddle together at night.
      • Choice
        • The father of freedom.
        • Engage in choice and worry will be suspended.
        • Having no choices or options is like being in jail leading to depression, anxiety and learned helplessness.
        • Anyone can choose the course of their lives but only happy people do it.
        • Happy people turn away from fear and find that their intellects and spirits contain a vast warehouse of choices.
      • Personal Power
        • Proactive force is similar to character.
        • Gives you the power over feelings and fate.
        • 2 components
          • taking responsibility: it is your responsibility to make things happen, no excuses
          • taking action
        • Keeps you from becoming a victim.
        • When your personal power is at its peak, you are secure.
        • You don’t have to be popular, right, or have money.  You can handle whatever life dishes out.
      • Leading with your strengths
        • Intellect and spirit engage your strengths.
        • Fear engages your weaknesses.
      • The power of courage and stories
        • We see the world we describe, we don’t describe the world we see.
        • Language has the power to alter perception.
        • Words have the power to set us free or limit us.
        • The stories we tell ourselves become our lives (optimism vs. pessimism).
      • Multi-dimensional living
        • Happiness comes from a full life.
        • A uni-dimensional life is a killer.
        • 3 primary components that energy needs to be put into:
          • Relationships
          • Health
          • Purpose
    • Happiness Traps:
      • Trap 1. Trying to buy happiness:
        • Money only makes people significantly happier when it relieves abject poverty.
        • The primary way of gaining wealth is through sacrificing leisure and freedom and becoming frazzled.
        • Rich people were usually happier in the past even through the rich get richer everyday.
        • Some people enjoy ordering others around but they are just insecure people with no power.
        • Perfectionism and work-aholism are vices that masquerade as virtues; fear disguised as strength.
        • Control of other people is a myth, the more you demand it, the further it gets.
      • Trap 2. Trying to find happiness through pleasure:
        • Once we become accustomed to any pleasure, it no longer has the power to make us happy.
        • Back away from modern life’s banquet, so that pleasure will stay novel and refreshing.
        • Rough it to appreciate the comforts you have (water, bed,….).
      • Trap 3. Trying to be happy by resolving the past:
        • Past therapeutic practices of digging up the past do not work.
        • A better way is transcendence> transcend the amygdala (fear system) and put your energy into your mind (intellect), body, and soul (spirit).
        • Your powers of intellect and spirit can create new meaning out of old memories.
        • What once made you a victim, can become your greatest motivators and your richest sources of wisdom.
      • Trap 4. Trying to become happy by overcoming weakness:
        • Change your life by building on your strengths.
        • Attacking weakness is focusing on fears instead of being proactive and making life better.
        • Focusing on fear re-enforces fear and self destruction creating a downward spiral.
        • Weaknesses, disguised as strengths, derived from fear.
        • Work-aholism, perfectionism, stoicism, materialistic ambition, desire for domination, status seeking.
        • Obsessed with time, focused on doing rather than being.
        • Fears of not having enough will kill you.
        • Focusing on your strengths:
          • works
          • feels better
          • creates energy necessary for transformation
          • self-sustaining because it is full of rewards
          • play to win, it works better
      • Trap 5. Trying to force Happiness:
        • You cannot decide to be happy anymore than you can decide to be taller.
        • Happiness is hard work with a genetic component (40% inheritance).
        • Genetically handicapped people need to use the happiness tools.
        • A pleasant facial expression will lift your mood.
        • Happiness tools are about action.
  • Look for the good in life, not the best.  Best does not always happen but good, in one form or another, does.
  • As love increases, fear decreases.
  • Upward spirals heal (optimism, happiness, thrive, love). Downward spirals kill (pessimism, unhappiness, survival, fear).
  • When goals come from the heart, success begets success, and creates an upward spiral effect.
  • Change your life by building on your strengths, not overcoming your weaknesses.
  • What tragedy can teach:
    • Ironically you cannot learn optimism when things always go right.  That only teaches complacency (get confident not complacent).
    • We learn through suffering.
    • Complacency is a house of cards, problems and loss are inevitable.
    • Optimism is the realization that the more painful the event, the more profound the lesson.
    • Wisdom only comes the hard way and can prevent you from future suffering.
    • The greatest tragedy of all is to waltz through life unaware, unconnected, unfulfilled.
  • Stop being obsessed with time, focus on doing rather than being.
  • When we embrace choice, the reptile brain no longer rules.
  • Every choice has consequences and these consequences create our lives, for better or worse.
  • Epiphanies (insight) override the amygdala (the world melts away).
  • Appreciation and creative thinking also suspend fear.
  • The life changing quarter second:
    • There is a 1/4 second of lag between the urge to move and movement.
      • This 1/4 second is your ultimate power over perception.
      • You can choose how you perceive the world (optimism, pessimism).
      • You can alter your perception.
  • You can always rise above suffering.
  • Choose a perspective on reality that will enrich you instead of diminish you.
  • Fear hijacks the brain setting off a chain reaction that obliterates reason.
  • You have an opportunity to disengage from a fear driven urge; count to 10 before you allow yourself to become angry.
  • The more brain pathways are used, the easier they are to travel.
  • Your real self is centered in your spirit and intellect.
  • You can and need to control your perceptions.
  • Flow, getting in the zone is vital to happiness:
    • Lead from your spirit and reach flow at will
    • State of heightened consciousness, joyous and productive, nearly a spiritual experience
    • Totally absorbed in what you are doing
    • The zone also carries a curse (mania)
      • It is isolating and exhaustive
  • Never give away your personal power or there will be no happiness:
    • A poison for pro-activity, freedom, and courage
    • Personal power is your vital force
    • Maximize your personal power, create and accept your fate
    • Personal power is your power over your feelings, and your power over fate
    • Your personal power is the root, psychological source of your physical and emotional energies.  It lies at the core of your being and it makes you want to get up each morning and tackle the day
    • Personal power = character = strength = individuality = heart = charisma
    • Personal power is about doing:
      • taking responsibility
      • taking action
    • Your life belongs to you, do something about it:
      • not everyone gets it
      • nothing is harder than dumping false beliefs that destroy personal power; we think they are our allies but they are our enemies / deadly foes
  • Take responsibility for your feelings the way you do your behavior.
  • Your feelings are controllable.
  • Remove your buttons and you will no longer act automatically and people will stop pushing your buttons.
  • Self Reliance is on the decline > depression on the rise:
    • rescue – needs a hero
    • blame – needs a bad guy
  • Shift your focus from your problems and weaknesses (fears) to your possibilities and strengths.
  • Advertising and marketing industries are dedicated to making you think you have all kinds of problems that only their products can fix.
  • Ranting and raving does not fix your problems.
  • We are all walking wounded.
  • Feeling good is critical to our survival.
  • Each time a favored connection gets used in our brains, it gets stronger and easier to use by creating grooves of thought that ultimately become talents.
  • Talents are enduring and recurring patterns of thoughts feelings and behaviors.
  • Smartness and effectiveness depend on how much one capitalizes on talents:
    • Talents are unique, not common to all.
    • When you follow your strengths and exercise them everyday you become increasingly intelligent.
      • Well used cells can develop into ultimate / super brain cells providing additional insights. Super brain cells grow a 6th branch.
      • Wisdom almost always ushers in happiness and  has been determined to be the best single predictor for aging well.
      • To grow the 6th branch, be actively searching for knowledge; usually occurs in mid life or later.
  • Activity is usually to understand suffering in hopes of ending it.
    • suffering creates wisdom
    • he who learns must suffer
    • optimism comes from pain and suffering, the more painful the event , the more profound the lesson
    • complacency comes from things going well
    • when you realize that that which hurts the most, teaches the most, you have a shield against suffering; nothing  is bad
    • Response to suffering is key:
      • response with fear makes you weaker
      • response with spirit and intellect allows you to learn optimism and find meaning in your pain
  • Must lead with your strengths, you cannot overcome suffering with anything less than your best.
  • Figure out what things make your life work.
  • Language is an incredible primordial force in our development:
    • The better the language, the more constructive for emotional development
    • The kids who heard the most positive language tend to view the world in the most positive terms
    • We don’t use language to describe the world, we use it to create the world
    • We don’t describe the world we see, we see the world we describe
    • Change your language and change your life
    • To change your life, change your words
    • Language can alter your thoughts and perceptions; choose your words carefully because they are powerful
  • When you are happy, effort is easy, and energy spent is energy earned.
    • Unhappiness is chronic long term stress, shuts down the immune system and revs up the flight-fright-freeze reaction.
  • The three most important elements of life:
    • Sense of purpose
    • Health
    • Relationships
  • The key to fulfillment is to integrate all three elements into everyday and then let your passions take you where they may (health, passion/purpose, relationships).
  • Time is not the enemy, making bad decisions are; bad decisions squander time and make it scarce.
  • The biggest risk is taking no risks.
  • Do something you love everyday.
  • Hear the world of the heart.
  • Sometimes people need a crisis to blast them out of their false security and into the security of the inner self.
  • Heighten your appreciation and hone your priorities.
  • Appreciate the health you have and show your appreciation by doing as much with it as you can.
  • Learning to be happy:
    • Learned helplessness is a common phenomena where people give up and accept the pain even after circumstances change and pain could be avoided.
    • The flashy veneer of the American Dream:  money, status and power actually destroys happiness.
    • Happiness comes from inner qualities:
      • Courage
      • Altruism
      • Optimism
  • People are happier when they are able to make their own choices.
  • Satisfaction comes from:
    • autonomy and self-esteem
    • competence
    • pleasure
    • self-actualization
    • security
    • popularity
    • money
  • Climb the mountain everyday and eventually you will summit; the prize is uncomplicated ease and peace.
  • There is not much difference between happiness and sanity.
  • Find happiness by choosing love over fear.
  • Open up and let the spirit lead.
  • Transform bad events into meaningful experiences.

Suggested Next Steps:

  • Visit our adventure methodology page where these ideas are integrated
  • Read What Happy People Know by Dan Baker, Ph.D., link found on our resources page
  • Read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle: If you can’t be happy now, you can never be happy, link found on our resources page
  • Learn more about establishing good habits:
    • Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey: making choices, work on your circle of influence, link found on our resources page
    • Read Atomic Habits by James Clear: make things easy to start, easy to do, 1% progress is sustainable

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