No one is the center of the world. The universe wasn’t made simply to create happiness for the odd finicky residents of this planet. But the universe, however, provides the essential building blocks for creating happiness. The universe has what we need to stay alive—and thrive. However, it’s up to us to create our own happiness. First, our feelings motivate certain actions. Then, our brains must integrate all those feelings, motivations, and desires to create complex experiences, and, of course, happiness. Life has a way of interfering with this process. As soon as we start making progress, life happens and we get knocked down. We must prepare for these moments by building emotional shelters.
We can harness the wonderful gift of conscious experience to more fully enjoy feelings bubbling up from the biological world of survival and bask in the gleeful enjoyments of being to safeguard us against the dangers and disappointments of living.
We don’t control the universe. We live in a world full of other living beings and natural causes, each acting in accordance with rules not bound to obedience to our desires. The world doesn’t spin in cadence to our wants. We exist in a natural world that follows natural laws. However, we aren’t merely dry leaves blown by the wind, defenseless and vulnerable. We have power to direct. Accordingly, We can influence the process to skillfully enhance experience.
“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”~Albert Camus
We build shelter from the cold winter of an uncaring world in two ways—through the mind and through our action.
Emotional Shelters in the Mind
Our mind is constantly churning, meshing the present with expectations based on the past. Our bodies prepare for the world through constant predictions of what to expect. We gather necessary resources and then brace, seize or flee. Our thoughts can dress up the ugliest day or block the brightest rays. Its not that we should ignore the hurts, unfairness, or badness that exists; but we should infuse our minds with positive, rich and revitalizing thoughts.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was right: “To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.”
We energize our minds with purposeful thoughts of gratitude. We benefit by spending a few moments in the morning (or evening) identifying blessings. Our minds also sharpen through moments of peace. We invite peace through spiritual practices such as meditation and nature.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the leading scientific figures for the study of flow, wrote that negative feelings such as sadness, fear, and boredom produce “psychic entropy” in the mind. To fight psychic entropy, he suggests the state of flow—energized engagement in activity.
Therefore intentions, goals, and motivations are also functions of psychic negentropy. They focus psychic energy, establish priorities, and thus create order in consciousness. Without them mental processes become random, and feelings tend to deteriorate rapidly (2008, pg. 22).
Emotional Shelters in Outer Environments
We build shelter with our mind through practices. We play with children, we meditate, we focus on gratitude and find flow through engaging activity. But our work is not done. Living life is more than cultivating the mind. We also must DO. Healthy action mediates the unknowns and invites healthy futures. Healthy todays create less stressful tomorrows. Our actions are essential to protect our futures from unnecessary threats.
Science is clear. Healthy relationships, especially in intimacy, positively impact our lives. Those that are happiest have the closest and best functioning relationships. Francis Bacon said that intimate friendships “redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in half.” Without friendship, Aristotle taught, no happiness is possible. We need healthy people in our lives to experience the richness of this world. Relationships require work and skill. We must seek knowledge and then practice, building a life with regenerating relationships that multiply our joys and diminish our sorrows.
Another act of doing is creating financial security. We create security through our education, careers and budgeted spending. Happiness is severely limited when we are hungry or do not have enough money to cover next weeks mortgage (or rent). Our financial health is slowly built through a series of smart choices, self-discipline, and successful investing.
A third important area to focus energy is on the health of our body. Illness and disease intrude on happiness. Energy is converted from the foods we eat. A diet rich in nutrients and low in unnecessary fats and sugars naturally boosts our spirits, strengthening the body and sheltering us from sickness. We then add motion to our healthy diet. We move through walking and exercise, giving life to our muscles and fibers. Through diet and exercise we build a happier life more resistant to disease and mental illness.
For more on this topic see: The Basics
Be Patient. Change is Slow.
We don’t change our lives in a week. Building shelters is a lifelong process. Small choices, one by one, form our character, changing the trajectories of our lives. The paths we choose widen or narrow opportunities. Great choices don’t guarantee a painless life; but the healthy action, compounded over time, build necessary shelters to protect from the inevitable storms—freeing us from unneeded stress, and allowing for more pleasurable pursuits.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics). HarperCollins e-books; 1st edition.