While happiness is a universal goal, and one that is uniquely linked to our survival, it is also elusive. It is so elusive that for many, the idea that it is better to look for moments of happiness rather than enduring happiness comes as a relief.
In their new book, The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness, Alex Lickerman, MD, and Ash ElDifrawi, Psy.D., introduce a happiness that does endure, is transcendent, and is possible to achieve — what they call the Tenth World, the world of Enlightenment.
According to Lickerman and ElDifrawi, “The problem we face is that genuine, long-lasting happiness isn’t impossible to attain. Rather, it is that we are confused about how to attain it.”
How we experience life is defined by our inner life, and not necessarily what happens to us, but rather, our response to what happens. “Mindset,” write Lickerman and ElDifrawi, “is the reason one person’s mountain is another person’s molehill.”
And what influences our mindset the most is our beliefs. “The degree to which our lives can be changed by the transformation of a mere belief is truly unparalleled,” write Lickerman and ElDifrawi.
While our external world can instigate our suffering, the internal cause is always the belief that arises from the event. Some beliefs carry greater intensity than others — like believing that we are going to die — and in situations where the potential consequences of ignoring them are high — like experiencing turbulence on an airplane — we can become easily influenced, even though, rationally, we know our beliefs are highly unlikely.
Yet the more frequently and intensely a belief gets stirred up, the more attention it demands and the more we begin to endorse its validity.
When it comes to happiness, one rather large problem we have is that our beliefs are frequently not based on evidence, but rather on our emotional connection to them. “We believe things without sufficient evidence, or even in the face of contradictory evidence, because we want to believe them. Because believing them serves us in some way,” write Lickerman and ElDifrawi.
It is these fundamental life experiences, and the stories we tell ourselves about them, that lead to core delusions about what will make us happy.
Lickerman and ElDifrawi introduce us to a woman named April, who has become depressed and suicidal after being left by her husband. As she overeats, inwardly expresses her outrage, and tries everything she can to be loved, Lickerman and ElDifrawi discover that her core delusion is that she is powerless over her problems –- and specifically over her desire to be loved.
They write, “In the worst case, when we find ourselves trapped in what seems like suffering without limit –- in severe major depression –- because the problem we believe we can’t solve is one upon which we believe our entire happiness depends, we may have a hard time even recognizing ourselves.”
Yet when April finds a way to give less power to what others think of her — specifically her mother — she finds a way to solve her problem of being powerless, and begins to be less depressed.
We can also believe that we need to get what we want to be happy, which Lickerman and ElDifrawi tell us characterizes the world of hunger, or that in order to be happy we must feel pleasure, which is known as the world of animality.
While all worlds trap us in pursuing delusional beliefs and attempting to overcome them, in the world of anger, the authors write, “we spend most of our time and energy working to convince others to view us in a way that is in direct opposition to the way we view ourselves.”
Lickerman and ElDifrawi describe Roosevelt, whose tranquil outward manner is a reaction formation to the feelings of anger that are unacceptable to him. Yet underneath Roosevelt’s anger lies his feelings of shame, and his desire to suppress it by being superior to everyone around him.
When Roosevelt finally learns to identify his feelings of shame and let himself feel them, they begin to subside, as does his anger and need for superiority.
In enlightenment, we transcend the feelings like shame because we transcend the sense of self. Instead, we feel connected to the world around us in a way that embraces life, offers harmony, meaning, empathy and a profound sense of clarity that all is right with the world — and ourselves. Our suffering takes on a different meaning, and individuality itself, Lickerman and ElDifrawi write, “seems to dissolve and fade away into boundless being.”
What remains is a true form of happiness that is not measured by the love we receive, the accomplishments we achieve, the meaning we derive, the growth we experience, or even the help we offer others. In the life-condition of enlightenment, as the sense of self fades away a profound sense of awe emerges as we learn to see the world as exactly as it should be.
Presented in series of rich and texturized case studies, and Lickerman and ElDifrawi’s insightful conversations about them, The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness is a deeply moving exploration of happiness, the delusions that confound it, the experiences that evade it, and the enlightenment that can finally set us free.
The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness
Health Communications Inc., October 2018
Paperback, 315 pages