Four Tiers of Happiness

Most everyone wishes to feel love, peace, and joy: being loved as a member of a group, in relationship with another or the Divine; to feel peaceful because one is free of fear, secure in one’s being, and generally secure in life; and, to experience joy from fulfillment and having what one wants in the form of things, people, or events in one’s life. When living a lifestyle emphasizing personal growth and spirituality this happiness takes different forms depending on one’s primary psychospiritual condition at any given time (see Overview of the Transmodern Spirituality Paradigm, Awareness of these variations provides a means to monitor one’s wellbeing and progress, and can also assist one in avoiding insidious pitfalls inherent in the spiritual journey.

Whether just starting out in life or facing challenging problems in living, success defined by society and culture characterizes the first tier of happiness. This includes: accomplishing an improved degree of safety and inner security usually by remedying past psychological conditioning that has left one frightened, constricted and/or angry; securing the right friendships and a loving partner with whom one fits well; and, mastering oneself so one can act in one’s own best interest in all situations thereby achieving what one wants health wise, financially, materially, and interpersonally. A satisfaction with oneself and one’s life has been achieved.

With this success accomplished the second tier of happiness is initiated with a search for meaning, which gives purpose to one’s life. Now love has expanded to accepting oneself, not for being successful or perfect but for being one’s unique self, a whole being living the human condition with all its trials and tribulations. And because one acts from authenticity one makes better choices, resulting in more joy from achieving and/or securing what one wants in life, whether it be relationship, vocational success, spirituality, etc. In this tier, peace is security in oneself and in life. One has come to realize meaningful life resides in the pursuit of one’s dreams, not only in attaining them. One has also learned to not resist opposition to one’s efforts but to pursue the path that is welcoming. And because one remains absorbed in more meaningful activities, inevitable struggle does not steal joy or security because there is an attitude that all experience is life being lived fully and richly. This tier is the happiness of existential fulfillment.  

Spirituality, and the accompanying radical change in one’s perspective on reality determine the happiness of the third tier. One’s identity is no longer strictly individual and independent but at times transpersonal. There are more experiences of unitive awareness in which one experiences being in union with other sentient beings and non-sentient objects. There is also a felt-attitude of nonattachment to outcome in the unfolding of life events. With this spiritual worldview there is greater acceptance of life as it is, one remains more present to the moment, less controlling, and experiences more peacefulness. Coupled with other philosophical tenets, e.g. immortality, one feels more secure in an unpredictable universe. Adding to this, but also singularly important is the decreased coveting of material objects or particular experiences. Less dependent on worldly materialism, joy arises from the existential fulfillment of sacred experience lived from the transpersonal identity. Additionally, change in the way one experiences love serves to improve the quality of peace and joy. Now there is a human-universal love for all sentient beings, with others’ behavior and character being less a determinant of loving feelings than in the previous tiers (which emphasize filial and romantic love). This change in love includes an increased altruism and service to others resulting in one feeling more liberated, further adding to one’s joy.  Additionally, as part of the stronger transpersonal identity, one begins to experience fleeting times of divine unconditional love. These are moments in which everything seems perfect as it is, and they are characterized by a complete absence of fear. All of which further add to one’s love, peace, and joy at this tier. This is the quality of happiness granted to the earnest spiritual practitioner.

The fourth tier of happiness may be succinctly described as nondual being of awakened-enlightened awareness. Identifying with the Source of all that exists, realizing oneself as both the Creator and the created, one knows oneself as both Consciousness and the worldly forms It creates. Love, peace, and joy are divinely unconditional with one experiencing universal perfection, absence of neurotic disturbance and suffering, and the complete liberation associated with sacrifice of self and service to others. One lives from a nondual cosmology of reality including, but not limited to timeless awareness and immortality (see Costeines, 2009). Life is Being (not doing) as one thinks (without thinking), feels (without feeling), acts (without acting). Strictly speaking one is love, one is peace, and one is joy. 

These tiers have been described in the present manner to assist in assessing one’s psychospiritual condition and happiness, and to provide some basis to monitor one’s spiritual progress. There are two conceptual qualifications required for the best understanding and use of this information. First, though presented in levels, these forms of happiness may also be understood as holons, levels unto themselves but also simultaneously existing in the other levels to a lesser degree or as potential. This accounts for the variability of experience in which one may primarily reside in one level but at times experience qualities of another. Second, it must be remembered that these happiness levels are elements common to all human experience and that each one of us lives and expresses them in our own unique way and time. One’s circumstances, resources, values, worldview, and life goals determine these details. 

By realizing that one’s awareness and behavior are in constant movement within and across these holons one is able to maintain the right perspective on one’s individual-transpersonal identity, character, and happiness. Just because for one moment, one day, or one week one was peaceful and loving toward others does not mean the next moment, day, or week one will be the same. This is the rule of thumb that “what goes up must come down” until a permanent enlightened personality change has occurred. Until then one must learn the personal and unique manner in which this fluctuation in happiness occurs. This is so one can efficiently re-establish the individual or transpersonal happiness of one’s sought after and/or dominant psychospiritual condition. This mandates monitoring, and then managing whether or not one’s choices and experiences contribute to losing, maintaining, or strengthening one’s happiness. This entails reflecting on the various ways in which love, peace, and joy are typically experienced and expressed in one’s life. And this requires discerning if happiness is primarily individual or transpersonal as determined by not only its form but also its motivation and objective. While actions may be similar, e.g. helping another, one’s motivation for doing so can vary, e.g. monetary gain versus spiritual practice without individual gain. This distinction is of utmost importance. Psychological practices are necessary for addressing challenges to one’s personal happiness while spiritual practices have different goals.

These levels of happiness may also be used to provide guidance in avoiding spiritual problems that arise when personal and spiritual happiness are confused, commonly experienced as spiritual bypassing and spiritual materialism. Spiritual bypassing is when one uses spirituality in a maladaptive manner to cope or heal psychologically. Some examples are: cultivating relationship with a deity to replace a relationship one has lost with one’s parents; using spiritual practices to manage one’s negative moods rather than psychologically resolving the dysphoria; explaining away adversity or hardship with a spiritual cliché like “it was meant to be”. Spiritual materialism is similar but differs in that one believes one is acting or progressing spiritually but in actuality is strengthening a materialistic lifestyle or worldview. Some examples are: classic ego inflation of concluding from several extraordinary human experiences that one is better than others; expecting spiritual practice to provide one a life free from adversity and pain, and complaining, feeling like a failure, becoming angry when this proves not to be true; and, believing one is able to materialize what one desires, attributing positive results to oneself, forgetting the Source/God is the Creator. Achieving psychological or materialistic goals with one’s spirituality, rather than practicing spiritually for spirituality’s sake, e.g. for service and/or altruistic, virtuous character, is the defining characteristic of these problems. 

Reflection on these ideas while considering basic spiritual principles can enable one to avoid spiritual bypassing and materialism; and prevent these pitfalls from becoming permanent impasses to one’s spiritual development. In spiritual practice the material and psychological are meant to serve the spiritual and collective not increase the individual. And this includes respecting and living by the truth that a spiritual life will include worldly hardship, often seen as a threat to happiness. Nevertheless, while not emphasizing the individual, spirituality may very well provide wellbeing and happiness to one’s life as a secondary benefit. But these should not be the end goal of practice, but instead be used in service of spiritual development: when basic physical and psychological needs are met it is easier to pursue a spiritual life, e.g. a healthy ego is necessary to sustain practice, to transcend independent individuality. Even so, happiness is not to be seen as the true goal of spiritual practice. In fact most traditions prescribe not becoming attached to good fortune, returning blessings to the Source, etc. Rather it is the Source/God, and the manner in which It brings out the best in all of humanity, including oneself that is the overarching goal. Living accordingly requires fearless honesty with oneself so there is keen insight into one’s actions, and an ability to hold to one’s principles while others around one may be acting worldly and/or materialistically. One remains knowing that regardless of circumstance Spirit provides the love, peace, and joy we all seek. As such Spirit is the provider of lasting genuine happiness for oneself, and for all. And when practicing from wisdom, not ignorance, we collaborate with God/Source through the tiers described toward this goal.