Our Search for Happiness

I call upon the natural world and sciences to demonstrate skillful means when helping others decrease suffering and strengthen their well-being. Nature and science often point to the problem and to its neighboring solution. My husband is a wildlife biologist so the natural world and related sciences have become more available to me. I consider myself a true novice in these areas but a willing student. The other day I talked to him about how much energy, time and money people put into searching for happiness. I knew he would respond with some link between this phenomenon and the natural sciences.

He promptly said, “Tinbergen’s research on prey selection.”

I had not heard of this. 

 Check this out– his hypothesis points to how species tend to develop ‘specific search images,’ when hunting for food.”

Tinbergen’s found in his research that tits (Paridae) tended to favor one kind of larval Lepidoptera at any given time. He believed that the birds were actively searchingfor these particular species while ignoring other potential food sources (prey). He labeled this phenomenon “specific search image.” To my husband and quickly to me, I saw a connection between this study of a bird species and us two-legged. How often do we go in search of a given source of happiness missing otherpotential sources? I would say that humans are very search specific. We tend to become habitual in what we want, search for and as a result, find.

In fact I witness how many peoples unhappiness increases as they narrow their search down to finding a romantic partner, to weight loss, or some other specific image that will end their particular “hunger.” This search intensifies if they experienced some relief or happiness in the past from agiven “image.” (Just like Tinbergen’s birds). For example, in my studies on gambling addiction the term, “Chasing the Win,” comes up. The person who once had a big win early on in his or her gambling experience is more likely tochase the next win, ignoring all the other potential sources of happiness (and often after great losses). The addicts search engine is on the money (or the gambling casino), in this case. Research shows us that those who don’t experience a great win early on are less likely to become addicts or even gamble again.  

This phenomenon explains the distance that develops between ourselves, and what the given moment and environment may have to offer us beyond what we are searching for. People often speak of how unhappy they arewith what they don’t have, losing sight of what they do possess. 

I had some one come to me who was told several years ago by a psychic when her partner would be showing up, what he would likely look like,and to just keep the look out for him. She narrowed her search down and found herself still single two years later. She confessed that she continued to look for the guy the psychic described. Who knows what she might have missed? 

When we go grocery shopping do we tend to search andpurchase the same items?

What are we in search of at this time in our lives (while perhaps overlooking other possibilities)?

Where are we the most habitual?

Do we put our search on outward sources when it comes to spiritual fulfillment?

Are we like the bird in the study, always going for the same source of nourishment when something else might better feed us?

Fortunately, I believe we can use our natural gift of consciousness and redirect our attention and decide where and what we want to search for. We humans have the innate ability to train our minds to put our attention where we choose. We can open up more and more to the beauty and mystery of each moment and get the full spectrum of possibilities offered up to us in a given moment.

“I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.

I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clearwithoutmy contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me, but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,

no forcing and no holding back,

the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents, these deepening tides moving out,


I will sing you as no one ever has, streaming through widening channels into the open sea. ”                                    RainerMaria Rilke 


Practices to Open up Possibilities of Happiness

Practice, wanting what you have for 10 days. Make this a concentrated commitment. With each meal, each encounter, the possessions you have, the relationships you are in, the health of your body – consciously choose to want these.

We need to get out of our “search image” mind to wake upto the full experience and opportunities of the moment. What else is available to us in the wildness of each moment, each experience? When we hold too tightly to tradition, habitual responses, assumptions we miss the opportunities at the time. Pay attention towhere and how you are habitual and open up the search to include more.

Order something new off a menu. This is a challenge I know! Go as far as to choose something that has a food or spice you may never have tried. Join a CSA and cook with new fresh foods.

Travel to another country and let go of trying to find food, lodging and people that fit into what you experience at home. 

Expand your awareness to include more of your experience. First notice what your attention is on and then expand it to include more ofyour experience.

Spend an hour outside in the same place. Take your journal and notice all the subtle and gross changes that take place in an hour. Putyour focus on one aspect, such as the air or a leaf, and then expand it to other aspects. Practice noticing more.

Rearrange a room in your home. We don’t “see” something thathas been in a particular place for too long of a time. I recommend this forpeople with eating issues. Change the arrangement of your kitchen to help you break habitual ways. 

  Notice how advertisers trigger our search engines to want and search for their product.

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; 

Neither from nor towards;

at the still point, there the dance is,

Butneither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Wherepast and future are gathered.

Neither movement from nor towards,

Neitherascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

Therewould be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.

AndI cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

The inner freedom from the practical desire,

The release from action and suffering, release from the inner

Andthe outer compulsion, yet surrounded

By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving.”  –T.S.Eliot


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