Sam Harris on Happiness
Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction.
Mr. Harris' writing has been published in over ten languages. He and his work have been discussed in Newsweek, TIME, The New York Times, Scientific American, Rolling Stone, and many other journals. His writing has appeared in Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, The Times (London), The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, Nature, The Annals of Neurology, and elsewhere.
Mr. Harris is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and holds a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA, where he studied the neural basis of belief with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). He is also a Co-Founder and CEO of Project Reason.
Question: What makes you happy?
Sam Harris: Well it’s an elusive thing to get a hold of. I think the absence of neurosis, the absence of fear, the absence of anxiety. When you recognize what consciousness is like, when those states of mind have subsided, it seems to me intrinsically happy. It’s intrinsically at ease. It’s intrinsically peaceful, and at times even blissful. It’s just the lack of complication. Just merely being aware of one’s self in the present moment, and not continually being in conversation with one’s self about the present moment and just thinking, thinking, thinking incessantly.
When that can subside, either because you’re meditating, or because you’re enjoying yourself so much in sports. Or you’re having sex. I mean, any peak experience has this feature of having your attention really focused in a very uncomplicated way on your experience in the present. And that state of mind is what I would call happiness.
And all of the obstacles to being at rest in that state of mind, I think of as the obstacles to happiness. And those are things like a neurotic self-absorption with how other people perceive you; or anxiety about the future; or regret about the thing you didn’t say yesterday. Those are the ways/modes of thought that keep us from recognizing that it’s possible to be really at ease in the present, and happy before anything happens. I mean, to have happiness that’s not contingent upon the next good thing that’s going to happen, but to just actually be at rest with what is happening right now.
Recorded on: July 4, 2007.
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