Imagine this open letter to the universe:
Where are you? As I look around the world, isolation and despair rule. People are suffering and finding solace in drugs and suicide. We are driving ourselves crazy as wars rage, the earth weakens and stalemates drive political and personal wedges between us. People live on 4×3 inch screens and thirst for deeper meaning. Am I more than my digitized real estate on social media? Is there a future and a place for me to feel relevant? Can you help?
In the words of Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schultz, “The Doctor Is In,” or in this case, the Happiness Doctor is in. His name is Dr. Jay Kumar and yes, he’s making house calls. A specialist in the field of brain science, behavioral health and happiness, Dr. Jay has written a new book called Science of a Happy Brain. It offers a very practical understanding of how our brains work and how we can live a happy life. If the open letter hit a chord and you want to chart a course for happiness, read on.
Dr. Jay is a renowned public speaker and thought leader on happiness. He shares his personal journey and the convergence of “empirical scientific knowledge and experiential spiritual wisdom” in his latest book, a most welcome one in a world hungry for answers to complex and desperate questions.
As the Director of Contemplative Practices & Well Being at Chapman University in California where he lectures and teaches the highly popular happiness course, Dr. Jay’s practical knowledge and the applicability of his work are put to the test. You know, for example, that when he talks about happiness in the context of love and spiritual strategies, his study of world religions and experience with Buddhism offer actionable insights (or Golden Rules, as he calls them) alongside his neurological understanding of what makes for a happy brain.
Of course, Dr. Jay is not alone in the rising popularity of happiness courses for students hoping to treat depression, addiction and stress. Dr. Laurie Santos who teaches courses at Yale University on the science of well-being and happiness is garnering attention, as have many of Oprah’s go-to thought-leaders. One of her favorites, Brene Brown, talks about happiness and the power that comes from embracing our insecurities.
Why Dr. Jay is Unique
While others add to the think tank, I believe Dr. Jay is unique. His holistic approach to happiness will surely be a bestseller as people discover what his students already know. Not only does Dr. Jay address the root causes of our unhappiness, but he provides a comprehensive recipe for rewiring our brains that draws on holistic personal and professional experiences and data.
First and foremost, Dr. Jay sees happiness as an ongoing pursuit. It is a direction and not a destination. I couldn’t agree more. I know I am in good company with well-known transformational leaders like Deepak Chopra who are already cheering Dr. Jay’s expertise in Science of a Happy Brain.
Dr. Jay’s previous book Brain, Body, and Being laid the foundation for his studies. It examined how one’s thoughts, feelings, actions, attitudes and behaviors can physically alter your brain structure, whether for better or for worse. Following this first release in 2015, Dr. Jay created a more formalized approach for gathering research and findings by co-founding the Applied Brain Science ResearchInstitute (ABSRI). It is “an international organization that explores the dynamic intersection of science, spirituality, and society in order to advance solutions for critical issues facing our contemporary and complex world.”
What does this mean for everyday people like you and me? Being happy is about finding the intersection of economics, science, politics, culture and religion. Science of a Happy Brain brings hope to a world in crisis, and a generation discovering where enduring happiness resides. Essentially, we can’t know happiness without asking about the meaning of life, why we behave the way we do or what really matters to us.
This makes sense and Dr. Jay’s personal examples, like the death of his mother from suicide in his mid-twenties, do two things: they illustrate the growth that can come from understanding, and they also speak to his courage and commitment to helping others. The personal epiphany for readers who follow his train of thought is both compelling and enlightening. Anyone who has tried to develop new habits and understand old motivations realizes that knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.
The Path to Happiness
The first five chapters of Dr. Jay’s new book explain our human need for seeking happiness. We learn how easy it is to fall victim to the Disease of Despair. This term describes our feelings of hopelessness, political and social discord, and general malaise. Statistics like South Korea’s rampant and chronic suicide rates among the young and the elderly underscore this reality, as does the global epidemic of anger, anxiety and addiction that Dr. Jay addresses in his book.
Amongst my friends, I’ve witnessed this general malaise. The contempt many people have for politicians, the media, and society’s failings dominates many daily conversations. But above all, Dr. Jay says anxiety is destroying our world. Because we are biologically wired for survival, our brains actually undermine our pursuit of happiness. Instead of looking for support from others, we insulate ourselves to feel safer and more secure when this behavior actually sabotages us to feel even more lonely and less stable.
To combat this, Dr. Jay makes a case for the social brain. We need to develop strategies to find balance and resilience. The four Cs, according to the good doctor, will help us to find inspiration, commitment and hope. To do this, we need to:
- Find COMFORT and support from others so you can build resilience and contemplative practices that help you to feel safe during chaotic times.
- CONTRIBUTION to the world. It brings purpose and meaning beyond one’s self. It’s more than your job, it’s what gives your life value and helps you to feel you belong.
- CONNECTION with others to find your tribes and experience the joy and meaning of shared experiences.
- Build COMPASSION because it creates charity, empathy, and gratitude.
Each of these components is vital to our social health and healing, giving us a continued path to happiness. As social beings, we need to find our tribes and validate our sense of belonging and reason for being. In our world, Dr. Jay makes the case for more things that unite us than divide us. As governments and countries increasingly move to more polarized positions and embrace increasingly isolationist policies and economies, I think we have much to learn from Dr. Jay’s findings.
Instead of seeing kindness as a source of weakness, we need to retrain our brains and our hearts to see how it can contribute to our happiness and sense of value – that we are needed. In the same way, we need to embrace the art of happiness as global ambassadors of peace. At the end of his book, there’s a wonderful chapter on democracy and the interconnectedness of our world. Unless we learn individually to be happier, the collective world will continue to suffer.
Dr. Jay’s wisdom and commitment to his students at Chapman University have some promising applications in this area, including public policy and leadership development. Beyond the personal growth and path to happiness it offers to individuals, Science of a Happy Brain teaches us that we have a vested personal interest in making each other happy. “Happy Brains make happy people. Happy people make a happy world.”
That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind and it will come back to you tenfold.