Symbols, Cycles and the Quest for Meaningful Happiness
I have an experiment for you. Are you game?
Okay, go ask the person nearest to you what they long for the most. Ask them what their greatest goal and desire is.
Got their response? Good. Now I want you to ask them “why?” I’m sure they’ll tell you, and when they do, ask them “why?” again.
In fact, after every answer they give, keep asking “why?”
Because chances are, by the time you ask “why” a third, fourth, or fifth time, you’re going to get to the heart of the matter. It’s the same response that nearly everyone gives.
That response? “I want to be happy.”
Happiness is a basic human need. We all long for it, and we all have our own ideas about what will make us happy.
But superficial, extrinsic happiness is fleeting. It’s the kind you get from that new-car smell, or that pretty blouse you got on sale at 50% off.
The only kind of happiness that really lasts is intrinsic happiness, and according to research, there are a few key components to this kind of happiness.
Some of these have been written about by others at great length: Gratitude, Supportive Relationships, and a Sense of Belonging among them.
But there’s one other key to truly lasting happiness that every human desires, and it’s this:
This is happiness in the flow of everyday life.
But what gives moments and events in our lives meaning? Or rather, where and how is meaning made?
Meaning is not a function of our neocortex, where logic and language live. You can’t think your way into making something meaningful.
Whether or not something is meaningful to us depends on how we feel about it.
It’s our emotional reactions that drive the making of meaning, and our emotions are seated firmly in the limbic centre of our brains. This is the older, pre-linguistic part that doesn’t have a capacity for language. (That’s why you can’t talk yourself into making something meaningful either.)
So what is the one tool that we do have? The thing that we use daily to connect to this deepest part of ourselves?
With just a single glance, a symbol can evoke deep emotion… and therefore deep meaning.
And so, if it is the emotionally-driven experience of a meaningful life that’s one of the key components to happiness… And it is that quest for happiness that lies behind most (if not all) of our human goals and behaviours… Then by default, it’s the symbols we interact with and make meaning from on a daily basis that create our experience of life. Good or bad. Happy or sad.
Wanna take a guess at where it’s from that we’re getting an influx of symbolism every single day? And enough of it to have a direct and significant affect on our subconsciously driven behaviour?
It’s outside our windows, in nature.
Or more specifically, it’s in the patterns of seasonal change we experience as we move through the year.
Because each year, our planet moves around the sun, creating predictable cycles. And these cycles, these patterns, hold some of the deepest and oldest symbolic meaning for us humans.
(We are human animals after all, part of the natural world, regardless of how far we’ve removed ourselves from it… Or think we have, anyway.)
We need only look at the monuments of the Egyptians, the Mayans, or the Bronze-aged peoples who built Stonehenge, to see examples of the importance of these seasonal rhythms. Each of these monuments were built in part to track the movements of the sun, moon, and stars.
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You see, for nearly 20 years I’ve studied literature, culture, folklore, myth, history, tradition, ritual, and archetype.
These are the tools that humans have always use to translate this experience of the subconscious realm into our daily lives.
And after all this study, all this experience and understanding, I’ve discovered that there is a cyclical and predictable way that –– even today –– we are still finding and making meaning out of our experience of the turning year.
And it is the subconscious meaning we derive from the symbolic cycle of each season that is driving our emotional reactions to daily life, and therefore also driving our behaviour each and every day.
And this, right here, is the foundation of everything I teach.
These cycles are so universal and so predictable that I developed the Seasontide framework to help you understanding the deep connections between nature and and your behaviour.
In the framework, I often use words like “phase,” “energy,” and “tide” to describe elements of this cyclical rhythm, but they’re just words. Words that I’m using to help explain to that language-based neocortex what is going on for us on that deeper, older level.
(Because remember, most of this is happening on a subconscious level in the limbic brain, away from our rational and analytical mind, and so we habitually act and react without conscious awareness.)
Well, then we could live our lives and plan our actions and activities, not just based on how we know we’re going to be reacting to these cycles and symbols, but based on how our family, friends, coworkers and clients are going to be reacting as well.
When this framework is applied to our daily lives it’s like shining a light on our subconscious. Our lives take on a whole new level of flow, of meaning, and yes, of happiness.
And in that place we are free to be our best selves every day. No longer so susceptible to stress and ego, we can take on the curveballs that life throws at us with a new understanding of what’s behind our emotional reactions.
Now how’s that for a meaningful, happy life?
So now I have a question for you: If there was one subconscious behaviour you’re experiencing that you would want to shine a light on, what would that be?
Let me know in the comments below.
And if you know someone who’d be interested in this article, please share!