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A Unified Theory of Happiness brings the wisdom of the West and the East together.  This synthesized wisdom is based in science, philosophy and virtually countless experiences by countless people.  It can be discerned by everyone via a deep understanding of happiness, personal inventory and practical exercises. 
To further the reader’s interest, the author wishes to share a list of the most helpful resources she has encountered.

Click on any field of this Happiness Pyramid to see a free list of selected resources.

The Happiness Pyramid

Happiness Pyramid

survive survivewell definition fitness ambition competence confidence connection lightheartedness reliance tranquility recepitivity


A. Surviving

Surviving is not happiness.  However survival constitutes the basis for happiness.  In order to pass on our genes, we all try to assure our and our group’s survival.  Without the Right to Life (as reflected in the Declaration of Independence), without honoring and protecting life, we cannot thrive.  Aiming at inclusiveness (see Definition of Happiness) it is not only our moral obligation, but also in our best interest to grant this right to those not within our group.
Recommended books are:

The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition—with a new Introduction by the Author (2006) by Richard Dawkins http://richarddawkins.net

The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (2009) by Peter Singer www.princeton.edu/~psinger/

Nonzero. The Logic of Human Destiny (2000) by Robert Wright.

Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth (2008) by Ed Diener & Robert Biswas-Diener.  This book contains a lot of information, including about the importance of fulfilling basic needs.  While happiness and unhappiness can coincide, there is a point at which we become too unhappy to be happy. http://diener.socialpsychology.org

Hot, Flat, And Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—And How It Can Renew America (2008) by Thomas L. Friedman

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America (2008) by Barbara Ehrenreich. www.barbaraehrenreich.com

B. Surviving Well

Surviving well is still not happiness.  However surviving well is also part of the foundation for happiness.  The importance of surviving well can be associated with the Right to Liberty in the Declaration of Independence.  Most people thrive on opportunities that are accessible in free countries with democracies and a large middle class.  Non-monastic people need to feel that our actions and choices can take us to higher and better places and that our effort is measurably rewarded.  Also, we all need basic control over our lives in order to thrive.  To arrive at basic control we must have skills to compete, affordable education, access to technology, relative prosperity (fairness in the distribution of opportunity), equal rights (emancipation) as well as mental and physical health to compete.  Finally (and due to popular demand…) experiences of pleasure are part of surviving well.
Recommended books are:

Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth (2008) by Ed Diener & Robert Biswas-Diener.  Again, this book contains a lot of useful information, including about the importance of opportunity:

Well-Being. The Foundation of Hedonic Psychology (1999) by editors Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener and Norbert Schwarz:

Stumbling on happiness. Think you know what makes you happy?
by Daniel Gilbert (2006) reminds us of our limited cognitive ability to predict what kinds of pleasures have a positive impact on us.  While pleasure is relatively unpredictable, we can use our imagination to help us stumble on happiness: www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dtg/gilbertnewleftframe.htm

The World is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (2008) by Thomas L. Friedman.  This book speaks of building competencies that are indispensable and help us compete in the global market:

Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman. What Men Know About Success That Women Need To Learn by Gail Evans (2001): www.gailevans.net

The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff (1986).  Liedloff’s book helps us to raise happy children:

The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation (2008). While recently under criticism, millions of people suffer from a compulsive urge to take care of others while unable to take care of themselves.  The book is especially helpful for women and mental health care providers: www.melodybeattie.com

1. Definition of Happiness

The Right to Pursue Happiness is included in the Declaration of Independence in recognition of its great importance to human beings in the free world.  Yet, as happiness is still a relatively young goal for civilizations, it is often confused with other positive, mostly hedonic experiences.  Considering that the Declaration was written in 1776, defining happiness as an integral step towards human progress is long overdue.  Hence defining happiness receives substantial attention in A Unified Theory of Happiness.  The importance of understanding happiness cannot be stressed enough as we need to guide ourselves on the path of becoming.  Nobody but we can protect us from straying off.  We need to be our own light and see to it that it shines brighter with every day we live.

“God, sex, jobs and professional wrestling” – the four most frequently Googled terms* — might do for a definition of happiness if all we had to do is follow our interests and pleasure.  However, our wants are more often than not related to our survival, and not to our happiness.  Survival and happiness can overlap which makes it easy to mistake survival related, good experiences for happiness.  For example, being friendly and able to connect with people is often helpful to our survival and our happiness.  Also, we could begin an activity to foster our happiness yet gradually slip into an exclusive survival mode, maybe even without us noticing it.  Defining happiness and differentiating it from “surviving well” is therefore essential to lasting transformation.  Nobody can tell us for sure in what mode we are.  Each of us has to develop self-awareness and guide herself/himself through the jungle of experiences.

Happiness is not pleasure, not money, not control, not comfort, and not security.  Yet having pleasure, money, control, comfort and security can contribute to our happiness.  The difference is whether these experiences serve predominantly the survival of our own genetic material (survival) or a sense of being fully engaged with life (that is Being) that includes its parts and all beings (happiness).  Therefore pleasure should not be experienced on the account of others, but in a way that ultimately connects us with the world community.  ‘Having’ should not cause others not to have.  Control should make us better citizens.  Comfort should not mean that we get to be lazy which only dulls all experiences, including our engagement with life.  Security ought not to be achieved at all cost as this leads to violations of and separations from others.

If experience brings us closer to the world and thus enhances our sense of relatedness to a) good objectives, b) other sentient beings and c) the whole of Being then the experience of happiness rises.  Happiness is thus total relatedness to life or ‘full life participation’. 

To arrive at ‘full life participation’ we are well-advised to learn both from Western and Eastern thought.  The former better explains our relatedness to objectives and other beings, while the later better explains our relatedness to the whole of Being How the definition and the matching modes of consciousness (basic mode and supreme mode) were derived and put into practice with exercises, as well as the conclusive synthesis of Western and Eastern thought, is new and can only be found in The Two Wings of Happiness.  However, there are other resources available that help deepen the understanding of happiness as in ‘full life participation’.
Recommended books are:

Nancy Cantor and Catherine A. Sanderson (2003). Life Task Participation and Well-Being: The Importance of Taking Part in Daily Life. In Well-Being. The Foundation of Hedonic Psychology. Editors: Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener, & Norbert Schwarz.

The Happiness Hypothesis. Finding Truth in Ancient Wisdom written by Jonathan Haidt (2006).  Haidt’s book is a helpful intellectual analysis of ten lessons learned from ancient wisdom holding up in the light of science.  Haidt’s conclusion can be considered an introduction to The Two Wings of Happiness. www.people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n/

MindScience. An East-West Dialogue is based on a symposium with The Dalai Lama, Herbert Benson, Robert A.F. Thurman, Howard E. Gardner and Daniel Goldman (1991).  Howard E. Gardner’s contribution is especially interesting as it points to a synthesis of Western and Eastern thought.  Other books by this creative thinker:

2. Commitment to Happiness

Without true commitment to happiness, it is unlikely we should go “up” that path, and we are more likely to march only on the path of survival.  If we like to add happiness to our priorities, we must do so with awareness and dedication.  As a constant reminder it is helpful to display a written contract with oneself or declare ones commitment publicly.

3. Mind/Body Fitness

Physical and mental fitness (a surplus of flexibility, strength and energy) is a major component of happiness.  Therefore fitness is repeatedly woven into Part II and Part III of The Two Wings of Happiness.  The provided context is believed to influence behavior more effectively than individual pieces of advice.  If at all possible, avoid crash diets and consult with an MD before following advice from anybody.

While I lack the expertise to recommend any particular diet, it is good to become educated in the benefits of permanent changes as opposed to short-lived diets.  Everyone should know the benefits of vegetables (especially greens), fruits, whole grain food, low meat or no meat balanced diets and mineral-rich water. 
Losing cravings for certain foods (i.e. sugar, alcohol) is paramount to happiness, especially as we grow older.
Recommended books are:


Go to Peter Singer’s website, click on Links and then click on Vegan Outreach www.princeton.edu/~psinger/

Green for Life by Victorian Boutenko (2005) www.rawfamily.com

Brendan Brazier (2007). The Thrive Diet. The Whole Food Way to lose Weight, Reduce Stress, And Stay Healthy For Life www.thrivediet.com

If you need motivation, join a sports club closest to your home or pair up with a workout partner. 
Recommended books are:

Outstanding information on the benefits of exercise by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman (2008) in Spark. The Revolutionary New Science for Exercise and the Brain.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bmc0ERKfjP0
and www.johnratey.com/newsite/index.html

Edited by Lisa Bakewell (2009) Fitness Information for Teens. Health Tips about Exercise, Physical Well-Being, and Health Maintenance Including Facts

4. Ambition

Recommended books are:

Mihaly Csiskzentmihalyi (1990) wrote the ground-braking book Flow. The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  In it Csiskzentmihalyi explains how the pursuit of good goals can fulfill us and help us go beyond the experience of self. www.brainchannels.com/thinker/mihaly.html

Richard Bach’s (2006) Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a truly timeless fiction book about the type of ambition that leads to happiness.

Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman. What Men Know About Success That Women Need To Learn by Gail Evans (2001): www.gailevans.net

5. Competence

Recommended books are:

Abraham H. Maslow (1998) Toward a Psychology of Being, 3rd Edition. 

The World is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (2008) by Thomas L. Friedman.  This book speaks of building competencies that are indispensable and help us compete in the global market with compassion and happiness in our minds: www.thomaslfriedman.com

Creativity is becoming increasingly important in the global market which is why I recommend non-organized, creative play for children and a book by Howard Gardner (1993) Creating Minds. An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Grahman and Gandhi. www.HowardGardner.com

6. Confidence

Recommended books are:

Martin E.P. Seligman (2002) Authentic Happiness. Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.  This book has made the new Positive Psychology famous.  It stresses the importance of finding and utilizing our own internal, so called signature strengths. www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu

Howard Gardner makes a strong case for diversity in education and that each of us comes with a unique set of talents that we ought to identify and nourish: Howard Gardner (2006). Multiple Intelligences. New Horizons.

Russ Harris and Steven Hayes (2008). The Happiness Trap. How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. This book advocates strongly against the attempt to reduce ourselves to good feelings and makes a case to accept and be mindful of all feelings. www.Thehappinesstrap.com/

7. Connection

Recommended books are:

Jean Baker Miller and Irene Pierce Stiver wrote The Healing Connection. How Women form Relationships in Therapy and in Life; also helpful to men. www.amazon.com/Healing-Connection-Women-Connections-Therapy/dp/0807029211/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&sr=8-1

Harriet Lerner (2001). The Dance of Connection. How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate www.HarrietLerner.com

Marco Iacoboni (2008). Mirroring People. The New Science Of How We Connect With Others. This book explains the specialized brain cells responsible for empathy and instant understanding.

8. Light-heartedness

Recommended books are:

Henri Bergson (1999). Laughter. An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic Bergson.  Bergson delivered the best and most helpful understanding of humor that I am aware of. www.authorama.com/laughter-1.html

Outstanding information on the benefits of exercise by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman (2008) in Spark. The Revolutionary New Science for Exercise and the Brain.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bmc0ERKfjP0
and www.johnratey.com/newsite/index.html

Zen Master Donald Gilbert (1988). The Upside Down Circle. Zen Laughter

9. Reliance

Recommended books are:

Peter Singer (2002). One World. The Ethics of Globalization.

D’Aquili, E., & Newberg, A.B. (1999). The Mystical Mind. Probing the Biology of Religious Expereince.

Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry (1994). The Universe Story. From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era. A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Universe. www.BrianSwimme.org

Dalai Lama, & Cutler, H.C. (1998). The Art of Happiness.  A handbook for living.www.TheArtofHappiness.com

Jack Kornfield (2008). The Wise Heart. A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist  Psychology.  Jack Kornfield, clinical psychologist and Buddhist, offers books, classes and videos focusing on compassion and meditation.www.jackkornfield.org

10. Tranquility

Recommended books are:

Thich Nhat Hanh (1999). The Miracle of Mindfulness. An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.  Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers many books, recordings and meditation classes in Europe and USA.  He touches people with exemplary peacefulness. www.plumvillage.org
and www.deerparkmonastery.org

John Daido Loori (2007). Finding the Still Point. A Beginner’s Guide to Zen Meditation.  Includes a CD of Guided Instructions.
This Zen teacher is the author of numerous books and teaches in the U.S.

Thomas Merton (1965). The Way of Chuang Tzu.

11. Receptivity

Recommended books are:

Michael Shermer (2004). The Science of Good & Evil. Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, And Follow the Golden Rule. www.skeptic.com

Batchelor, S. (1990). The Faith To Doubt. Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty.
Batchelor, S. (1998). Buddhism without Beliefs. A Contemporary Guide to Awakening.   www.StephenBatchelor.org

While the science presented in Tibetan Buddhist Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s book stands on shaky ground, the book features a very tolerant and clear introduction to meditation (2007). The Joy of Living. Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness.

Martine Batchelor (2001). Meditation for Life. www.MartineBatchelor.org



* Thomas L. Friedman, author of The World is Flat (2007), writes that the four terms are the most Googled.