Posted by: Khepera | Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Key to Happiness….

This is an excellent article addressing some aspects of happiness, & power which are not often considered, much less discussed. Frances Moore Lappé wrote this article as part of Sustainable Happiness, the Winter 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Frances is the author of many books including Diet for a Small Planet and Get a Grip, co-founder of Food First and the Small Planet Institute, and a YES! contributing editor. Out of respect for copyrights, only segments of the article follow. I have placed my comments at the end, to allow for the direct digestion of the author’s points.


Link to the complete article

The Key to Happiness That No One — Not Even the Happiness Gurus — Are Discussing

Having our basic physical needs met isn’t enough. Though they’re important, neither are family and friends.

“What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”

So wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in 1895.

I’m guessing that many of you would feel uncomfortable embracing this definition of happiness, especially coming from one of history’s most famous curmudgeons. If so, maybe in part it’s because too often we’ve nodded in agreement with Lord Acton’s catchy caveat, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And who would want to risk corruption?

But what if we were to dig to the root, Latin meaning of power, “to be able”? Suddenly, the word’s hard edge dissolves; power simply means efficacy — our capacity, as philosopher Erich Fromm put it, to “make a dent.”

Over the last decade, the happiness quest has spawned best-selling books, college courses, retreats and even a “happiness conference.” Most seem to offer similar advice: Once our basic physical needs are covered, more stuff does little to boost our happiness. Friendships, family, self-acceptance and meaning in our lives are the core determinants of our happiness.

I’m happy we’re talking about happiness, but disturbed, too, because I’ve noticed that most happiness gurus fail to mention power. And why is that a big mistake? Because most human beings are not couch potatoes and whiners. We are doers and creators.

In fact, the human need to “make a dent” is so great that Fromm argued we should toss out René Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” and replace it with “I am, because I effect.”

Even much of what we call “materialism” is, I think, not about “things” at all. It is a distorted, ultimately unsatisfying attempt to feel powerful, with status through possessions forced to stand in for power. If true, then addressing powerlessness is a direct way both to foster happiness and to overcome planet-destroying materialism.

Including power in our definition of happiness changes everything.

If happiness lies in covering basic needs, plus satisfying personal ties and finding meaning, society’s role is limited. It need only ensure that essential needs are met and provide opportunities to pursue personal relationships and meaning. Even a largely totalitarian government could do that.

But, if we add power to the happiness equation, our agenda shifts. Maximizing happiness then requires engaging citizens in changing the rules and norms so that more and more of us are empowered participants.

*** ~ snip ~ ***

And, of course, joining with others in this exhilarating pursuit, we achieve a double whammy: Such activity furthers the widely appreciated relational and meaning aspects of the happiness puzzle.

If, from our nation’s founding onward, we Americans have treated freedom and happiness as virtually synonymous, my point is a really old one. We might do well to replace the maxims of Acton, and even Nietzsche, with one uttered by Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero 2,000 years ago:

“Freedom is participation in power.”

By Frances Moore Lappé


This article sets a useful baseline, however, one of the key elements which I feel needs further exploration & discussion is the definition/meaning of power — particularly in the context the author references in terms of “participation”, or perhaps how power(s) participate in our lives as well. Certainly any engagement with power(s) is a dynamic exchange process.  In many cultures, for instance, the felt presence of ancestors is seen as a given, and thereby shapes choices & behaviors.  As contemporary science is discovering more every day, the impact & proportion of the unseen in our universe is the preponderance, the majority.  Therefore it behooves us to align our vision and lives with this actuality, for any idea or leveraging of power stirs at the level of the unseen first.


  1. keep it movin..
    much love an power


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