What Makes us Happy? An Interview with Landmark Forum Leader Joe DiMaggio

This article is the first on a series of interviews and commentaries by people who lead Landmark Education’s Landmark Forum program on a wide variety of topics ranging from Epiphanies to happiness to family Relationships. Joe DiMaggio was a leading oncologist for many years before becoming a Landmark Forum Leader in 1993. In addition to leading the Landmark Forum, DiMaggio is a leading member of Landmark Education’s design and development team. This interview came shortly before Landmark Education held Creating Happiness program events at many different locations in the United States and around the world.

Interviewer: So how do you define happiness?

DiMaggio: My view is that trying to define happiness in a way that applies to everyone is counterproductive. Happiness when examined as something other than a concept or theory is unquestionably a personal phenomenon. For one person it seems that happiness is running barefoot through the grass. Some people seem positive that wild sex will make them happy. For others, it’s holding a baby in their arms. For some it is a new outfit or a new pair of shoes. And, for some people, happiness is a hotdog and a beer at a baseball game.

People as brilliant as Aristotle have been trying to define happiness for over 2000 years. Yet today more than ever, people are still working very hard to figure out happiness. At Landmark Education, we take the case that something more than defining happiness will be required to make a real difference in people’s experience of happiness. We take the case that what will make a difference is to get at what, in the day to day living of our lives, in the ordinary moments that make up the majority of what we call our lives, creates a new place to stand that gives us access to happiness independent of our circumstances.
Interviewer: What do you do on a daily basis that brings you happiness?

DiMaggio: I have become practiced at being fairly reliable in creating and living inside of a context of happiness that it is now somewhat like second nature to me. I am also fairly reliable to no longer add the kind of stories, meanings, and interpretations to what I am dealing with that are disempowering. I therefore have a whole lot of power, satisfaction and natural happiness that arises when I am dealing with my circumstances without all the stuff that my mind would normally add.

Interviewer: What things take away from your happiness? What can be done to lessen their impact?

DiMaggio: Obviously I am always impacted by what I experience when I have to confront what seems like our inhumanities, whether it be mass murder based in religious intolerance, an AIDS epidemic in Africa, or just one of those moments where I or someone I love simply acts like a jerk.

Again, what makes the biggest difference is continuing to create for myself that while I can’t change what is happening, that it is not what is happening, no matter how real it seems, that is determining my response to what is happening and that I have a say about who I will be in the face of any circumstance.

I also get a lot of freedom by being clear that being happy is not some ideal or standard where I think I should be happy all the time. Clearly, there are circumstances that we all face where happiness may not be the appropriate response. Then, in any circumstance, I can come from that “I am happy” and deal with whatever I have to deal with inside of that possibility.

Interviewer: What do you plan on doing in the future that will make you even more happy?

DiMaggio: There is really nothing I am looking forward to regarding being happier. For me, happiness is a “right now” phenomenon, a place to come from phenomenon, a “stand I am” kind of phenomenon and a matter of being rather than something I strive for. What Landmark Education has provided me is the real opportunity to create my life every day, to be happy, powerful, and up to something that inspires me, to be with people as a self expression — as a matter of who I am and not as a response to what life presents me. Thank you very much for a chance to answer your questions.

Author's Bio: 

Osander is a writer and world traveler who writes about people and communities coming together.