Joel S. Goldsmith On Happiness*
By Michael Isaacs
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Everyone wants to be happy. But what does “happiness” mean and how does one achieve it? Happiness is a relative term with everyone following his or her lens as how to get there.
If you read the writings and listen to the tapes of the mystic Joel Goldsmith, you will rarely read or hear the word “happiness. For him, the usual understanding of happiness- striving for it by seeking it first in the external world of materialism, human relationships, name, and fame was too superficial. Instead of happiness he talks more of inner peace, freedom, and joy.
In the only book that he wrote, THE INFINITE WAY (the forty four other books are based on his talks throughout the world between 1954 and 1962, as well as monthly letters that he sent to his students), he sheds light on his views about happiness: “Happiness or unhappiness in human existence, what does it matter? Happiness must be known of the Spirit!” (1)
If one pursues happiness in its usual connotation, the fear of and experience of its opposite, unhappiness, will surely follow. The karmic wheel of perpetual swings between happiness and unhappiness is inevitable.
Is there a way to transcend the slavery of the dualism of opposites, a place beyond the senses, rooted in the Spirit of happiness that Goldsmith was referring to?
Goldsmith is in the tradition of those who have realized that true happiness is achieved by first seeking and realizing the Kingdom of God within. Among those that have experienced this state are enlightened sages and luminaries throughout history such as Buddha, Krishna, Shankara, Lao-Tzu, Ramakrishna, and Jesus and many that have followed their paths. They realized that goodness, wholeness, perfection, infinity, and eternality can be spiritually discerned. From this experience of non-duality, true happiness follows - better relationships, health, and abundance in the outer realm.
Goldsmith, who incidentally had no formal education beyond grade school, at first admitted that he did not understand the BHAGAVAD GITA (Song of God), when he first read the eighteen verses of this sacred ancient Indian scripture. He was determined, however, to grasp its central ideas. He decided to learn Sanskrit and was permitted to enroll in a class at Harvard for that purpose. He read it hundreds of times. I suspect that he was particularly influenced in his ideas about happiness by these two verses where Lord Krishna says:
“Content with what chance brings him, passing beyond the dualities of pleasure and pain, of hot and cold, void of envy, indifferent alike to gain and loss, even in action he remains unfetteredSuch a one, being without attachments, is liberated, possessing a mindestablished in wisdom.” (2)
“That happiness which arises from the contact of the senses …is like nectar in the beginning but is like poison later on.” (3)
In the preface to THE INFINITE WAY, (4) Goldsmith quotes Lao-Tsu the Chinese sage of Taoism:
“There is no need to run outside
for better seeing,
nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being.”
He also invokes the poem by the English poet Robert Browning:
“Truth is within ourselves.
There is an inmost center in all,
Where the truth abides in fullness; and to know
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendor may escape
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without”
I believe if Goldsmith was familiar with the 12th century Persian Sufi poet, Rumi, he would totally comprehend his verse about that transcendent space of love within us all:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there; when the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.” (5)
Since Goldsmith sees the fruits of happiness in inner peace, freedom, and joy, here are some of his reflections on these spiritual values.
As to inner peace, he highlights this spiritual quality in a talk in Seattle in 1952. At the beginning of the gathering, the audience was restless and troubled because of events in the Korean War and threatened railroad and telephone strikes. Sensing
tension in the room at the start of the talk, he spoke of the need to strive for inner peace even when turmoil which disturbs the outer world brings about either doubt or fear.
As a result of the content of that talk and the high consciousness of Goldsmith, the atmosphere of the room palpably changed to one of deep calmness. The essence of the speech was set forth in the gem of a pamphlet entitled “Deep Silence of My Peace”. (6)
Among his observations about freedom are freedom from false concepts of God, especially a punishing and rewarding God; from the bondage of thoughts; from judgments of appearances of human sickness, evil and lack; from the belief in a separation from God; from the human belief in two powers of good and evil; and from the suffering caused by following one’s own self-confirming beliefs rather than the will of God.
Here is a sample from his works on the important freedom from thought:
“What is freedom? Freedom is life living itself. Freedom is joy and peace. Freedom is the song of the soul I am free and you are free, but not while we are attached to the wheel of human thought the world has ever sought for freedom, peace, and plenty...the human mind, falsely educated through the centuries contains within itself all the fears and failures of the humanrace. All the anguish of passion, greed, lust, ambition, fear and domination is found in human thought and there is the race for lawless possession and voracious acquisition. The result is not freedom but enslavement to the senses”. (7)
Goldsmith relates the experience of a man who came to his spiritual healing office in New York City. The client was miserable and unhappy with his life. Though the gentleman was earning lots of money, Goldsmith saw that he was enslaved by overwork. He claimed that he had no time for leisure. Goldsmith decided to escort the client around the City over a weekend. They went to places like central park, the zoo, and the museums As a result of his experience with Goldsmith, he was dramatically moved to see the importance of giving prime time to cultivating inner peace, freedom, and joy. (8)
It is not my habit to memorize songs. But for some reason, as a youth, I memorized the song “The Best Things in Life are Free”. The lyrics and melody captivated me. I was drawn to its simplicity, identification with nature, and hopefulness.
Since I have been exploring Goldsmith’s works for many years, you can imagine my surprise and delight about five years ago when I discovered that this favorite song of mine was written by this student of Goldsmith out of gratitude for transforming his life!
For those who may be too young to be familiar with the lyrics:
“The moon belongs to everyone.
The best things in life are free.
The stars belong to everyone.
They shine there for you and me.
The flowers in spring;
The robins that sing;
The sunbeams that shine;
They’re yours, their mine.
And, love belongs to everyone.
The best things in life are free.
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*Association of Spirituality and Psychotherapy
Michael S. Isaacs, LCSW, NCPsyA, JD
San Francisco, Ca, November, 2007