The Map to a Happy Life

Over the holidays, my mind keeps returning to a favorite topic: what it means to have a happy life, and to seek happiness. 

I thought I’d share what my idea of a good, happy life is, because I think these are the same things our society needs on the whole. And since any good Permaculture design process or Transformative Adventure begins with a deep look at our goals, this is one of our central question. How will we get where we want to be if we don’t even know where we’re going?

The map to a happy life.
The map to happiness

A brief glance over the map shows some nested symbols, which represent:

  1. A good mind.
  2. A supportive environment.
  3. The twin tipis of self actualization and permaculture.
  4. The solid base, the foundation of the tipis.
  5. The moon, our guiding ethic: to seek happiness skillfully.
  6. Resting atop of these, is the pyramid of transcendence.

Because this is the first question of a permaculture design process, I’ve thought a lot about it, had many discussions about it, and searched for many patterns to help guide my way. My original conceptions were guided by Taoism and Buddhism, which place happiness at the center of their paths. And also by Epicurus, who made it the basis for a good and moral life. For Epicurus, the features of a happy life were found in simplicity: freedom (the kind that comes with community reliance,) friendship, knowledge, space for contemplation, and moderation in all things.

More recently, as I listened and learned along with my students, my toolbox for happiness has grown to include some ideas from the modern science of ecology, from psychology, and from a greater knowledge of indigenous societies. Cross-referencing these, I came to understand my own ideal for a happy life better.


The blank page mind. What do you see when you close your eyes? Before you even think? It may look something like this—light filtering through the skin and blood vessels of your eyes, and organized by a mind that is always seeking patterns and meaning.

The image starts with a square on the outside, which is MIND, the container of everything we will experience in this life. Mind is the blank page upon which we create our experience of everything. I want to work on keeping a mind that is calm and free enough to experience life as free as possible from the distortions of things like delusions, arrogance, aggression, greed, hate, and anxiety. I want a happy, easy mind that can focus well and isn’t tossed about violently by emotions. Both research and contemplative traditions tell us this is something we can actively work on. (In fact, it is one point of these visual symbols I like to communicate in.) “Mind makes an excellent servant but a poor master.” Every other aspect of a good life fits within this container. 

A beautiful, supportive environment

Within this blank page of a good mind is a circle, our earth, representing a healthy, nurturing environment. Our environment is the next biggest factor determining who we are and what we experience, so I want to continuously work on creating an environment that supports a good life, that supports me in being a good person— an environment that looks like the ones my ancestors evolved and thrived within. 

The circle of a beautiful, nurturing environment.

In ecology, there is a concept that every species has an EEA, an Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation. This is the environment we evolved in. When you take a species out of its EEA, it continues its evolved behaviors, even if they no longer make sense. The human EEA involves a supportive environment and a vibrant village.

The twin pyramids of self-actualization and permaculture

Within this circle are the twin pyramids of self-actualization and “permaculture,” a just and sustainable community. The path of self-actualization begins with a commitment to build a better community for all, and the path of community service begins with work to become the best version of ourselves. 

These twin tipis are based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the Blackfoot tipi of community permanence that may have inspired it. work on these two things must always go together.

The Solid Base

The solid base, work at the intersection of these areas is a powerful foundation for a good life.

At the overlap of community service and personal growth is the solid base, a vibrant support system we build by being good people… this includes caring people around us, a nurturing family and village, and a basically supportive environment, like a Transformative Landscape. This is the foundation of our twin pyramids, and our journey to happiness. It doesn’t mean being the most popular kid in school or having 30 acres of perfect land, it just takes a few good people and connecting with whatever earth we can. Even a small container garden contains infinite riches.

The Ethic of Transformative Action

Rising above the twin pyramids is the moon, which lights even the dark times of life. This is my guiding ethic, to seek happiness skillfully, understanding that growing a happy life means growing a happy community, a compassionate mind, and healthy environment. A better life and a better world. It is an understanding that seeking happiness in ways that degrade the world around us means we must live with a guilty, deluded mind, within degraded unsupportive surroundings—a poor way to seek happiness.


Transcendence… of our own limits, of our own petty problems, of our insecurities, of our separateness, of our ego….

Resting atop the twin pyramids is pyramid of transcendence, recognizing that we must transcend many false choices on our paths. We must embrace both the light, and the dark; we must seek personal happiness in ways that build community prosperity; we must find the subtle pleasures of peace and stillness, along with gross pleasures of joy, dance, and excitement; we must grow a rich inner life while remaining rooted in the soil. 

For me, this is the map to a happy life and a better world. I hope perhaps you will find it useful in thinking about your personal map as well.

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