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Huna and the Happiness Set-Point Theory
by Dan Green

In my article, "Savoring and Huna's Essential Principles" (Mar 2009,, I cited research that provided evidence that some people are genetically predisposed to experience positive feelings more strongly, in particular from a book entitled The Nature and Nurture of Joy and Contentment by L.T. Lykken. In this book Lykken suggests that our baseline level of happiness is like the level of a lake and we are in a sailboat on it. The height of our boat is the level of our happiness. Waves are positive events and troughs are negative ones. After they subside we return to the baseline level or "set-point" of happiness. Each person has a different set-point, some higher and some lower. This so called set-point theory developed in the field of psychology in a cumulative and apparently convincing way over thirty years ago. It provides that we are born with a predetermined level of happiness and are destined to remain within a narrow range above and below that level. For example, a study of twins concludes "trying to be happier may be as futile as trying to be taller." (Lykken, Tellegen, "Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon.")

In my article on savoring I pointed out that Dr. Bryant in his book Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience postulates that people have finite attentional resources they can use to optimize their emotional experience by savoring positive events and thereby maximize happiness. Worrying and thinking about pressing problems deplete these attentional resources and reduce one's ability to savor. (Bryant, Savoring p.205)1 On the other hand, the Huna principle that there are no limits, Kala, (i.e. there are unlimited potentials for creativity) suggests that our attentional resources are not finite. If you can increase your attentional resources over time through the study of Huna and use the increased resources to savor more positive events, more fully, you should be able to make permanent increases in happiness above any perceived set-point.

Dr. King in his book Urban Shaman recognizes that while the universe is infinite, we could not experience it without limitations because there would be no differentiation, contrast, or sensation of change. He discusses two kinds of limitations: creative and filtered. Our realm of physical experience, for instance, is arbitrarily limited by rules concerning our natural perceptual range of the frequencies of sight, sound, touch, gravity, distance and time which may be the effect of creative choices of limiting factors on the part of God or our own Higher Selves that enable us to experience life on earth. Dr. King calls these creative limitations. They are limitations that are created. However the way a shaman views life, the rules can be changed by creating different limitations allowing us to expand and improve our creative abilities by enforcing a focus on a different range and interpretation of experience. (King, Urban Shaman p.58-60; See generally, King, Changing Reality)

In contrast, filtered limitations limit our creative abilities, including our attentional resources. Filtered limitation is a term of art which means a limitation imposed by ideas and beliefs that inhibit creativity rather than enhance it, such as beliefs that engender helplessness and hopelessness. Obsession with suffering filters out contrary experiences making it nearly impossible to do anything about the suffering. Filtered limitations generate focus without the potential for positive action. (King, Urban Shaman p. 59-60) The concept of filtered limitation is consistent with Dr. Bryant's explanation of depleting our finite attentional resources by worrying and thinking about pressing problems. But, Dr. King goes further by suggesting that changing the rules of the limiting factors to focus on an expanded range and interpretation of experience expands our creative abilities which would include expanded attentional resources. This is in addition to eliminating any filtered limitations which also expands focus and removes inhibiting factors affecting our creativity and attentional resources.

For example, in his book Changing Reality Dr. King explains increasing attentional resources in the context of explaining the role of the focus mind in developing extra sensory perception as follows:

" ...if you are watching a movie your attention may be focused on the film and nothing else. But you could expand your focus to include the taste of popcorn in your mouth, the feel on your companion's hand in yours, and the heavy breathing of the guy next to you. If you expanded your focus further to include the people in the seats in front of you, the curtains by the side of the screen, the various grunts and coughs and sniffles of the audience, and the discomfort of your chair, you would probably begin to lose your focus on the movie. And, you would probably not be paying any attention to all the sensations of your clothing on your skin, the temperature and smell of the air, and sundry other things which your body mind is making available to you through your senses." (King, Changing Reality, p51) 2

Understanding the mechanisms of creative and filtered limitations leads to the conclusion that attentional resources are unlimited consistent with the Kala principle. Therefore, unlimited attentional resources are available to savor positive experiences and increase happiness. Accordingly, there are no limits on happiness, and Huna philosophy is in conflict with the "set-point" theory.

Now, a recent article from October 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) reports that a direct test of the set-point theory shows it to be flawed. So, it now appears that people do not have stable set-points of happiness. Accordingly, the kupua tradition of esoteric wisdom known as Huna is correct in that there are no limits, including no limits to our happiness.

A direct test of set-point theory requires longitudinal evidence -- long-run data on life satisfaction/happiness. The German Socio-Economic Panel Survey (SOEP) provides by far the longest data series available. It reports interviews with a very large national representative sample of people aged sixteen and over, who have answered questions about their life satisfaction every year from 1984 to 2008. During this twenty-five years, large numbers of respondents recorded substantial and apparently permanent changes in satisfaction/happiness demonstrating that the set-point theory is seriously flawed. The article goes on to discuss preferences and choices that affect long-term happiness such as life goals/priorities, religion, church attendance, actual and preferred working hours, social participation and healthy lifestyle. It concludes that life goals, religion, and personal choices matter for happiness. But most significantly, there have been recorded substantial nontransient increases in happiness that are cumulative which refutes the set-point theory. Now, given that psychologists have determined that there is no genetic set-point of happiness to which we are destined to remain within a narrow range above and below, how can the study of Huna facilitate permanent changes in our level of happiness?

There are behaviors and thoughts that generate, intensify, or prolong positive feelings in response to positive events. This process is called savoring and many Huna practices incorporate it. By learning how to cultivate savoring, defined as the capacity to attend to, appreciate, and enhance the positive experiences in one's life, people can better enjoy love, truth, beauty, community, God, sexuality, spirituality, or whatever preferred values and individual goals one deems important. Research indicates that the level of joy we get from positive experiences depends on how we think and act in response to them. We don't automatically feel joy and happiness when good things happen to us. But, we do have the capacity to. We can attend to, appreciate, and enhance positive experiences in our lives. (Bryant, Art of Savoring) In this article I suggest that changing reality by changing the rules of the limiting factors to focus on an expanded range and interpretation of experience is a way to increase creativity and attentional resources thereby increasing the capacity to attend to, appreciate, and enhance positive experiences.

For example, by changing reality to ike papalua: the subjective world, one can use thoughtform projection or a "t-field" to increase attentional resources. A thoughtform projection is an imaginary, energized, 3-D image of a thing or scene that you project with your intent and desire into the world around you, similar to miming as used by Marcel Marceau to create the illusion of actual objects so well that the audience suspends disbelief and accepts them as being really there. Examples are washing windows or picking a flower and putting it in his lapel. This technique can be used to eliminate the wasted energy in worrying about all the terrible things that could happen to a loved one when they are away and thereby increase attentional resources for savoring. By concentrating on an image of the person and mentally surrounding them with a cloud, fog, or light of white or gold (these colors promote feelings of protection, confidence, and security) you can take positive action wherever the loved one may be. Students of Dr. King have reported to him that this technique has either helped a person to completely avoid unfortunate incidents or to greatly reduce the effect of unavoidable situations. And, it helps to get rid of the false sense of helplessness. (King, Changing Reality, p.117-120) This technique removes filtered limitations which use up attentional resources. The increase in available attentional resources can then be used to savor positive events more often and more fully.

A second example uses ike papakolu: the symbolic world. The basic assumption of this world view is that everything is a symbol. Reality is a symbol and symbols are reality. Therefore, all of our daily world is symbolic and dreams are real. (King, Changing Reality, p. 141) We can tune in to these dreams by focusing our attention on a particular object or person with the intent to know its dream. We next assume that whatever comes into our mind from that moment until we stop focusing is the dream of what we are focusing on. Finally, we assume that by changing such a dream we can change reality. (King, Urban Shaman, p.131) Dr. King gives the following example in his book Urban Shaman.

"I was in a restaurant having coffee. The waitress was in a foul mood, not speaking to anyone, not refilling their cups, and spilling food when she served it. I tuned in to her current dream, which I imagined was occurring right over her head. What I saw was a bleak landscape with gray clouds above it. So, in creative fantasy, I caused the cloud to rain and then part to let the sun through, caused flowers to sprout up, and caused birds, bees, and butterflies to enter the picture. I was having a great time when she suddenly left and went into the kitchen where she stayed for five full minutes. When she came back out she was completely changed. She smiled at everyone and filled cups carefully, said hello to a new customer and generally seemed happier." (King, Urban Shaman, p.131-132)

Since everything is dreaming, you can tune in to and change the dream of a tree, a home, a machine, a group, a nation, or a planet, if you wish. The key is dreaming a new dream so pleasurable to the ku of the object or person of your attention that it will want to change. This can expand attentional resources by eliminating frustrations and diversions like the surly waitress.

A final example uses ike papaha: the holistic world. The basic assumption of this world view is that everything is one. In the holistic world there is no sense of distinction between yourself and whatever it is that you identify as also being yourself.

" are not standing in the meadow, you are the meadow. You can feel the sunlight being turned into usable energy by the chlorophyll in your leaves as your roots soak up nutrients from the soil and you gladly give up your nectar to the bee who gathers your pollen to share with other flowers. As the bee you enjoy sucking up the nectar and you know without thinking that some of the pollen will be shared with other flowers and plenty will still be there to take back to the extensions of yourself in the hive. As the bird you feel the trembling of your throat as you sing your mating song and tip your feathered tail to keep your balance on the pine branch hanging at the meadow's edge, and as the pine you know that you are not at the edge of the meadow, but are part of what makes the meadow what it is." (King, Changing Reality p. 13)

This is the ultimate use and expansion of attentional resources by changing creative limitations. Rather than merely savoring a beautiful scene of nature in your view, you become each and every element of the scene and experience all of its beauty first hand. You also expand focus to include many more sensations from the body mind which increases attentional resources. And, with practice you will not lose focus on any of the individual elements.

Our ability to savor relates to our capacity to attend to and appreciate the positive experiences of our lives. (Bryant, Savoring p. xi) Dr. Bryant suggests employing "intentional mindfulness qualities." They are: (a) nonjudgmental orientation (i.e. impartial witnessing or not concerning oneself with evaluation), (b) openness (i.e. seeing things as if for the first time, and (c) acceptance (i.e. being focused on things as they are in the present). (Bryant, Savoring p.207) These qualities are enhanced by application of the holistic world view. But, the holistic world view goes beyond intentional mindfulness. It allows you to become an active participant in a positive experience creating the ultimate focus for savoring.

I suggested in my article on savoring that when Huna practitioners facilitate healing and counsel others in coping with negative conditions and events, they should consider teaching, where appropriate, how to savor the positive experiences in our lives and thereby increase happiness, joy, and pleasure in life. Further, savoring not only enhances the overall quality of our lives, but also strengthens our immune system and promotes physical health. Changing realities is another way Huna philosophy can be used to increase attentional resources, remove filtered limitations, and employ intentional mindfulness to facilitate savoring the positive experiences of our lives and increase our happiness. And now, psychologists are also coming around to the conclusion that when it comes to our happiness, there are no limits.


Bryant, Fred B. "The Art of Savoring" Natural Solutions, Vibrant Health, Balanced Living . 1 May 2006:67,

Bryant, Fred B. and Joseph Veroff. Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007

Headey, Muffels, and Wagner. Long-running German panel survey shows that personal and economic choices, not just genes, matter for happiness, Proceedings of Natl. Academy of Sciences of the USA, Washington, D.C., October 4, 2010,

King, Serge. Changing Reality, Volcano, HI: Hunaworks, 2007

King, Serge. Urban Shaman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990

Lykken, D.T. Happiness: The Nature and Nurture of Joy and Contentment, New York: St. Martin's Griffin 2000.

Lykken, D. T. (1999). Happiness: What studies of twins show us about nature, nurture, and the happiness set point, New York; Golden Books

Lykken D, Tellegen A (1996), "Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon", Psychol. Sci 7: 186-189

Wagner GG, Frick JR, Schupp J (2007) Enhancing the power of the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP -- evolution, scope and enhancements. Schmollers Jahrbuch 127:139-169

About the author
Dan W. Green has a B.A. in economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a J.D. from the San Joaquin College of Law, Fresno, California. He is a member of the State Bar of California and practices employment, real estate, and business law in Santa Maria, California. He completed the HunaQuest Course taught by Serge Kahili King, PhD in September 2008 and has been engaged in self study of Huna philosophy since 2006.

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