I found this article about a happiness expert who took his own life strangely compelling.  I had never heard of Philip Brickman, but as an astrologer whose Mercury (mind) is in Scorpio, I am an avid researcher of the nature of happiness and depression especially as it shows up in the natal chart.  Brickman is apparently best known for this study in which accident victims and lottery winners were compared to see who was happier in their later lives:

The study is straightforward. As the title suggests, the authors surveyed lottery winners and accident victims, plus a control group, hoping to compare their levels of happiness. But what the authors found violated common intuition. The victims, while less happy than the controls, still rated themselves above average in happiness, even though their accidents had recently rendered them all either paraplegic or quadriplegic. And the lottery winners were no happier than the controls, at least in any statistically meaningful sense. If anything, the warp and weft of their everyday lives was a little more threadbare. Talking to friends, hearing jokes, having breakfast — all of these simple pleasures now left them less satisfied than before.  read more here…


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Philip Brickman was born August 22, 1943 in Montreal (no birth time available – the chart shown is for noon that day with the Sun on the ascendant).  Depression shows up in different ways in a chart – there is the heavy hopelessness of Saturn, the deep wounds of abandonment with Chiron, the fear and often abusive history of Pluto.  But one often overlooked astrological significator for depression is a strong Mars without an easy outlet of expression.

It’s not surprising that as a happiness expert Mr. Brickman was born with the Sun in a late degree of Leo, a sign that is known for a desire to embrace all that life has to offer, and to learn to celebrate and find joy in life.  The Sun sign is often not visible, as it is the ascendant which guides the outward personality and lacking a time of birth we do not have access to this information.  However, we can see right away that there was a a clear hope for happiness in the Leo Sun.  The fiery enthusiasm of his Sun was challenged by a square to Mars at the 29th degree of Taurus.  Where the Leo Sun needs to shine and find happiness, Mars in Taurus prefers the safety of that which is known and stable. Mars provides friction to the Sun, and enhances desire, but then frustrates these desires and creates a somewhat reckless and erratic life path.

It wouldn’t have helped that Chiron was conjunct the Sun – an “out of sign” conjunction because the planets, while only 4-1/2 degrees apart, were in different signs – suggesting a deeply wounded personality with issues of abandonment.  And while we don’t know the exact degree of the Moon, it would have been within range of a challenging square to Chiron as well.  Individuals with this kind of Chiron placement are often extremely sensitive emotionally and take things very personally until they learn to process the sadness of old wounds and move more fully into their present experience.

On top of all that, we have a challenging square from Saturn (isolation and challenges) to his Venus (relating) and to Mercury (mind).  This would have given him a shyness and perhaps a sense of inadequacy when it came to love and other relationships (Venus), and a tendency towards negative thinking (Mercury).

Brickman was bedeviled by insecurities, both physical and intellectual. He was homely, his face perforated with acne scars, his lip crowned with an extravagant walrus mustache. He was affectionate but quick to take offense, supportive but high-maintenance — tender in every sense.

“If he got a negative review on a publication he submitted,” said Wortman, “he would go insane. Nobody likes to get a bad review, but it had a profoundly negative effect on Phil. He would rant for days.”

But the idea of responsibility and commitment is a strong thread that runs through all of his writings, which causes me to wonder whether Capricorn was rising in his chart.  Brickman wrote that commitments, not happiness, were the true road to salvation but he didn’t seem to find a way to make that true for himself.

His conjunction of Jupiter to Pluto in the sign of Leo would have instilled a firm belief system (Jupiter/Pluto) along with a determination to find happiness (Jupiter in Leo) despite all odds, and he often complained to others who would listen that he felt everyone else was happy while he was not. At the time of his suicide, when he jumped 267 feet to his death, he had recently been hospitalized and released for depression.  You would think we would find transits of Saturn or Pluto, but as is often the case in these situations the strongest influences involved Jupiter, expanding his confidence and courage (square to Pluto).

From my brief examination of Mr. Brickman’s writings, it appeared that he saw happiness as a rather superficial adventure which he called the “hedonic treadmill” in which we continue to pursue what we think is happiness without finding that deeper sense of purpose and joy which feeds the soul and confers deep satisfaction. Many of us have difficult astrological charts, and challenging and even brutal lives.  Yet if we stop trying to change our lives from the outside in and instead work from the inside out, we can learn to mine the deep treasure that lie in these challenges and find a rich satisfaction that goes beyond mere happiness.

for more information on the difference between happiness and joy you may want to read this article

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