I was listening to Dennis Prager‘s radio broadcast on my new laptop yesterday for the first time while I was working and doing things around the house. Prager was saying that only you are responsible for your own happiness. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that.
While I’m not a deep thinker, I thought I’d take a few moments this morning to ponder happiness.
Dictionary.com defines happiness as
1. the quality or state of being happy.
2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.
—Synonyms 1, 2. pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight, enjoyment, satisfaction. HAPPINESS, BLISS, CONTENTMENT, FELICITY imply an active or passive state of pleasure or pleasurable satisfaction. HAPPINESS results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good: the happiness of visiting one’s family. BLISS is unalloyed happiness or supreme delight: the bliss of perfect companionship. CONTENTMENT is a peaceful kind of happiness in which one rests without desires, even though every wish may not have been gratified: contentment in one’s surroundings. FELICITY is a formal word for happiness of an especially fortunate or intense kind: to wish a young couple felicity in life.
—Antonyms 1. misery.
As we can see from the definitions, happiness involves physical, social, psychological, and spiritual components, and it also involves motivation.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has provoked a mountain of books and papers on the aspect of needs and motivation. A person who is not happy needs to realize what the reason for their unhappiness is, needs to work towards becoming happy or at least happier, and needs to have the initiative and the desire (the motivation) to be happy – with no guarantee of results. While happiness includes the satisfaction of needs and the pursuit of goals for which we must be motivated, happiness has to come from within.
But it also involves material surroundings.
Anyone who scorns money and sincerely believes that “money can’t buy happiness” is fooling themselves. Money can’t buy you love (it will buy you sex, and a lot of money will buy you a lot of sex if that’s what you want), but the absence of money will bring neediness, misery, illness, and even death. Additionally, history has shown time and time again that a society where people are not allowed to have, earn and invest money is a totalitarian society where there are no basic freedoms, and freedom is one component of happiness. Freedom of enterprise and ownership (I consider that one freedom) is inherent to happiness.
I have had no money, and I assure you that having money beats not having money in every way. I derive great pleasure from my possessions. I like my stuff: I can wear it, drive it, look at it, use my furniture and house, and I also love the fact that the things I have I obtained by working for them or have been gifts from my near and dear.
William Morris, whose mission in life was to improve people’s lives, once said,
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
Indeed, aesthetics and utility in everyday objects go a long way towards making one’s life easier. This morning they were playing on TV a program about IKEA, and one of the managers they interviewed said that “people have been sold on the illusion that improving their rooms will improve their lives. And that’s just an illusion.” Well, that guy ought to be looking for a job in a different line of work. If he had to spend 10 hours a day on a hard stool in a dark and musty room, he might appreciate that improving a room does improve one’s life and well-being. For all I know he lives in a dungeon and sleeps on a bed of nails, but the reason his workplace is nice is because people need agreeable environments in order to be more efficient.
Challenges are another aspect of happiness. By challenges I don’t mean cataclysmic losses and disasters – that would be a topic for a different post – I mean having challenging work; doing something meaningful that engages the mind and one’s skills. Sigmund, Carl and Alfred yesterday posted,
Let me be contented in everything except in the great science of my profession. Never allow the thought to arise in me that I have attained to sufficient knowledge, but vouchsafe to me the strength, the leisure and the ambition ever to extend my knowledge. For art is great, but the mind of man is ever expanding.
Siggy was quoting Maimonides, who rose to the top of his profession by never being complacent about his skills. Accomplishment goes hand-in-hand with challenges. As my friend used to say, “Trying is not doing”, and working at something without ever seeing any results is disheartening and depressing. Doing and achieving is rewarding.
Contentment is yet another component of happiness: Enjoy what you have and have what you enjoy. And then know when and how much is enough.
Happiness involves being involved with others and having the people you love around you. Emerson said,
Go oft to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path.
Making and keeping friends is a skill essential to happiness. Relying on the support of our family and friends is a great solace in times of need, but it’s also a strength in our everyday lives.
A person who can only think of him/herself will be miserly and miserable. A friend whose husband died of AIDS years ago told me she found out the hard way that you can only help yourself through helping others.
Last Thursday someone asked me, “Are we in danger of becoming too virtual, less physically social, and if so, how should be act to prevent or encourage that?” Blogging will never take the place of face-to-face interaction, and I believe that it will facilitate relations across peoples of the world. And that can bring about happiness, too.
A lot of people, here and abroad, like to quote that the Declaration of Independence says,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Notice how it says that you have the right to the pursuit of happiness, not the right to happiness. Your happiness is up to you.
I won’t dwell much on the psychological and philosophical aspects of happiness and leave that to Gagdad Bob, The Anchoress, Gerard, and the Sanity Squad, but the pursuit of happiness involves pleasure.
Most of us think of pleasure in terms of sex and hedonism, but pleasure involves more than sex. Drinking a cold glass of water when thirsty is a pleasure. Smelling freshly-baked bread is a pleasure. Laughing is a pleasure. Making your friends smile is a pleasure. Listening to your healthy baby’s breathing while he or she sleeps is a blissful pleasure. Returning to good health after a difficult illness is a most rewarding pleasure. Indeed, a person who can feel no pleasure is a person who can not be happy.
On the spiritual side – and I speak only from my own experience – happiness implies a belief that one’s travails have meaning, and a certain hope that things will turn out OK in the long run.
Because, in the end, that’s what the pursuit is all about.