Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

Recently, while flipping through the channels, I came across a show on PBS titled Rethinking Happiness which is the third of a three part series This Emotional Life. Normally, it is difficult for me to stay tuned for a complete 2 hour show. But it not only kept my interest throughout, but even when viewing it again online at my computer.

We can all agree that happiness is essential to our well being. But for something that is so important to us, defining it along with learning how to attain and keep it is surprisingly elusive.

The Wikipedia entry on
happiness has this to say.

Happiness is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy. A variety of philosophical, religious, psychological and biological approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources.
Rethinking Happiness uses anecdotal evidence from a number of real life examples to support its scientific findings on the subject. What is most striking is how many of the people shown have been able to achieve happiness despite having to endure severe personal ordeals. Also noteworthy is the exploration of the self-help industry catering to the many seeking happiness that has made people rich while often offering content that is little more than unproven opinion.

The program concludes with these words.

By using scientific methods to identify the causes of human happiness, we’re learning that the secret of happiness was never very secret. We’re connected to each other. We belong to each other. We’re made for each other. Life is a journey through time and happiness is what happens when we make that journey together.
In searching the Web for thoughts on the subject of happiness, I came across
How to Find Happiness: 7 Timeless Tips from the Last 2500 Years which is part of The Positivity Blog by Henrik Edberg. It is a collection of interesting and instructive quotations on the subject of happiness from a variety of historic figures through the years that is worth sharing with you.

The view from here says there are three things we need to hope to achieve happiness.

Having all of our needs met. This doesn’t mean all of our wants. It means that if we are constantly struggling just to make ends meet, it’s that much harder to feel happy. It also means having our health. The trouble is that in the US, there are tens of millions of people without health insurance. So when they get sick, they not only have to worry about their health but also whether they will suffer financial catastrophe — certainly not conducive to happiness.

Connection with others who care for us. Loneliness sucks! Even introverts who enjoy their alone time still need to spend time with others. As they say, life is a journey. When things go bad, it is nice to have someone to help support us through those bad times. And when life is good, it can be so rewarding to share those good times with others.
Finding meaning and purpose in our lives. As is written in the website
The One Question:

Until you discover the purpose of your life, you are living a life of mediocrity. Rise and be great, do the great things you were meant to do. Look deep inside you, realize what is your life’s purpose and your meaning of life.

And when you do find purpose, you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be. The world you live in will never be the same and the opportunities life throws at you will be abundant. The Meaning of Life will be clear.
Put another way, without a purpose in our lives, we are reduced to a lifetime of little more than making money and acquiring possessions. While this may make us feel happy for a while, the happiness is fleeting when we start to feel a void in our lives and ask ourselves if that’s all there is.

We can find purpose in our jobs but also just as importantly in our relationships with others whether it is providing for our families or simply helping others in need. In fact, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a fascinating op-ed article
Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex, and Giving.

Let’s remember that while charity has a mixed record helping others, it has an almost perfect record of helping ourselves. Helping others may be as primal a human pleasure as food or sex.
And more importantly, it may well be the best way to experience that lasting happiness we all pursue!

1 comment:

Brien Palmer said...

Excellent post on a fascinating topic. Although happiness has been thought about through the ages, the current times have several threads that seem to be converging. Besides what you mentioned, there is also research being done on the neurological nature of happiness, the idea of a "positive" (healthy) psychology, mind-body connections, and so forth. A fertile and productive area for philosophy!