58 Why try to be happy?
Happiness is a journey, not a destination; happiness is to
be found along the way not at the end of the road, for
then the journey is over and it's too late.
The time for happiness is today not tomorrow.
Paul H. Dunn
Searching “happiness” for a suitable blog
name taught me that it is an exceptionally popular word. It seems
everybody is eager for it, and merchants expect it to sell their
products. We should question whether that is good.
To Aristotle, happiness was the purpose
of life. Typically, the word means something desirable and
worthwhile. Generally, happiness or being happy is perceived as
good. The open question is how to recognize, achieve, appreciate,
or maintain it. Can it really be a goal?
Over 60 years ago I read an explanation
of ghosts. The article explained that on the retina in the human
eye, the rods (black and white sensors) at the edges of our
visual field are more sensitive to light than the cones (color
sensors) near the center. A faint light off to the side is
visible. When a person turns to face it directly, it disappears
because the cones don’t respond to the low light.
That visual theory provides a good
metaphor for happiness. If it exists at all, happiness disappears
when you look straight at it. More accurately, going after
happiness as an end in itself is vapid, without result. In
contrast, energetically going after an appropriate goal creates a
condition we call happiness. Perhaps our intensity merely
distracts us from the pain of trying to do something, but I
believe otherwise. To me happiness accompanies fruitful action,
where the fruit has to be something other than merely feeling
good. Success is more like indirection or serendipity.
Your happiness might not look like my
happiness. I tend to grant people’s beliefs that they are happy.
If they say they are, who am I to claim otherwise? We can afford
to attach individualized definitions to the word.
I call this a happiness blog, but
consistent readers already know that it does not give them a
formula path to that destination. Today’s opening quote from Paul
Dunn reminds us not to set happiness as a goal to be reached like
any other fulfillment or end point. Yet we desire to experience
happiness. Given that it is not a product to be purchased, we
pursue actions that bring us into a positive state. In Livescience
Moskowitz lists “5 Things That Will Make You
That said, searching for the formula that
you don’t find in this blog is not happiness. How you search
reveals what you think it is, but that is not a cause-and-effect
relationship. At least, it does not determine which is cause and
which is effect.
In a different Livescience
Brownstein tells us the best approach to happiness is to stop
trying. Study researcher Iris Mauss put it well: “Wanting to be
happy can make you less happy.” Expectations matter. Success can
be realized by performing up to a high goal, or by accepting as
the goal something you can perform. Either success is happy when
we do not look straight at happiness but rather let happiness
come to us as we are doing. Sometimes, unhappiness is the perfect
foil against which we can contrast happiness.
The Conversation magazine I found a most sober and most
realistic article by Rafael Euba. He summarizes “A state of
contentment is discouraged by nature because it would lower our
guard against possible threats to our survival … happiness, being
a mere construct with no neurological basis, cannot be found in
the brain tissue.”
I liken the happiness producing process
to vigorous exercise: it costs effort and produces euphoria.
Seeking the euphoria without the exercise is unsuccessful.
Happiness is the mental health that comes from work, as muscle
tone comes from exercise.
Aristotle’s declaration appeared in
article 3. There I promoted Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)
that is independent of circumstances.
Article 12 illustrated discovering that happiness moves
around with us when we spread it, and
article 13 started the create-your-own-world approach to
creating happiness. The expectation aspect is fleshed out in
article 18 and
article 40; expectations need to be well-founded and
Article 29 emphasized the social nature of happiness; we need
to be close to people. This is much better explained on TEDx by
Matthew Lieberman: “our need to connect with other people is
even more fundamental than our need for food or shelter.”
Article 34 combined perceiving and doing, leading up to
article 57, studying what we really want.
Article 47 emphasized the importance of personal commitment.
Internalizing challenges is more rewarding that blindly receiving
everything made for you.
That’s quite a collection of evidence,
showing the many sides of happiness that we have already covered.
We may find more. Perhaps the winning summary is by Brother
Steindl-Rast who teaches on TED that instead of waiting to be
grateful until we are happy, we need to be grateful in order to
Being For Others Blog copyright © 2020 Kent Busse
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