Happiness. What is it? According to Merriam-Webster, it is a “state of well-being and contentment” or “a pleasurable or satisfying experience”. These days it seems that people are eternally seeking this state of well-being without ever finding it. What, you ask, got me started on this murky thought-path? I think it was a culmination of several things: a couple of mean-spirited Facebook posts, the support that Donald Trump seems to be garnering as a result of his hate speeches, the murder of nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston, S.C. and the vitriol it sparked, and so much bigotry and hate in the world that it becomes obvious that we, as a society, must not be very happy. How, I ask, can one expect to be happy when one is filled with hatred toward others? And so, I began thinking about happiness, and here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.
There are those who seem to believe that they are entitled to happiness. The U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” … it does not actually guarantee happiness, only that you have the right toe pursue that which makes you happy. What the framers of this document failed to include was that you have this right only so long as it does not infringe on the rights of another or others, but that is a whole other topic best left for another day. No nation, no religion that I am aware of guarantees the right to be happy.
Where, then, does happiness come from? I do not think there is a single recipe for happiness. I think happiness is a very individual emotion and as such, the recipe varies from one person to the next. The reality is that you will either choose to be happy, choose to be miserable, or something in between. Either way, nothing and nobody can be responsible for your happiness. It comes from within, not from without, and the surest path to misery is failing to understand this and relying on material things or other people to make you happy. With that said, certainly friends and family do contribute to your sense of well-being, but they are only a part of the whole picture. Picture the person who seems to have the world on a string, yet that person is miserable and crabby most of the time. Why? On the flip side of that is the person who is suffering a debilitating illness, who has recently lost their job, home, and yet that person still wakes up each day filled with a joie de vivre. What makes these two people so different? An example: Donald Trump has more money than he knows what to do with it, it would seem that the man wants for nothing, but this man is so filled with hatred that every time he speaks he spews ugly, vicious vitriol. Mr. Trump is quite obviously not a happy individual. On the other side of that coin, I have neighbors who are refugees from Syria and had to give up everything they owned, even family pictures, to escape with their children and their lives. They have almost nothing, but they are among the happiest people I know. What makes this difference?
Can we find happiness by seeking it, or is it a part of our biological composition to be either happy or unhappy? I am not a psychologist, so I cannot offer more than my own opinion, but I am an observer of human nature, and my opinion is based on such observations as I have made over the past 6+ decades. It seems to me that happiness eludes those who actively seek it. It is rather like a game of hide and seek … if you go looking for it, you will not likely find it. The same can be said, by the way, for love. There is a difference between what I would call “momentary” happiness and the overall sense of general well-being that was referred by at the start of this essay. Certainly for most people, a day at an amusement park with the kids, or a beautiful fall drive through Vermont would bring momentary happiness, but all too soon that wears off and it’s back to the daily grind. The deeper happiness that carries forward day after day is that which I think we can only find within ourselves. Some find their happiness from their religion, some from family and friends, sufficiency, good health. And others, though blessed with all of the above, still cannot seem to allow themselves to be happy.
The world around us is often filled with pain, suffering and far too much hatred. It sometimes makes it difficult for us to remember from whence our happiness comes. As I said earlier, happiness is different things to different people and I can only know that which I have personally experienced, but I do know that for me, it is a decision to “let the sun shine in” and allow myself to be content, to be thankful for my abilities to think, to read, to enjoy nature and my surroundings. I only wish it were that simple for everyone. I started with a definition and I shall end with one also. My absolute favorite definition of happiness comes from the late Charles Schultz: “Happiness is a warm puppy”.