Happiness: What Does It Mean?

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I’ve been thinking about what it mean to be happy. I have many friends who seem displeased with life and seemingly can’t find happiness. So why is it so hard to be happy? Well maybe the more important question should be, what does it take to be happy? Is it money? Couldn’t hurt. But then why are the best things in life free?

What about love? (Singing out loud) “What’s love got to do with it, do with it?” Family could equate to happiness and spirituality could be tossed in that bend, too. For sure the religions of humanity should be a unifying force but they are not. Even though they all follow the great basic unity in ethics. Whether it be Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, or Confucianism, as they all grow out of a sense of the sacredness of human life. The Commandments not to kill, not to hurt, not to put a stumbling block in the path of the blind, regardless of how funny it would be. Not to exploit the servant or the worker yes all this can be found in the Bibles of all religious sacred books. All teach in substance: “Do unto others as you would have that other do unto you.”

There is, then, a basic unity among the great religions in the matter of ethics. True, there are religious philosophies, which turn people away from the world, concentrating life-purposes on salvation for ones self or a mystic union with some supernatural reality. But most of the great religions agree on mercy, justice, love again equating that to happiness here on earth. And they agree that the great task is of moving people away from apathy, from an acceptance of the evils in this life, to face the possibilities of the world, to make life sweet for one another instead of bitter. This is the unifying ethical task of all the religions, yes, of all the philosophies of humankind. There is no need to force our own theological points of view upon one another or to insist they them self are the final, absolute authority. Okay why didn’t anybody tell me I was standing on a soapbox. (Stepping down.)

How about purpose? I’ve heard it said before that the grand essentials of happiness are—something to do, something to love, and something to hope for. Wow that seems simple. But if so I guess we would all be happy. Because we all have something to do which is live, someone to love, ourselves, and something to hope for to be happy. One could say happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.

Hey, what … wait … if that is true then why am I not a porn star. Aristotle believed that Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient, so if you can’t take care of yourself that means your screwed, which could have truth behind that. As most of us feel that other people’s action affect our peace. “You talking to me?” Edith Wharton is quoted saying, “If only we’d stop trying to be happy we’d have a pretty good time.” That right there might be it, lighting in a bottle, we get so wrapped up in our own shit and so selfish that the fleeting moment of happiness just sail on by.

Perhaps there is only one happiness in life—to love and be loved. Let me tell something to you and just consider it for a moment. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions, aka bumping uglies. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others. Nor is it so remarkable that our greatest joy should come when we are motivated by concern for others. But that is not all, nope there’s more. We find that not only do altruistic actions bring about happiness but they also lessen our experience of suffering. Here I am not suggesting that the individual whose actions are motivated by the wish to bring others’ happiness necessarily meets with less misfortune than the one who does not. Sickness, old age, mishaps of one sort or another are the same for us all. But the sufferings which undermine our internal peace, anxiety, doubt, disappointment, these things are definitely less. In our concern for others, we worry less about ourselves. When we worry less about ourselves, an experience of our own suffering is less intense.

What does this tell us? Firstly, because our every action has a universal dimension, a potential impact on others’ happiness, ethics are necessary as a means to ensure that we do not harm others. Secondly, it tells us that genuine happiness consists in those spiritual qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness and so on. For it is these which provide both for our happiness and others’ happiness.

So what is happiness? Nothing more except the simple harmony between one and the life they lead or when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others. Just keep it simple because the richest are those whose pleasures are cheapest.


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