I recently shared some of my musings about the corrosive effects of hatred upon the individual and upon society. A person consumed with hatred is rarely happy. This led me thinking about happiness. A great number of my patients expressed that happiness was their primary goal in life.
Often there is a positive correlation between how we value something and how we achieve it. A person who values academic performance will tend to get better grades than someone who does not. Assigning high value to athletic achievement results in better athletic performance. This isn’t necessarily true with happiness. Some studies at the University of Denver indicate that the higher the value placed upon happiness the lower the individual’s feeling of life satisfaction. This paradoxical effect was paralleled by having more symptoms of depression in persons who placed a high value upon happiness. Perhaps the happy person has no need to place high value on something he already enjoys. Conversely, the person suffering from chronic unhappiness might be obsessed with pursuing the thing he lacks.
I would like to return to considering the nature of happiness. One dictionary definition states that it is good fortune, luck and prosperity. Another definition alludes to pleasurable experiences that spring from the gratification and enjoyment of desires. I have some reservation with the notion of fortune or luck. I don’t believe happiness is something enjoyed by a select few based on the luck of the draw. Nor do I see it as a goal. A goal requires planning and efforts to reach some end result. Rather than being a goal I see happiness as a byproduct or result of one’s life. If one’s basic physical and spiritual needs and relationships are satisfactory, happiness has a chance to flower. However this may not happen even under optimal conditions. Basic moods of individuals have biologic and genetic roots. Some chronically depressed individuals seem to have inherited the incapacity to be happy.
Our culture often equates happiness with pleasure. Certainly pleasure is an important component. However temporary excitement is not happiness. I once had the misfortune of crashing an airplane. At the time I felt elation that I had survived unscathed. The elation persisted for several days. One could say that I was happy for my good fortune. But was this short term excitement truly happiness? Shakespeare commented on the intense pleasure of coupling, “The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous and the cost is damnable.” Yet, he never had the temerity to confuse short term pleasure with being happy, The pursuit of pleasure can result in short term excitement. When the excitement wears off it often leaves one empty and ungratified. The resultant ennui prompts many to attempt to recreate pleasurable situations. Addiction to serial love affairs or becoming an adrenaline junky can be some of the destructive consequences. In contrast, true happiness is more closely linked to the good feelings that one experiences about his achievements and fulfilled potentials. Feeling loved, connected, and valued in ones community might not engender the same intensity as some momentary pleasures. However I believe that these factors form the foundation of true happiness.
The cause of all suffering is desire (expectations).