Happy the one who discovers wisdom. Proverbs 3:13
The other day, someone asked me how I was. To my own surprise, I answered, “I’m happy!” Several months ago, I might have answered, “I’m fine, but … .” I might have listed all the events that bothered me, all the people who aggravated me or all the things I would like to have. That day I didn’t bother to add any “buts” to “I’m happy.”
My answer prompted me to do some serious thinking about happiness.
The “pursuit of happiness” is a fundamental right, according to the Declaration of Independence, but what is “happiness” that we have a right to pursue?
The first thing that occurred to me in my reflection is how many people I have known, and know today, who equate happiness with owning stuff. I am old enough and have been disappointed enough with the buying of new things such as clothes, gadgets and other stuff, to know that doesn’t really do it.
Haven’t we all brought something expensive home, maybe on credit, only to hate looking at it in a few days when we know how much it really costs?
How long do you think all those people who wait all night in the rain and fight each other in big box stores — for anything from Cabbage Patch dolls to the newest version of the iPhone — are happy?
I have reached the age where I can have many of the things I used to long for and no longer long for them. I could buy a bigger house, newer furniture, a finer wardrobe, but I no longer crave them.
The second thing that occurred to me is how many people equate happiness with pleasure. For many, happiness is often equated with an interrupted succession of pleasurable experiences. Addictions to drug “highs” are certainly not making us a happier people, even though it brings intense pleasure to many.
There is nothing wrong with pleasurable experiences, but when the source of that pleasure is gone, so is the happiness. Happiness allows us to enjoy pleasures, but does not require them.
Happiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of endless desires.
What makes me happy is the knowledge that: I have done something with my life. I have reasonable health. I have a comfortable, if not perfect, place to live. I have a family and friends who care about me. And I can relax at home writing columns for The Record that a lot of people like to read.
Martin Seligman describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness.
Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose.
Seligman says that all three are important, but that of the three, engagement and meaning make the most difference to living a happy life.
Father J. Ronald Knott