The Truth about Happiness

SNAP OUT OF IT Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8| Part 9 | Part 10

“It’s your right to know joy.”
Leo Buscaglia

Much of this post is from my book Sex and Romance.

If the government were to offer you a free daily Happy Pill, would you take it?

A pill that would
remove all your worries,
relieve all your pain,
eliminate any possible suffering?

Would you take it?

And would you call yourself a happy person while on that pill?

If you are like most healthy people, you have an instinctive reaction against the idea of a Happy Pill.


Is it because you feel:

— Like you’re being controlled?

— That you’re losing something valuable and essential?

— That you’re somehow no longer a real human being if you take it?

— That your life would be more that of an animal or plant than a human being?

Many people look at all the pain and suffering in the world, and they want it to stop. They want everyone to be happy. And they believe everyone should be happy; otherwise, life is not fair.

Therefore, the Happy Pill would be a good thing, right?

No more pain, no more suffering.

The idea of a Happy Pill assumes something significant:

— That pain and suffering have no purpose, no value.

— That pain and suffering have nothing to contribute to a happy life.

— That a world without pain and suffering would be a better world.

Think about such a Happy-Pill world:

No one would find anything painful.

No one would know they made a mistake.

No one would know when they took a false step.

No one would feel the need to empathize with the pain of others, since no one would be in pain.

No one would need to grow or change.

No one would need to feel compassion for anyone else.

Everyone would be equal. Everyone would feel the same happiness.

Everyone would be in their
own little happy world
with other people all equally
in their own little happy worlds.

And we all know how important it is for all people to be equal, right?

Does this Happy Pill world sound like a real life to you?

Is this really the kind of world you want to live in?

What is Happiness?

Figuring out the definition of something often means comparing it to, and contrasting it with, other things to see how it is different.

Is happiness the same thing as contentment or satisfaction or pleasure?

Or are they all different things?

Let’s compare and contrast each of these to happiness:

Can you be satisfied and not be happy?

Can you be content and not be happy?

Can you experience pleasure and still not be happy?

Another way to explore the question of happiness is to ask…

Can someone be struggling or suffering hardships,
yet still be happy?

The answer to these four questions should be “yes” for anyone who thinks them through.

Yes, you can be satisfied but not happy.

You have heard of people who have made all the money they need, but end up killing themselves.

Yes, you can be content but not happy.

Like being satisfied, being content is a small state of consciousness.

You’ve just made a good bargain, perhaps buying something valuable for a price far below what it is worth. You are content.

But does that feel like happiness?

Doesn’t happiness feel like it should be something larger?

Yes, you can experience pleasure and not be happy.

You just ate a good meal, heard good music, or experienced great sex.

Does that mean you are happy?

Does the pleasure stay or go away over time?

Isn’t there something about happiness that is more… permanent?

Yes, you can struggle and suffer hardships and still be happy.

Talk to parents who have successfully raised children who have gone on to successfully raise their own children.

They may have suffered and experienced loss, yet they see that they have had a complete life. Despite the struggles, they are happy.


Exactly what is happiness? That is, true happiness, not anyone’s relative, momentary personal opinion of happiness?

Is it possible to define this kind of happiness?

In his book, Happiness is a Serious Problem, Dennis Prager believes that happiness cannot be defined for everyone. However, he does think that achieving happiness in its full form requires wisdom, and the hard work and self-discipline to put that wisdom into practice.

You can get an idea where he aims the reader by some of his chapter titles:

“Happiness is a Moral Obligation”

“Unhappiness is Easy—Happiness Takes Work”

“Comparing Ourselves with Others”

“Equating Happiness with Success”

“Equating Happiness with Fun”

“Seeing Yourself as a Victim”

“Develop a Perspective: Cultivate a Philosophy of Life”

“Life is Tragic”

“Find the Positive”

“Accept Tension”

“Everything has a Price—Know What It Is”

“Seek to Do Good”

“Find and Make Friends”

The chapter on friendship is particularly interesting, with subtitles like “Family,” “Marriage,” “Finding Friends,” and “Keeping Friends.”

Here’s a great video that will give you a point of view on Happiness that few talk about: (Bypass the YouTube warning. It’s not needed.)

A key message in this video: You use deodorant and brush your teeth so that you don’t inflict your bad body odor on other people. So why would you want to inflict your bad moods on other people? (This is what children do.)

There is a wonderful little book by Charles Murray: The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.

This book is a must for young people looking to make their way into the working world.

Here’s a glimpse of the kind of profound, solid advice he gives to the youth. Although he offers this advice in a chapter other than that on Happiness, it applies to anyone seeking happiness:

“You probably possess two of the most important personal qualities for success—high cognitive ability and good interpersonal skills. But it is unlikely that you have already developed another important trait: resilience.”

The author provides the dictionary definition of resilience as the ability of a material to return to its original shape after being stretched or deformed in some way.

Young people who have not exercised their capacity to be resilient are more like crystal glasses. But they have the potential to exercise resilience and learn to bounce back like a Super Ball.

He continues:

“… if you’ve grown up in a loving and untroubled environment, that potential is unrealized. Here’s the problem: You can be sure that your resilience will be tested sooner or later. When it happens, you don’t want to shatter into glittering shards. If my description fits you, now is the time, when you’re still single and more or less without responsibilities, to start exercising your elastic limit.”

Such character traits as resilience, tenacity, focus, independence, self-reliance, and many more need exercise to develop.

Good parents, teachers, and friends
actively help you build these character traits.

Each of these character traits has a role to play in a life that can truly be called happy.

In the section entitled “On the Pursuit of Happiness,” the author provides some advice that hits true.

He develops six ideas. Check out his book to appreciate how he eloquently develops each idea:

1) Show up.

2) Take the clichés about fame and fortune seriously.

3) Take religion seriously, especially if you’ve been socialized not to. (The author describes himself as agnostic.)

4) Take the clichés about marriage seriously.

5) Be open to a startup marriage instead of a merger marriage.

6) Watch Groundhog Day repeatedly.

If you have never seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, put it at the top of your movie list and watch it as soon as you finish this book.

Hugh Hewitt, who teaches constitutional law, frames his book The Happiest Life around gifts and givers. For him, generosity is the precondition for happiness.

He first works his way through “The Seven Gifts”: Encouragement, Energy, Enthusiasm, Empathy, Good Humor, Graciousness, and Gratitude.

Of these seven gifts, he says:

“Everyone is eligible to be a giver of these gifts. Everyone. You don’t need wealth. You don’t have to be twenty-one. You don’t even have to be literate.”

And if you’re not giving these away, you are being a miser.

Then he follows with the seven kinds of givers we can be:

The Spouse, The Parent, Family Members, Friends,
The Coworker, Teachers, and The Church.

And to be a giver, you not only need to have generosity, but also courage. He starts the introduction of the book with a quote from the ancient Greek General, Thucydides:

The secret of happiness is freedom,
and the secret of freedom is courage.

Hewitt then writes:

“You have to have courage to give away what you hold dearest, again and again and again. Every day. Remarkably, self-sacrifice and generosity produce the greatest, most enduring happiness.”

Hewitt’s book is warm and wise, and full of illustrative stories to provide a sharp and insightful definition of the gifts.

For example, to bring home what empathy actually is (as opposed to sympathy), he shares a conversation he had with a rabbi.

Sympathy is sharing suffering at a distance.
Empathy is sharing suffering up close.

The rabbi said simply, “Show up and shut up.”

You don’t have to tell the suffering person that you know what they’re going through. You don’t know.

You don’t have to tell them it will be all right. You don’t have to share your own experience with suffering.

As Hewitt says, “The gift of quiet, advice-free companionship in the midst of suffering is a gift of the highest order.”

He makes the point that empathy is a costly gift because it means “reliving past sorrows and entering into new ones.”


Why so much talk of happiness?

Simple: Many seek sex and romance, not as ends in themselves, but as means to happiness. And often, thinking sex and romance are central to happiness, we discover they are only the beginning.

Although happiness is composed of many parts, knowing those parts and seeking a balance among them may help you move closer to happiness.

And that brings us to the Balance Wheel.

Most balance wheels have from eight to twelve spokes. The idea is that the center of the wheel represents 0 and the outer edge represents 10. On this scale, 0 equals unfulfilled and 10 equals completely fulfilled.

Once you fill out your wheel and connect the spokes, you find how well it rolls, how bumpy it is, and where you may need to focus your efforts.

Here’s an example of a balance wheel:

This wheel obviously runs rough, given the big chink in Love and Family. By working on these two, the wheel acquires some balance for a person seeking happiness.

Here’s another way to frame the wheel:

This wheel shows how there may be a necessary trade-off.

If you are satisfied with your Love & Family, as well as with your level of Community Service, you may find that your choices affect how much Leisure Time and Hobbies you can prioritize. Perhaps Community Service qualifies as what you do with your Leisure Time.

In any event, try constructing your balance wheel, and select the topics that are a high priority in your life. See if the gaps in the wheel make sense, and whether you should shift some of your creative energy into developing them.

Remember, you can bring some greater balance to your life and move towards creating more the life you want.

But you have to know where to focus your energy and how to properly set goals.

And you need to patiently work through your blind spots, and any subconscious pictures that hold you back.

Then you have a shot at experiencing true joy in your life.

The Key to Happiness

Here is my personal balance wheel as of October 2018:

As you can see, all are fairly balanced, except for my job and career, which is in transition. My job role had shifted after a merger in the Silicon Valley company, where I worked. I decided to leave that job and look for something I can love.

What is the best thing for me to do?

Focus on my job and career, and have contingency plans in place to manage every possible transition, either in another company or as a consultant.

However, I have little to complain about. Since much of my life in other areas is doing so well, I am in a strong position to manage the gap in my wheel.

Why are they doing so well? Notice what I prioritize, how many of the spokes on the wheel have to do with love and service and spiritual practices and friends.

The secret, for me, has to do with working hard,
every day, on giving unconditional love.

Let’s end with some humor.

“An archeologist is the best husband any woman can have; the older she gets the more interested he is in her.” Agatha Christie

“If you love ’em in the morning with their eyes full of crust; if you love ’em at night with their hair full of rollers, chances are, you’re in love.” Miles Davis

“Marriage is a lot like the army, everyone complains, but you’d be surprised at the large number that re-enlist.” James Garner

“My wife was afraid of the dark. Then, she saw me naked and now she’s afraid of the light.” Rodney Dangerfield

“My friends tell me I have an intimacy problem. But they don’t really know me.” Garry Shandling

“Gravitation can’t be held responsible for people falling in love.” Albert Einstein

“What the world really needs is more love and less paperwork.” Pearl Bailey

“I kissed my first girl and smoked my first cigarette on the same day. I haven’t had time for tobacco since.” Arturo Toscanini

“Love is sharing your popcorn.” Charles Schultz

And then finally, this:

A professor decided to have some fun with students in a computer science class. He put the men on one side of the room and the women on the other. He had them do a ten-minute activity to determine what gender a computer should be called, male or female.

The men voted that computers should be referred to in the feminine gender and they gave these four reasons:

  1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic.
  2. When computers speak to each other, they speak in code language that only they and experts can understand.
  3. Every mistake you make is stored on their hard drive for later retrieval.
  4. As soon as you commit to one, you end up spending half of your paycheck accessorizing it.

Women voted that computers must be in the masculine gender for these reasons.

  1. To get their attention, you have to turn them on.
  2. They have a lot of data but still can’t think for themselves.
  3. They’re supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem.
  4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

One more post to come.

SNAP OUT OF IT Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8| Part 9 | Part 10

2 thoughts on “The Truth about Happiness

  1. Pingback: Colonialism and Home Rule | Mark Andre Alexander

  2. Pingback: Afterword | Mark Andre Alexander

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