Category Archives: 03. Sex and Romance

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?

A Short History of Happiness

The ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, had different, though related, definitions of happiness.

Plato, in the Euthydemus, acknowledges that happiness seems to rely on acquiring good things. But in the Symposium, he makes clear that a balance is involved:

Happiness is spiritual well-being.
A harmony in the Soul,
an inner peace arising from
a proper order of all parts of the Soul.

In The Republic, Plato goes so far as to say that a happy person would receive an injustice rather than inflict an injustice on another.

In Plato’s world, a happy person would never forcibly rule over another.

Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, provides another angle on the definition of happiness:

Happiness is living a complete life;
the ultimate purpose of life being
an activity achieved by exercising
positive virtues, even in difficult situations.

It is a life of purpose and noble achievements, even when recognized by no one but the happy person.

Those virtues, according to Aristotle, include Courage, Generosity, Justice, Friendship, and Citizenship.

There are hundreds of books on happiness. But it seems that many of today’s writers have little to add to Aristotle.

Perhaps the key to Aristotle is to understand what he implies but never directly states, at least in modern terms. But we will get to that at the end of this chapter.

Dennis Prager, in his book, Happiness is a Serious Problem, 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”

His chapter on friendship is particularly interesting, with subtitles like “Family,” “Marriage,” “Finding Friends,” and “Keeping Friends.” Aristotle’s definitions of friendship can be seen implied in this chapter.

Charles Murray has written a wonderful little book: 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.

Murray 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 Murray titles “On the Pursuit of Happiness,” he provides some advice that hits true (built right on Aristotle’s definition of happiness: “lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.”)

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. (Murray 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 in a book about sex and romance?

Simple: We 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.


From Sex and Romance: A Lifetime of Learning, Book 3

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The Happy Pill: Would You Take It?

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 are losing something valuable and essential?

— 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?

From Sex and Romance

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The Three Kinds of Friendship

In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes roughly three kinds of friendship:

1) Those based on pleasure.

2) Those based on usefulness.

3) Those based on themselves.

1) We all have experienced friendships based on pleasure.

These are the friends that are fun to hang with. We go to parties with these kinds of friends. We play fun games with these kinds of friends. We enjoy sex with these kinds of friends.

These are the partiers, the gamers, the friends with benefits. And we also know a critical truth about these kinds of friendships:

For friendships based on pleasure,
once the pleasure ends,
the friendship ends.

When we no longer party in the same way, or play the same games, or we lose interest in the sex, more often than not, these friendships end.


Because the primary purpose of the friendship has ended—its pleasure.

These friendships are not necessarily bad. They can help people learn and grow, and pass the time. But rightly or wrongly:

Friendships based on pleasure
are means to an end,
not an end in themselves.

2) We all have also experienced friendships based on usefulness.

These are the friends we have at the office or at work. These are the friends at school. These are friends who show up at our political rallies. These are friends at the club or the association or the church where we go.

They are our coworkers, our classmates, our political allies, and our fellow club members. They are useful friendships. As long as we have common goals, related to work or politics or mutual aims, the friendship endures.

And we also know a critical truth about these kinds of friendships:

Friendships based on usefulness
are means to an end,
not an end in themselves.

Once the usefulness ends, the friendship ends.

Once we change our job or political party or religion, we may say we want to keep in touch. Perhaps we do occasionally meet and have lunch together.

But more often than not, the friendship ends.


Because the primary purpose of this friendship has ended—its usefulness.

3) Then there is the third kind of friendship, the friendship based on itself.

Some people can go their whole lives without experiencing this kind of friendship. These friendships are rare. These are the friends who, if you have them, you usually can count the number of them on one hand.

These are the friends who you just enjoy being with, and they enjoy being with you. It does not matter what you are doing, nor how pleasurable or useful it is to be together. You just feel good being with them.

These are the friends who, sometimes, you don’t see for years. And then when you are together again, it’s like no time has passed. You are right there together again.

Nothing useful or specifically pleasurable comes out of these kinds of friendships. They promise no previous obligation or future benefit.

They just are.

Friendships based on themselves
are not means to an end,
They are ends in themselves.

These are the friends that are never lost with changing jobs, locations, pleasures, or pains.

These friendships are timeless.


From Sex and Romance

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The First Rule of Romance

Romance is when someone you like walks into a room and they take your breath away.
Romance is when two people are dancing and they fit together perfectly.
Romance is when two people are walking next to each other
and all of a sudden they find themselves holding hands,
and they don’t know how that happened.
John C. Moffi

Romance is the lover at play.

An acquaintance of mine told me how he had asked his live-in partner to marry him.

He and his partner had lived together for several years. He had been married before and had grown children.

The kitchen faucet started acting up, so she got under the sink and began working on it. He was watching her work and was moved by how much he loved this remarkable person.

So he decided in that moment to ask her to marry him.

Her response?

“You ask me this…NOW?”

My acquaintance unknowingly violated the first rule of romance:

Always make sure your partner has a great story to tell.

Here’s how I asked my wife to marry me:

I had the ring, and I called up our best friends, two couples, Ed and Diane, and Paula and Bernard.

I explained that I was going to pop the question at an especially nice, upscale restaurant in Palo Alto, on a Sunday evening. The restaurant was in on it, and they had prepared two tables, one for me and my future wife, and a separate one that we would move to, set for six.

I wanted our friends to pick up six dozen sunflowers and six dozen roses that I had ready for them at a florist. Sunflowers were her favorite flower, and roses were for our love.

They would arrive at a predetermined time, about 15 minutes after we had sat down at the table. I would be positioned where I could see past her when they arrived with the flowers.

I played it cool that evening. I had told her we had reservations for dinner.

As the time approached, with her having worked that day (self-employed), she mentioned that she was not sure it was worth our dressing up.

I agreed that it might not be worth the effort, but I knew her. This restaurant was upscale just enough that business casual would work. But it was also a place where evening gowns and a coat and tie were appropriate.

After a while, she came back and said, “Why not dress up? It’s a nice restaurant.”

And, smiling inside, I agreed.

We arrived on time, the restaurant workers expectant, careful not to give anything away.

We relaxed and ordered drinks. Just on time, I saw our friends arrive carrying armfuls of flowers. She looked wide-eyed as they walked up smiling, holding the flowers in their arms.

Just then, I got up, dropped to one knee, held up a ring case, and opened it to reveal the ring.

A restaurant full of patrons and workers applauded.

The rest is history. And a darn good story.

Romance is about storytelling. Great and surprising stories. Unexpected stories.

All you need to do to be romantic
is to create for your partner
a great, living, unexpected, surprising story.

The wonderful thing about such stories is that the good ones get better in the telling. You will find that over time, as the story gets told over and over to others, that love is rekindled and romance stays in the air.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that the male in a relationship should be the prime story creator. Females have just as much an obligation to create stories for the men in their lives; stories you want them to tell their friends.

Never forget that your prime obligation in romance is very simple:

Create a great story.

From Sex and Romance

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The Four Marriage Questions

Many people marry for the wrong reasons and end up single, often with obligations, and holding a cynical view of love and relationships. But a short, simple test can help guide you toward what a successful marriage may look like.

If you and your potential spouse can both answer “yes” to most or all four of these questions, then you may end up with a great marriage. Of course, there are no guarantees. Life always has a way of surprising us.

Ask yourself each question. Can you say yes to each?

1) If this person stays just as he or she is for the rest of his or her life, would that be OK?

2) Would you like to become more like this person?

3) If you were to have a child with someone, would you want to have a child with this person?

4) If the child grew up to be exactly like this person, would that be OK?

I once got a call from my wife. She was at the home of a friend whose daughter was going to be married in one week to her high school sweetheart. She was visiting her mother, crying and upset, unsure whether the marriage was a good idea.

Four weeks before, he had called off the wedding. She was devastated and gave back the ring. He had come back to her the next day, sobbing, begging her to come back and get married. They travelled to Las Vegas, but did not get married. When they returned, she had called off the wedding. Her friends gave her mixed messages about whether marrying him was a good idea.

She told her mother that she had felt like she had to go through with it because her parents had spent so much money. But she learned they didn’t care about that.

My wife called me and asked, “What are those four marriage questions again?”

I gave them to her, and she asked the daughter each question.

The daughter answered “no” to all four.

She cancelled the wedding, and in two years she married a wonderful man. And they now have three beautiful children.

The four marriage questions may help you recognize that a potential partner may not be the best fit. They hint at what is required of your character.

From Sex and Romance

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The Entire Series of Books

Here are the 12 covers of the books I am writing. I will be publishing some of the material to come on this blog so you can get a preview of the content. If you want to buy one of the available books from Amazon, click on the cover.

And by the way, all you need is an Amazon account and a computer. You don’t need a Kindle or iPad or other tablet. To download a free Kindle Reading App, just click on THIS LINK.

Mark Alexander collection3

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