Happiness Should Not Be Our Top Priority — Here’s Why
Did Aristotle Miss Something?
The exclusive pursuit of happiness is risky, and potentially dangerous.
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” ― Aristotle
It is hard for me to think that Aristotle did not make a more complete statement in that context that would have left the matter clearer.
The matter of happiness is complex and happiness is fickle.
Why then, would the whole end of human existence, with all its travail, pain and woe, be reduced to how happy we have been?
Happiness may be the only metric of success that we use in our culture, and this alone is a problem, and shows shallow thinking.
Happiness is finicky; it is enticed, manipulated, and then it evaporates. Was it real then if it can evaporate like that?
- it is very hard to raise our happiness level
- self-help books are not enough; we must understand the science of it, — even if it is just a basic understanding (that I will try to cover here)
- we often don’t know what We truly want — we live in too much noise to hear our hearts talk to us
- we have to start from the bottom, and be willing to, as Jesus said, “become as children”, — one of whose main characteristic is an eagerness to learn.
What science teaches us about happiness is not easy to hear, but hear it we must if we are to gain any knowledge of how this business of happiness works for us.
— If we choose to ignore it, we will still be subjects to its nature.
Educating ourselves about ourselves and the nature of happiness
1. ADAPTATION and HEDONIC TREADMILL
“The hedonic treadmill, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.” — Google
A person who has suffered a terrible blow, (death of a loved one, loss of a job, a limb, a house, divorce, etc.), and a person who has walked into a great fortune, (big lottery win, new good marriage, promotion, etc.), will be no more and no less happy than they were before the event in about 3 weeks to 3 months.
What does this say?
It says a lot. More than I can go over in this article, — this is such an exciting topic.
For example, during the last 50 years, the buying power of the average American nearly tripled, allowing people to own twice as many cars, and get computers, HDTVs, and countless other products; did that increase the level of happiness? Not at all, in fact, compared to the 35% who responded that they were “very happy” in 1957, only 29% did in 2010.
The same results were observed in other countries.
“Experiencing luxury diminishes our savoring of life’s simpler pleasures, (Quoidbach et al., 2010), if you’ve skied the Alps, your neighborhood sledding hill looks boring”. — David Myers
The marketing of (pseudo) happiness:
Marketing strategists know that we are gullible to marketing tactics. It is sad how easily manipulated we are.
We are treated like sheep, because we behave like them.
They tell us that if we buy this and that, we will be happy, and… we buy it! In droves.
We incur debt to get stuff they “instruct us” to buy, even though, deep down we know we don’t need the thing.
(And then we suffer from suffocation from all the stuff we accumulate that we neither need nor can afford.)
What is it that we are in pursuit of? Happiness.
But we aren’t wise enough to understand enduring happiness to be able to go after it directly. We need to learn about what happiness is, and what it is not, and where it comes from.
For a second, let’s think of the images in our heads of what happiness is according to commercials:
- a particular car
- an attractive partner
- a particular drink
- a particular vacation
- a particular job… and on and on.
Marketing will work as long as there are humans who are not questioning themselves and their processes.
The unexamined lives have always been the vast majority.
2. HEREDITY, LIFE CIRCUMSTANCE, AND VOLUNTARY ACTIVITIES
External factors are responsible for 10% of the whole of our happiness level
This is so incredible, that I feel like asking you to make a small pause to take that in because we bank so heavily on external factors, but external factors are responsible for only 10% of the whole of our happiness level.
- Roughly 50% of our happiness baseline is hereditary, and,
- About 40% of our happiness comes from the feelings we get when we are engaged in sustained purposeful, intentional and voluntary activities that serve our deeper sense of self, meaning and purpose. Lyubomirsky, et. al. (2005)
- Science has found that finding a social group that we enjoy being a part of CAN DOUBLE OUR HAPPINESS, whereas doubling our income may have no effect on our happiness level at all.
- Promote positive interactions in your relationships.
- Let go of oppressive, (life-sucker) relationships in your life. Make this a constant practice, like pruning a plant for optimal growth and fruit.
3. VISUALIZE THE JOURNEY
- This one is self-evident. We tend to go for the end result, and that has proven itself to be an inefficient way to visualize. We need to visualize ourselves in the process of getting “there”, and enjoying the process.
- Visualizing the end alone can make the journey and its inherent effort feel too harsh and even “wrong”.
On What Aristotle May Have Missed but Jesus Didn’t
“I came, not to be served, but to serve” Mark 10:45
During a catastrophe, we find that serving others is wonderful and fulfilling, and when the crisis has passed, those times of service remain highlights in our lives.
Later we forget that daily opportunities to serve others abound, and we miss them. But offering a sincere and warm smile, for example, is a simple, yet powerful way we serve one another.
Hidden in those simple opportunities of service are sparks of joy, dust of happiness of the enduring kind.
Do you agree with the following?
- Being honest is more important than being happy
- Being kind and just to others is more important than being happy
- Being altruistic is more important than being happy
- Moving in the right direction is more important than being happy
- Anchoring our thoughts in wisdom is more important than being happy
- Putting the 5 preceding things before happiness, produces happiness!
Maybe these 5 points, in some measure at least, represent “the kingdom of God within us”, and when we put that first, you know what happens, all the other things are added — as a byproduct. — Matthew 6:33
Science concurs with Jesus and says: don’t go after happiness directly because you will miss it that way.
But we don’t pay much attention, neither to Jesus nor to science.
(Who do we pay attention to? Maybe the commercials on TV; maybe to society… what an alarming thought).
- Forgive yourself of anything up to this point, including not achieving the levels of ecstasy that you felt you owed your parents, your partner, TV commercials, or yourself.
- Take responsibility for your life. Leave nothing out. You must be brutal with this. You are responsible for everything. The largest part of any event is what we make of it ourselves.
- Say: “I am not to seek happiness outside myself; happiness must emanate from within me; it will do so even as I go through bizarre and difficult experiences”. (Life is very paradoxical; don’t be surprised when, in the middle of a challenge, you experience deep joy. When you make great efforts in the right direction you get satisfaction and happiness of the more enduring kind).
- The thing or person I am dreaming of, if I got it/him/her, it wouldn’t make me happy in a lasting way. (This one can be pretty hard to believe, but it is true, so it needs to be assimilated and believed).
- Happiness is more about mastering myself and finding out the lies I have accepted as truth but that I now denounce as false.
- Happiness is SHARING and GIVING. — And if when we share we can also enjoy a laugh, well, that is happiness multiplied.
Ready to expand your range of vision of life?
Join me for bi-monthly thought-provoking talks where we stir the pot of traditional thinking and question things we haven’t dared to question before. — The rapid change of our societies doesn’t let us evolve fast enough and we are caught between two eras. This is full of potential but also problematic. Join me as we discuss many a provocative topic!! I look forward to seeing you there!
Copyrighted material 2017