What is Happiness? Words are so terribly inadequate a means for one person to convey knowledge or feelings to another. Yet, they are often all we have – so, I will try.
- Happiness does not come from the kinds of things most people think.
- Happiness is not chasing and experiencing fleeting peaks of pleasure and/or excitement.
- Happiness is not possessions and money.
- Happiness is not being approved of, respected, wanted, or feared.
- Happiness is not being intoxicated.
Happiness cannot be found in any of these things. In fact, it is not a thing that can be found at all – or bought, or accomplished, or built. It is more like a beautiful flower that grows all on its own, without being asked for or sought, presuming the garden has been properly prepared for it.
To make your mind and heart into a place where happiness will grow, we must understand the fundamental nature of human needs. Some are obvious. We need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and shelter to keep us warm. But, beyond these physical survival needs, there are two more needs. They are subtle, in comparison, and often overlooked or misunderstood.
First, we need to matter to someone. Not because of what we possess, not because of some physical attribute, and not because of something we have learned to do – but because of that which makes us, uniquely, who we are. The way we think, the way we interpret the world around us, our sense of humor, the way we communicate, the way we interact with others. It takes a significant investment of time and effort to know someone well enough to matter to them. When it happens, you must value it appropriately, and protect it.
Second, humans have a thing called a conscience. We do not know what the conscience is or where it comes from. A believer would say it comes from God, an atheist might say it is a product of evolution. In order to be happy, our actions and words must be in accord with our conscience. Everyone’s conscience demands the same simple and profound things of us. They can be summed up with three simple words: honesty, responsibility, and kindness.
As I said, words are imperfect. They mean different things to different people. Words are like a few snapshots offered to you to try to convey all of the richness and complexities and emotion experienced by a person in a day. It is not enough to know the words. A human’s life experience is too broad, too varied, too unique for another human’s words to guide them effectively. Each of us must find his or her own way. Each of us must discover the depth and intricacies of high-level concepts like honesty, responsibility, and kindness – following them will keep us free of burdens like guilt, regret, and avoidable loss. So, keep your eyes, mind, and heart open as life teaches you their meanings. When it has, happiness will grow, as it has for my wife and I.