What Makes You Happy?

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

happiness-in-intelligent-people-is-the-rarest-think-i-knowFor Ralph Waldo Emerson it was the triumph of principle. Washington found it inexorably linked to virtue, and George Bernard Shaw said it was “health and a course to steer.” Singer Cheryl Crowe said it is whatever doesn’t make you sad, and comedian Johnny Carson said it is “a tiger in your tank and a pussy cat in your backseat.” When  Jefferson wrote defiantly that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, he still only mentioned three:   “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Whatever happiness is, it is a common quest and virtually universally misunderstood in the cacophony of  money, sex, and digital splash that passes for it in the West. When parents are asked about the single most important outcome in their children’s lives the answer is invariably ” to be happy.”  Why then is the human feeling of  happiness so elusive in the modern world with all of our advances in science, technology, nutrition, medicine and standard of living?

Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.

~LEO TOLSTOY, War and Peace

The answer may not lie outside the human mind though undoubtedly external factors impact human happiness. The topic has been studied and the conclusions from the experts are surprising  — at least to many of us in the modern world. Let’s start with some basics. People are social animals. We know that isolated people rarely survive psychologically. Hence one of life’s greatest punishments is solitary confinement. We also know that acquisitions of things – money,power, prestige — doesn’t bring happiness. In fact as the Los Angeles Times pointed out (here), the reverse may be true in that happy people tend to attract wealth and all that goes with it. Finally, we know that we all want happiness and that we don’t consciously avoid the feeling.

So what then can get our dopamine going to produce that sense of well-being that we value. It seems three factors play a significant role according to documentary filmmaker Andrew Shapter, who produced the documentary Happiness Is.  Shapter piled his crew into an RV and went around America seeking the answer. After three years, his conclusions seem both simple and elusive in the modern world.

First, we need relationships and social ties. Family, friends, and acquaintances all contribute our well-being. While human conflicts among social groups are well-documented, the presence of strong family interaction still makes people happy.  It’s why we still all gather at grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner though we know Uncle Charlie will invariably make some statement to make us angry. Researcher Nic Marks of the New Economic Foundation cites research that says people in Western democracies who value money are less happy that those who value relationships. In fact, the happiness in valuing relationships extends beyond family ties into a connection with the whole community. Thus simply treating everyone with respect and dignity  — as we ideally would treat family — adds more to your own happiness than anything you could acquire. It’s outflow over inflow.

Second, we all need a sense of purpose. George Bernard Shaw may have crystallized the thought by reminding us that we need a course to navigate. Aimlessly wandering through our lives on some tropical beach may seem a romantic idea by freeing ourselves from responsibilities attendant to any important endeavor, but it seems that won’t make us happy for any length of time. MetLife Insurance Company working in conjunction with Richard J. Leider, author of  The Power of Purpose,  found that having a clear reason to live was the largest factor in “living the good life.”

That sense of purpose is “interrelated with vision — having clarity about the path to the good life and focus — knowing and concentrating on the most important things that will get you to the good life.” Over eight in 10 (82 percent) of those who feel their lives have purpose are living the good life compared to 35 percent for those who are not living the good life. (article here)

It was the master of psychology and the  greatest of Russian authors, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who explained that, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” (The Brothers Karamazov)

Finally, for happiness’ sake we need to care for others — and not just those with whom we have a relationship. The old adage about it being better to give than to receive may be a statement of selfishness, after all.  In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubormirsky, explains research into giving that benefited the givers more than the recipients.  A group of  women with multiple sclerosis  volunteered as peer supporters to other patients. Each volunteer received training in compassionate listening techniques and called the patients to talk and listen for just 15 minutes at a time. After three years researchers found that they had increased self-esteem, self-acceptance, satisfaction, self-efficacy, social activity, and feelings of mastery in their patients but more strikingly the positive outcomes for the volunteers were even greater than for the patients they were helping.

Aristotle understood the selfish component of giving. For the old Greek philosopher happiness was tied to self-dignity.   He said, “Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.” Thus acquiring honors, money, and fame were of no value unless it was perceived by the recipient that it was honestly won. And winning them meant doing it on  a foundation of good character in service to others.

So what does make you happy? Can we find it  though good works, a sense of purpose, and strong family relationships? What do you think?

And remember, your answer means a lot. There’s a test on it  every day.

(Sourced Throughout)

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

98 thoughts on “What Makes You Happy?”

  1. mespo, I returned last night from burying my best friend of 30 years in the Twin Cities. I was asked to give the eulogy of a man who was a WW2 vet, and a true gentleman. He had a masters in philosophy from Oberlin and was a Federal Probation Officer, retiring @ age 70. The man was so respected and good @ his job the Federal judge waived mandatory retirement. As we know, Federal judges can do whatever they want. In this case it was a good exercise of power. This gentleman, which was the theme of my eulogy, suffered the indignity of Parkinson’s the last 10 of his 86 years. While we all want to remember Ray before Parkinson’s I believe we can find a unique happiness in seeing what dignity he carried through the last couple laps of his marathon. There is happiness in the stangest places, you simply must have an open mind, but more importantly an open heart.

  2. Oro Lee,

    Thank you for the music, particularly the ones that tell a tale in a conversational form.
    And for the inspiration.
    Damn good threads. Are they traditional? Wasn’t here over XMAS and NYEARS last time.

  3. Darren,
    You saw my call: “Secession vote is called. All in favor of a union west of the Mississipi say AYE!

    But do we need a clear and not corruped replicas of EPA, FDA, FAA, etc. only under bureaucrat rule in accordance with laws enacted by a replicaa Congress. Rather than a President weed open public viewed discussions by an executive council. Etc Etc Preliminary thoughts only.

  4. Pete
    / Video of Texas Secession Movement /
    Now that would be glorious. Imagine if Texas and Montana’s citizens overwhelmingly voted to break off from the union due to all the criminal incompetence of the federal government and federal elected officials with their abuses. If Washington, Idaho, and Montana held an election to form their own country I would vote for that out of pure reflex alone.

    It surely would make for some interesting times.

    The federal politicians are going to bankrupt the US Government eventually, while taking our liberty away every year the incumbents are in power. Why should we in the states who’s state gov’t have been financially responsible have to suffer economic disaster when we got our act together, unlike the federal gov’t.

    People should have the power to decide their own destiny, not bureaucrats in DC.

  5. Happy is for me:

    2013 Dodge Charger, open road, open throttle.minimum speed 145
    Savagely ravenous appetite, and the best French and Italian Food to offer.
    Two hour back and foot massage
    A politician’s arrest, there is no greater calling or schadenfreude
    Good night’s sleep
    Someone else taking care of things for a while
    Colmar, France
    Weihnachts Markt, Basel, Switzerland
    Snorkeling in Kauaii
    American Pop music of the early to mid 1980’s
    The Simpsons
    Making things better for good people.
    Friends and family
    Never asking God for anything, yet beholding the sunsets as His gifts.
    Antique shops
    Middle English books
    Slightly more money in the bank than last month. (even 1 dollar is good)
    Days without tremors or rigidity
    Funny movies and esoteric jokes
    Whatever makes me smile or laugh

  6. Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

    Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
    Oscar Wilde

  7. Bron,

    You did notice the difference. The one in Dallas was a monophonic external mike picking the sound including hall acoustics.
    Either Ms Hotinthepants is ready to orgasm or she knows that there is a big one waiting for her. Nothing like a hard ride in Dallas to get you going.
    Oil does grease things they say. I’ll exclude money for now.
    Hope I’mnot too porno for you. Dirty ol’ man! Usch!

  8. Bron,

    “this should make any lover of strings happy”

    Sex of course has nothing to do with it.
    Can’t you feel this is an expression of how they want to do it, speaking of enthuhusiam and the rhythm alternatíng almost instinctively. Where does that come from? Silly question.
    Of course you knew this but only I am dumb and take the bait. 🙂

    Wish I was 50 years younger. At least the mind comprehends it now.
    I would have been delighted to do any of them. Like the girl, who shyly asked me after the first one after meeting each other 30 minutes earlier, in Provincetown, Cape Cod, “Can we do it again.”

    Will spare you more details.

  9. P Smith,

    Could that be why arabs are so glad to take the check? I will give my Morocan tale sometimes on how it is determined who takes it.
    And of course this may apply in other situations too for them.

  10. Dredd

    actually my first thought was “hey, george zimmerman’s favorite song”.

  11. Bukko

    My stomach hurts from laughing. I love piss and skit allusions, if jokingly said. Gets me everytime. All we three year olds do. You should visít a Swedish kindergarten for a demo of their tastes in jokes. Kiss och bajs get their approval.

    My dogs always rose and left the room slinking, even if it was a quiet fart.
    They noted the smell or the action done and fled the odor and/or my disapproving exclamations.
    Fortunately our later cat went somewhere else when the need arose.

  12. What makes me happy?

    Just now there is required very little to do that.

    Contact with others and hopefully friendships, finally after 76 years of none.
    Awaking to another day, rising to use an impeded body, and a sluggish brain due to hypoxia.
    Use of my mind at interesting tasks and pleasures.
    Perhaps not taking my position too seriously, ie spend excessive time on the world’s problems or my own. (thanks bukko)
    And the joy in my mobility, however limited for now. Always hope for the better.
    Lastly that life has given me a feeling that I can understand so many things almost instinctively and without training. No, I can not play an instrument but I can feel when they are played by a soul talking directly, whether a piano, a voice or an orchestra. When professionalism takes over, the soul disappears and the music is empty
    Same for art, architecture, etc. Life glows when this happens.
    And that which has been mentioned before, when being in the now and not conscious of other matters including myself.

    That’ll do for a start.

    Appreciative feedback not forgotten. Thanks for that too.

    Returning´to reading earlier comments. Thankful for those too.

  13. idealist707 1, January 6, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Writing without having read preceding comments.

    Don’t take this as praise, just an observation with a picayune of judgement.

    Messrs Messpo727272. Spindell, and Howington,

    You have provided an unforgettable weekend and a start for the New Year


    Examples that speak to me clearly. I would agree with all, except Aristotle, but I do that ofter, both him and Plato. All of us upon receiving praise or honors, know that somewhere we feel we are not due them. Only those with an obsession with honor above all would understand this feeling. For example see the Greek tales where honor comes before family.

    But this feeling of unworthiness is refuted by my gestalt psychologist.
    At every instance you are doing what you can do. Accept that as a fact. You are, that is enough. His words paraphrased.

    Next point:
    “The answer may not lie outside the human mind though undoubtedly external factors impact human happiness.”

    My take now is that we are a whole as gestalt is founded on, I believe. Ie body and mind.
    As such, we are an integrated organic being subject to the external factors of life as well as internal, from gas to heart failure. It is evaluated by the brain at some level, and who knows by the body directtly or by the autonomous systems themselves, which react do their jobs.
    Autonomous systems control more than we think, far better than we could with our conscious mind with its single channel capacity: from the heart’s response to loading, to the need of mastering the muscle systems in effect on all its movements, not just bicycle riding. How many muscles there are in the body I don’t know, but the face alone has over 200. And muscles are organs operating as pulleys attached to different leverage points to create movement of tension. Try to control that with your conscious mind.

    It all is worthy of study and “we” are thankful for these words leading to happiness, however/whereever we look for it, and as you point out there are altruism which leads to benefit to the giver. Let us practice more. Perhaps it will have a great positive effect on us and our society, each and all parts.

    I don’t think the rich know that.
    PS There are rat experiments and are allegedly also
    said to be human ones (in fiction) that pressing a lever which delivers the “dopamine” reward, makes the need for food secondary. Food only is eaten if doing so gives a kick to the dopamine injection/shock, for each bite swallowed. Or so it is alleged.

    What results “pressing the lever” gave human subjects as to development is another tale.
    You made me happy. 😉

  14. Correction the eternal forgotten NOT.
    “Only those with an obsession with honor above all would NOT understand this feeling.”

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