Thursday, October 24, 2013


What is happiness?

We all know the feeling of being happy. Yet happiness is difficult to define. It is a very personal experience and can have a vast variety of causes. It can be temporary or it can last forever.

Temporary happiness may be the result of many things—getting a compliment, a new gadget, or a promotion. Our delight may last for a few minutes or a few days, but then it will fade away.

Long lasting happiness is rarely the result of an external cause. It springs from a positive inner state of mind. It is ingrained into our attitude and thinking, no matter what the external circumstances. It’s part of us. It’s not a momentary thrill, but a permanent feeling of deep contentment.

Some say that a happy, positive attitude may be genetic. It can also be acquired—either by observing and imitating it while growing up. Or by acquiring it as an adult when we realize that life is a precious gift that needs to be accepted with gratitude.

Most people want to be happy, unless they are struggling for survival or involved in war. Yet few people realize that happiness is within their reach.

Long lasting happiness appears to be based on three basic attitudes—being content with what we have, accepting what we cannot change, and being grateful to be alive.

The very simplicity of happiness may make it so elusive.

Advertisers provoke a constant stream of desires—for the latest fashion, a fancier iPhone, a bigger entertainment center. The list is endless. We live in a highly competitive society where contentment may even be frowned upon. Ads keep clamoring for our attention—buy, hurry, compete!

Competition, actually, can be a good thing—not necessarily competing against others, but competing against oneself, such as living up to our potential, to do our best, to improve ourselves, to keep learning. Happiness is bound to crown these efforts.

On the other end of the scale are sundry human emotions that destroy all sparks of happiness. Among them are jealousy, insatiable desire, feelings of hate and anger, and the desire for revenge. These passions are the very antithesis of happiness.

Some two thousand years ago, a Greek slave, Epictetus, heard someone talk about philosophy. He was still a child, but he took courage and asked his master if he could study this intriguing subject. He got his master’s permission and did so.

The young slave learned eagerly, and gained wisdom and respectability, and eventually was freed. Though severely crippled, Epictetus lived a happy and simple life while teaching his favorite subject.

He strongly believed that external events are not within our control. We must calmly accept them, he urged. Unhappiness results when we try to control what is uncontrollable. And when we neglect to control what we can and should.

Here is one of Epictetus’ maxims written in the first century A.D. that expresses well his philosophy of achieving happiness:

Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever thy decree has fixed my lot.
I follow willingly; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still

Not many mortals reach a perfect state of inner happiness. But we can get ever closer to reaching long lasting happiness, and get better at warding off unwarranted unhappiness.

Until next time,