Happiness and the dangers of belief in the written word :)

March 13, 2007

It’s interesting how gullible we humans are. If we read something or watch it in a documentary, we are more likely to believe it. Then there is the magic of Google. If you write enough on a topic, you start showing up in search results on the topic – regardless of how much you really know. Soon enough someone comes along taking you for an expert in the field and asks to interview you.

And so I was pleasantly surprised to be mistaken for an “International Expert on Happiness” and asked to answer a few questions. I started by telling my interviewer that she was up for a big disappointment if she thought I was an expert on happiness, but decided to play along.

I reproduce some of my answers below for your reading pleasure 🙂

How would you define happiness?

Happiness is an emotional or affective state that is characterized by feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction. As such, like being in love, you are either happy or not, but don’t necessarily know why – you just are. As a result, many people define happiness as things they do or have, as Charlie Brown does below:

HAPPINESS
From You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
(Clark Gesner)

Happiness is finding a pencil.
Sleeping in moon light.
Telling the time.
Happiness is learning to whistle.
Tying your shoe
For the very first time.
Happiness is playing the drum
In your own school band.
And happiness is walking hand in hand.

Happiness is two kinds of ice cream.
Knowing a secret.
Climbing a tree.
Happiness is five different crayons.
Catching a firefly.
Setting him free.
And happiness is being alone every now and then.
And happiness is coming home again.

Happiness is morning and evening,
Daytime and nighttime too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you.

Happiness is having a sister.
Sharing a sandwich.
Getting along.
Happiness is singing together
When day is through,
And happiness is those who sing with you.

Happiness is morning and evening,
Daytime and nighttime too.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you.

However, while doing those things makes Charlie Brown happy – sometimes – they may not work for you.

What do you consider to be an important step toward happiness?

Despite what I said above there are clear deliberate steps you can take towards being happy.

Specifically:

  1. Don’t equate happiness with money.
  2. Don’t commute.
  3. Exercise regularly.
  4. Have lots of sex.
  5. Devote time and effort to close relationships.
  6. Pause for reflection, meditate on the good things in life (in other words be grateful).
  7. Seek work that engages your skills, look to enjoy your job.
  8. Give your body the sleep it needs.
  9. Don’t pursue happiness for its own sake, enjoy the moment.
  10. Take control of your life, set yourself achievable goals (in other words have goals).
  11. Have an optimistic attitude and outlook on life.

You might argue that things like “being grateful” are not easy to do, but even something as artificial as writing three good things that happened to you today in a notebook every day has been proven to work extremely well!

Do you believe it is possible for an individual to be truly content most of the time?

Absolutely! Many people are generally happy just because – based on a combination of their upbringing and genes. However, even if by default you were only of average happiness, you can take the 11 deliberate steps mentioned above to make you significantly happier.

Non-sequiturish conclusion: The average academic journal article is read by 7 people, including the author’s mom. Maybe the real experts should be writing blogs 🙂

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