Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Happiness in 2017

It is nearly impossible to be among people and JD (or other forms of alcohol) and not get into a fierce debate about politics. People are energized by the current political scene in ways I have not seen since I first went to Disney World and Lego Land. Otherwise gentle and thoughtful folks look as if their heads are going to blow off standing next to the appetizer table. Red-faced and sweating, they speak in loud voices and won’t put up with hearing things that defy their own opinions. We don’t mind telling our dear friends that if they hold a particular view, they are lower than the slime on the belly of reptile.

So in the spirit of making things horribly worse, I decided to do a little research. If this is the way people want to spend their evenings, I wanted to try to understand how this behavior fits into well-recognized theories about happiness. Let’s be clear: I am not trying to change you, and I am not taking sides. But I do wonder why we want to spend our precious time on this planet screaming and yelling at our friends, relatives, and pets.

What’s important? What makes us happy? I admit that the quotes and summaries I display below leave out some critical aspects of happiness. But this topic ain’t macro and it ain’t football -- in other words, I did the best I could. Maybe you can see in the philosophies below why so many of us seem to be happy being ugly. Or not.  

Abraham Maslow, in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, set out what people now call Maslow’s hierarchy. The hierarchy of wants is often shown as a triangle in which the base represents the most basic human needs to stay alive. Once one level of the triangle is satisfied, the human moves upward to satisfy higher needs with the highest level called self-actualization. My interpretation of this is that things like eating, breathing, feeling safe, having loving family and friends, are among the key things that make us happy each day.

Confucius (according to a blog I found (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/confucius-happiness-suzana-aleksic )
Confucius believed that anyone could change themselves regardless of social status and financial situation. In other words, happiness was not reserved for aristocrats. For Confucius, happiness had nothing to do with financial situation of a person; it depended on a person's level of self-development and virtue attainment. In addition to this, Confucius emphasized action over thoughts. He stated that to reach happiness, it was not enough to think well; one had to act on these thoughts. Similarly, doing good deeds without good intentions did not count for Confucius. To advance on the "happiness path", one had to think good and then act on those thoughts. This great philosopher stated that the "reciprocity" is what should lead people through their lives, as "what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."

According to Aristotle, happiness consists in achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime, all the goods — health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc. — that lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life. This requires us to make choices, some of which may be very difficult. Often the lesser good promises immediate pleasure and is more tempting, while the greater good is painful and requires some sort of sacrifice. For example, it may be easier and more enjoyable to spend the night watching television, but you know that you will be better off if you spend it researching for your term paper. Developing a good character requires a strong effort of will to do the right thing, even in difficult situations.

A quote from Ayn Rand (from For the New Intellectual): Happiness is not to be achieved at the command of emotional whims. Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to indulge. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind’s fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer. Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions.

10 Commandments (It is debatable among Christians if following all the commandments is the key to happiness and salvation but they do express a view of what the Bible says God wants from his followers.
1.  You shall have no other gods before Me.
2.  You shall not make idols.
3.  You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
4.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5.  Honor your father and your mother.
6.  You shall not murder.
7.  You shall not commit adultery.
8.  You shall not steal.
9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10.You shall not covet.

The Four Noble Truths:
1.  All things and experiences are marked by suffering/ disharmony/ frustration (dukkha).
2.  The arising of suffering/ disharmony/ frustration comes from desire/ craving/ clinging.
3.  To achieve the cessation or end of suffering/ disharmony/ frustration, let go of desire/ craving/ clinging.
4.  The way to achieve that cessation of suffering/ disharmony/ frustration is walking the Eightfold Path.

The eightfold path to the cessation of suffering:
1.  Right Understanding of truth suffering impermanence and separate self as an illusion.
2.  Right Determination to give up what is wrong and evil;
3.  Right Speech: Abstain from telling lies and harsh speech or language
4.  Right Action: Moral, peaceful, honorable conduct
5.  Right Livelihood: Abstain from making your living from an occupation that brings harm and suffering to humans or animals, or diminish their well being.
6.  Right Effort: Foster good and prevent evil; work on yourself—be engaged in appropriate self-improvement.
7.  Right Mindfulness or wakefulness: Foster right attention.
8.  Right Concentration: Developed by practicing meditation and/or mental focusing.

Here are some interesting quotes from Martin Luther King:
  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. 
  • The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. 
  • In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends. 

It is tempting to summarize at this point but infinitely more enjoyable to have you tell me if and how any of this makes heated argument a good thing! 😊


  1. I know that you believe you understand what you wrote, but I'm not sure you realize that what you wrote is not what I understood.

    1. I'll drink to that. You are a good tuna.

    2. Me thinks there are few exclusions to what you WON'T drink :).

  2. Larry,
    We can agree to drink a toast to your blog this week.

  3. What??? You mean Jerry Garcia had it all wrong? I think the real key to happiness is abstaining from Facebook. ��

  4. I prefer the Luft and Ingham concept of Johari's Window. It's a technique used to help people better understand their relationship with themselves as well as others. I've spent the last 45 years throwing rocks at the window.