A Truth about Happiness

March 21, 2019 · Print This Article

Are you feeling happy? It’s World Happiness Day. Should we feel happier today?

I woke up to the usual overcast March weather, a little more tired than usual after my Netflix binge last night. I noticed the laundry had not been put out. Then it was down to the list of emails. Where was my happiness going to come from?

With this dedicated day for happiness, I’m now feeling a little guilty that I’ve not found that warm fuzzy feeling of happiness. I’m having to think about where my extra dose of happiness is going to come from.

But I guess there’s one thing we can be happy about.

Apparently, in the World Happiness Report, the United Kingdom has come in 15th place – an improvement from last year by four places. Can it actually be that in the midst our Brexit chaos we are actually happier! What really does cause happiness, then?

Happiness seems to be the universal pursuit we all innately have. Psychologists spend a lot of time trying to discover what creates this sometimes allusive feeling and how we can increasingly make it a greater part of our experience.

A professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University, says, “Science has proved that being happy requires a conscious effort. It’s not easy, it takes time.”[1] He then gives us five ways we can make that effort: make a gratitude list, sleep more and better, meditate, spend more time with family and friends, have fewer social networks and more real connections. A good starting list.

But I wonder whether these are sustainable – do they really bring lasting happiness? Or is there a truth we are missing?

One of the most interesting people I have read about is Victor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. He even spent some time in Auschwitz. After he was released, he wrote about his experiences in a bestseller called Man’s Search for Meaning. He describes how even in the most wretched of circumstances, he was still able to experience happiness. How could this be?

He hits on a truth about happiness that we could all learn from. Frankl says, “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”[2] Happiness is experienced as a result of pursuing, not happiness itself, but meaning and purpose. It is meaning and purpose we need to aim for and follow.

So what’s your meaning and purpose?

For me and many of my friends, there’s a happiness we experience from a meaning we pursue. We participate in a religious community (a Christian community). For me, faith in something bigger than me, which brings meaning and purpose to my life and, thus, happiness. But don’t just believe me. This is something the Pew Research Center found to be the case in many countries: “in the U.S. and many other countries around the world, regular participation in a religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness.”[3]

On World Happiness Day, is it worth giving faith a second thought?

Notes:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47637378

[2] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/790760-for-success-like-happiness-cannot-be-pursued-it-must-ensue

[3] http://www.pewforum.org/2019/01/31/religions-relationship-to-happiness-civic-engagement-and-health-around-the-world/

[Photo by Michael Dam on Unsplash]

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