COMMENTARY: Happiness Is a Choice

In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy asks Charlie Brown, “Why do you think we were put on earth?” Charlie answers, “To make others happy.” Lucy replies, “I don’t think I’m making anyone happy,” and then adds, “but nobody’s making me very happy either. Somebody’s not doing his job!”

People like Lucy are so sure happiness is a matter of getting something that they ask not what they can do for others but what others can and should do for them. They usually feel shortchanged or cheated. They become so preoccupied with what they don’t have that they can’t enjoy what they do have.

What’s more, they don’t realize one of the best ways to be happy is to experience the joy and self-worth of making others happy.

In his book Happiness Is a Serious Problem, Dennis Prager argues that it’s human nature to want and feel we need more. The problem is, the quest for more is endless because we can always add more to whatever we have. As a result, the Lucys of the world often live in an “if only” world that keeps them one step away from happiness: “If only I get this raise, make this sale, pay off my debts, or win this game, I’ll be happy.”

Abraham Lincoln understood that happiness is essentially a way of looking at one’s life. “Folks are generally as happy as they make up their minds to be,” he said.

Thus, we’re more likely to experience happiness if we realize it’s not just getting what we want. It’s learning to want what we get.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 10

  1. I always appreciate your keen insight when it comes to issues of ethics. I also enjoy Dennis Prager and his thoughts on different subjects. The ethics of happiness, however, has always been a conundrum for me. I feel as though our society often values happiness over pretty much everything else (Charlie Brown’s stated life goal is a good example of this).

    I always worry about society becoming too focused on happiness and then becoming a sort of Brave New World-style environment where happiness is almost forced on the population.

    What I feel is being missed in the Happiness ethics discussions is that happiness is usually the result of something else. It is a consequence of (usually) good behavior. You touch on this in the article, mentioning working to make others happy, but really, I believe that happiness should not be the main driver of a person’s behavior. People should strive to do good and be moral, upright human beings and that should create a sense of joy in their lives. If you are only seeking happiness, you are going to miss out on a lot, especially on situations that may be unpleasant, but may develop within you a better, more noble character.

  2. True. But as wisdom makes one realize this to be the case and with other elements picked up along the way; the wish to encourage others to view life as a canvas not as a series of obstacles becomes stronger. Specially when applicable to those nearest to us. Take care, all.

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