Laughing boys
Laughing Boys, by White77

This week I am talking a lot about Happiness on the Wild Man Forum.  It’s a favourite topic of mine, and one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in our day-to-day discourse.  Not to mention one area of my life where I learned a lot of lessons the hard way.

There is a myth in our culture right now that tells us that Happiness isn’t important.  That it is just a feeling – fleeting, difficult to sustain, and random.  Or contradictorily, that it is something important to create in others, but selfish to want for yourself.   We are told that it’s selfish to want to be happy, but that you should work hard to make your loved ones happy.

And somehow we don’t bat an eye at the absurdity of these claims.

The truth is that Happiness is more than just a feeling.  Happiness is a state of being.  It is something we create through the choices we make in our lives that has lasting and important effects on us.  Happiness is an idea that points to a way of life that we have been holding as an ideal since Aristotle, but rarely achieving.

  • A Happy Person thus surrounds themselves with good people.  They choose the most honest, wise, moral, and kind people to call friends, and spend time sharing their thoughts, their hobbies, and their time with those people.
  • A Happy Person has time for leisure, and they spend that time well:  they devote it to filling their lives with beauty by both patronizing and creating Art, Music, Literature, and Innovations.  They have hobbies and pursuits that not only bring them joy, but also share that joy with others.
  • A Happy Person has chosen work and hobbies that play to their strengths, so that they do them well.  A person who plays to their strengths – and who challenges themselves to grow – usually brings creativity and innovation to their work.  They not only do a good job, but because they are rising to challenges with excellence and drive, they learn new ways to do their work better, and teach others how to do the same.
  • A Happy Person also takes time to communicate and share their thoughts with others.  In doing so they get feedback: they get input on their ideas, honest feedback about where they are good and where they are bad.  Their conversations help build refined and brilliant ideas, and share them with everyone they talk to , spreading new, refined, and useful thoughts to the whole community.
  • A Happy Person treats their relationships like works in progress.  They refuse to take their current connections for granted and try their best to make each encounter with another person a positive one.  They also realize that at the end of the day, their relationships and connections are the most valuable things they have, and so they focus more on time spent enjoying the company of others than on money or things.
  • A Happy Person takes responsibility for the things they create in their lives.  they don’t play the victim or focus on the things that are outside of their control.  They know that pretending that nothing is their fault means that they are willing blinding themselves to the things that they could do to make things better.
  • A Happy Person has goals, and plans, but they are focused on the present.  Once they have a good an flexible plan, they learn to check back in on it once in awhile, and spend some time visualizing their success, but they don’t allow that to turn into worries that take their focus off of actually doing the work to make their plans succeed right now.
  • A Happy Person balances their emotions with reason.  they learn how to admit when they are wrong, when their ideas don’t fit with their experiences, and when they don’t know something.  They are dubious of claims of absolute certainty, and any idea that can’t be tested or proven false.  When it comes to arguments of right and wrong, they know the only way to be sure is to think it out, because we are naturally a little selfish, and always try to pretend that we are the good guy, even when we are being self-destructive or hurtful.
  • Because they know that their choices will determine whether they succeed or fail, feel great or feel miserable, have good relationships or toxic ones;  a Happy Person value their freedom.  And because they accept that don’t know everything, they realize that they may not know what is best for other people, and they those people may have good reason for choosing to think or act differently, so they value the freedom of others, too.
  • A Happy Person takes the time to care for themselves, because they know that their health is important.  They manage their diet, the exercise, and their sleep well.  They also take care of their mental health by developing good habits such as meditation, controlling what kind of information they consume, and doing things that help build a reserve of inner strength to help them deal with problems.

Aristotle on Happiness

The feeling of calmness, creativity, and joy that we sometimes call “Happiness” is a result of living well, growing, feeling in control of our lives, and being in the present.  It is something we can build for and sustain in ourselves by making good choices (and having the freedom to do so.)

And when we pursue Happiness we are ensuring that we are making the best of our time.  After all, we have a limited supply of it, and we are never even aware of just how much time we have.  Making the choices that don’t worry towards Happiness mean that we are instead spending them on activities that make us sad, angry, tired, miserable, bored, lonely, or at best, pleasantly distracted for a time.  What a waste of a precious resource, especially when we accept that it is indeed a choice.

This understanding of Happiness is why our culture has held freedom in all of its forms in highest regard.  It is why we have valued the rights of the individual, rather than treating him as a tool to be used by society.  It is why we value people based on their virtues, rather than their utility.  It is why we have created legal systems based on demanding that we prove a person guilty before we take away their freedom, and always hold them responsible for the damage their choices have made.

Happiness is not easy.  It is hard work, and that is why it is easy to dismiss it, ignore it, or hope others will give it to you (which by definition, they can’t.)  There is a perverse element to nature where even if a goal or a change in lifestyle will get you nothing but good results, the pain of actually making the effort can put us off – especially when we are going to be the primary beneficiaries of our actions.  When looking at the hard work it takes to be Happy, we often look for an out, or at least a shortcut. And we are met with an endless array of possible excuses, from Nice Guy philosophies of that tell us to focus on making other people happy, to victimhood that tells us that we don’t have to do anything because the only reason we are unhappy is because someone else “made us” that way.

These are just excuses, though.  At best they keep you unhappy.  Throw them out, and make a better choice.

Aristotle Quote on Happiness
Aristotle Quote on Happiness

2 thoughts on “Happiness

  1. To what extent was Aristotle talking about the higher / wealthier classes doing this, with a goodly layer of worker ants below them to permit them the option?

    1. Aristotle believed that the only way to make this leisure possible was through convict labour. Ultimately it was a failure to understand the scope of his own vision:

      While he did believe that leisure lead to innovation, which in turn made work easier, and thus ultimately made even more leisure possible, he was simply unable to envision a world of the kind of technology that we are producing today.

      The possibility that even farm labour might be automated and middens replaced by water pipes and treatment plants just wasn’t something a man in 2400BC could picture. Given that he though of slavery as an unfortunate necessity, and thought that the practice should be as restricted as possible, it is highly likely that he would have argued for total automation and universal emancipation.

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