How Can Genuine Happiness Be Found?
WHAT ARE THE KEY INGREDIENTS FOR HAPPINESS NOW?
A GOOD measure of genuine happiness can be found now, and much greater happiness in the near future is a certainty.
This is not wishful thinking. It is based on what is actually the case today in the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, and also on what the future definitely holds for mankind.
What are the key ingredients for happiness now? The answers can vary a great deal, depending on who is making the observation. For instance, some feel that there is no evil, and thus they imagine that they can find joy in almost everything. But that is self-delusion, as there are many things in this world that are very bad.
Some go to the other extreme. They find hardly any good in anything or anybody; hence, there is no cause for happiness. They have much the same outlook as did the ancient Greek poet Sophocles, who said: “Count no man happy who is not dead.”
But those views are extremes. Somewhere in between there is a balanced view of what leads to happiness. And, generally, most authorities agree on several basic ingredients that are greatly needed.
Yet, at the same time, almost all such observers ignore the most important ingredient for happiness! And when this is ignored, the other parts begin to fail in time.
First, let us note some basic factors that can make for a happier life even now in this troubled world. Then let us identify the one ingredient more important than any other, and see how it relates to much greater happiness in the future.
Appreciating What We Have
Certainly, much that is bad confronts us in our daily lives. But, on the other hand, there are things for which we can be thankful, things that can bring us some happiness if we would only take the time to reflect on them.
One simple way that we might better appreciate that we can enjoy some measure of happiness now is to consider alternatives. Almost all of us can think of some tragedy that would lessen the happiness we have at this moment. That being so, it means that we do have a measure of happiness now, without such tragedies having happened. So, while we may not feel very happy about our condition in life, it helps us to realize that we are usually better off than we have imagined.
Appreciating what we have surely would include appreciating life itself. While you may have many problems that can be depressing, you still would rather be alive than dead, would you not? Only mentally unbalanced persons commit suicide. Yes, life is “sweet,” and we cling to it as long as we can.
The alternative to life is death, in which there is no enjoyment whatsoever. As the Bible says: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Eccl. 9:5) That is why the preceding verse observes: “A live dog is better off than a dead lion.” (Eccl. 9:4) Being alive, and human, is far superior to being a rock, or a tree, or an animal—or dead. We can be happy that we are alive as humans, if we but take the time to reflect on it.
Too, with the right viewpoint, many of the simple things of life can give us added happiness. A pleasant sunny day is a delight. So is the natural creation, such as the trees, flowers, animals, mountains, rivers and lakes. Even in a crowded city, there are nice days that we can enjoy and pleasant areas that can be a source of refreshment.
Are you able to see? Some people cannot, being blind. Ask a blind person if he would be happy to get his sight back! Or shut your eyes for a while and try to carry on your daily functions. You will better appreciate how precious a gift your sight is.
The same is true with the senses of taste and smell. You may have eaten a certain favorite meal hundreds of times in your life, but when you smell it being prepared again, you are happy.
Yes, we are so constructed that we never tire of the really good things in life. If we would ‘count our blessings,’ we would appreciate them more and be happier.
Happiness requires activity. We are more content with life if we have something useful to do. Work is actually a blessing for us.
While it may seem desirable not to have to work at all, that is not really the case. If everything were somehow miraculously done for us, life would become incredibly boring. The reason is that we were made to thrive on a proper amount of activity.
While the work you do may seem uninteresting or unimportant, does it not make a contribution to your existence—helping to pay your bills? Then it is important to you. And it is important to society in general, for if all the seemingly routine or “dull” jobs were eliminated, how long would society continue to function?
True, your work may not be as desirable as someone else’s. But it almost always makes some contribution, not only to your welfare, but to that of others also. If you look at it that way, you can feel some satisfaction in trying to do your job well. As the monthly letter of the Royal Bank of Canada puts it:
“The worker who can do the little things well for which he is responsible contributes to the success of the biggest enterprise, and the man who devotes himself to his task with zeal and determination, using his best ability, will have a sense of achievement, which is an ingredient of happiness.”
A More Vital Ingredient
One of the more vital ingredients of happiness has to do with our relationship with others. We cannot truly be happy without the friendship, affection, warmth and understanding—yes, the love—that comes from people.
True, in some places, such as crowded cities, one might at times wish that all the people would disappear. But who would really want to be completely alone? While that may sound appealing for a little while, the fact is that we cannot find genuine happiness without other people, even if we are disappointed or angered by them at times. No man in solitary confinement for any length of time was made happy thereby.
But it is not merely having others around us that brings happiness. What really matters is our showing love, a vital ingredient needed for happiness. And the kind of love, the kind that will bring the best results, is a love based on right principles, as well as being warm and affectionate.
“Love: The Most Important Ingredient in Happiness,” declared a headline in Psychology Today. And it reported this comment by psychologist Robert M. Gordon:
“Love is by far the most important resource in people’s lives. It plays the biggest role in forming values that guide life choices and lifestyles. Someone who experiences a shortage of love in childhood is unhappy then, and also develops values that perpetuate the unhappiness in later life.”
Often, when love is missing and its resulting happiness is absent, money or material goods are substituted. But such things can never be adequate substitutes for the happiness that comes from human relationships where love is shown.
Does this mean that if we lacked love in childhood, we can never be truly happy? No, because love can be cultivated, developed, at any age. Why is this so? Because we were made to love and to respond to love as an inherent part of human sociability. God created us with this capacity. And love can be rekindled regardless of earlier disappointing experiences in life.
Yes, we are born to want love and to respond to the love of others. Maclean’s magazine of Canada notes:
“The responsive smiles of babies, the first entrancing show of happiness, have been studied by many scientists, . . .
“They found a universal human pattern: until the age of six months, babies of every race will smile at any friendly adult almost invariably.
“Mankind shows this instinctive sociability in the fact that babies infrequently smile at toys or feeding bottles, but almost always smile at people.”
The “Golden Rule”
What others do affects our happiness. And what we do affects the happiness of others. We simply cannot escape the fact that our happiness is intertwined with the lives of many other people, our families, our friends and others.
To the extent that it is within our power, we should do nothing in the pursuit of our own pleasure that will damage the happiness of others. This principle is called the “Golden Rule,” which is contained in the Bible. It was Jesus Christ who said: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matt. 7:12.
When you treat others like that, with love, kindness, honesty and impartiality, what will happen? Just like the baby who responds to your smile, so other people will respond to your good treatment of them. True, not all of them will. But most of them will react favorably toward you.
This will add to your happiness, for as Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’’ (Acts 20:35) An illustration of this is the grandmother whose husband had died. She wrote:
“Now that [my husband] is gone, I am giving to my children and grandchildren . . . which gives them much pleasure. But to be perfectly honest, when I give to them, my pleasure is far greater than theirs.”
If she had not “given” to others she would have denied them some happiness, and would also have denied herself a good measure of it. She discovered the truth of what English philosopher John Stuart Mill observed when he said that the only really happy people are those “who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others.”
When the right kind of love is shown between people, all the barriers that divide them can be broken down. Jehovah’s Witnesses in all nations know that this is so because they have observed the fine results of impartially showing love toward others. They put forth the effort to practice the “Golden Rule,” to practice “giving.”
That is why, on a worldwide scale, they have progressed further than any other people in overcoming the divisive barriers of nationalism and racism. For instance, after a group of over a hundred Witnesses from Nigeria traveled to an assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., a spokesman for the Africans said:
“The wonderful part of such a visit is to see firsthand how Jehovah’s people live like one large, happy family and fulfill Jesus’ words at John 13:35 when he said, ‘By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.’”
Similarly, two new attenders at meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses observed: “The thing that impressed us the most was the loving concern of the Witnesses for one another. The thing we value most at present is this loving association.” A newly associated person in New Mexico wrote: “I attended a few meetings and was impressed with the love and kindness the congregation showed me.” When another man who changed his former undesirable way of life for the better way was asked what helped him to do so, he replied: “Someone showed love to me. Someone was interested in me.”
It was Jesus who said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39) And showing neighbor love includes being cooperative, as well as respecting the rights and property of others. When that is done, good things often result. For instance, after a recent assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, the supervisor in charge of the arena wrote to the Witnesses:
“In my twenty or more years around this arena, never before have I been required to write such a letter as this one. This is the first time, and likely my last, that I have ever written to a tenant to sincerely thank him for such excellent cooperation as has been offered to the arena staff during this event.
“Your brothers and sisters involved in the administration and general duties pertaining to this convention have, without exception, been most helpful, and have made this event one of the most enjoyable duties we have been required to handle since coming into the arena management business.
“Thank you for coming to our arena. We hope we are still on duty when you return.”
Also, when Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself,” this surely included the closest neighbors we have. These would be members of our immediate family. Since the family was created by God, it is only reasonable that happiness could be found in it.
Here, too, when we apply the “Golden Rule,” and practice unselfish giving of ourselves to others in the family, there are fine results. Many a family on the verge of breaking up has been greatly strengthened and made happier by doing what Jesus said. And the more these fine principles of behavior are applied, the happier the family will be. Ignoring them can bring damage that may not be repaired.
Too, there are many simple pleasures in family life that can be sources of happiness if we would only think about them. One example is related by Maclean’s magazine:
“Historian Will Durant tells of looking for happiness in knowledge and finding disillusionment. He looked for happiness in travel and found weariness, in wealth and found discord and worriment. He sought happiness in writing and was fatigued.
“One day he saw a woman waiting in a tiny car with a sleeping child in her arms. A man descended from a train and came over and gently kissed the woman and then the baby, very lightly so as not to waken him. The family drove off together across the fields and left Durant with a stunning recognition of real happiness.
“He later wrote: ‘Every normal function of life holds some delight.’”
Yes, appreciating the good things that we do have, and showing the right kind of love at all levels of human relationship, works wonders for improving happiness. This is so even in a world that is filled with trouble.
However, there is something even more important than these ingredients. There is something so important that without it in our lives, we cannot be truly happy. What is this most crucial ingredient of happiness? The following article will tell us.