Is living a happy life a realistic hope?
It’s quite amazing that happiness is very controversial. A great many people believe that it’s frankly wrong to be happy, and it’s easy to make that argument.
If you think about it, people don’t seem to begin life happy.
No one ever complained that their newborn kept them up all night laughing. We are born with a sense of want that can’t be fulfilled—even our parents from the very beginning just couldn’t seem to get it right for us. Yet I believe that the journey to achieve happiness is fundamental to my life.
To be happy flies in the fact of powerful forces that keep us from happiness. It is a personal decision that requires a lifetime journey of how to be happy.
Here are the arguments that people give against being happy, and the way I’d like to respond. See if you agree.
- The Humanitarian – There is so much tragedy in the world—war, pestilence, famine—that it would be wrong for a person to be happy in a world like this.My Response: If you ever hear that I’m a hostage caught by terrorists, trapped on an island without food, or locusts are crawling up my spine, I give you total permission to be happy. If you can give me a hand, please do, but if you can’t please don’t sacrifice your moment worrying about me.
- The Sinner’s Argument – a powerful deterrent to any sustained moment of happiness is that a sinner such as I, with all I’ve done, must suffer under the weight of my sins. This belief is a real downer for people raised in religion or, equally as true, in a secular moralist environment.My Response: If this argument is true, we should all wear burlap clothes and sleep on beds of nails, because we can’t get past this argument. We’ve all really screwed up badly at some points in our lives—and we still do on a regular basis. Therefore we are all sinners. Grace—the unmerited favor of God that can’t be earned—is the only hope for any of us, and God bless the Teachers in all religions that teach us this fact.
- The Pain and Suffering of Those Around Us – All of us have friends and loved ones who are suffering from catastrophic illness, jobs are lost, and there are bad decisions such as addiction and the wrong turns that those around us take. Our friends get sick, they are in economic danger, and even a few end up in jail. How can we be happy when so many around us are not.My Response: Our relationship with family, children, friends and colleagues brings us closer to pan and suffering than any other experience. We cannot help but feel their pain as our own. We are individually part of a family, a tribe, a religious community, an industry, a nation, a part of humanity.Yet I believe in the supremacy of the individual. The most significant advances of the human race have come when an individual broke ranks with the rest of the human race and made a difference, often with many negative side effects.We have more control over what we do, and even in an airplane disaster, they tell us we put the oxygen mask over our own face so that we can live to help those around us. It will always be difficult to balance our connection with those around us with our own needs, We must see ourselves as individuals and act on our own behalf, and use our abilities and strengths in the service of others. Individuality does not mean greed or withholding, yet to get to service, we must serve ourselves.
- The Apocalypse Argument – a powerful belief among a great number of human beings the comes both in religious and secular flavors. The religious belief is that God will come soon with fire and destruction, and He is really angry. If you make it into His favor you’ll go through unthinkable trials, and if you don’t, you’re destruction will not be pretty.But wait! There is a secular, scientific version of this that comes from the same side of the human brain. Because of the growth of the human population and our destruction of the environment, we will be punished by being wiped out, dying slowly on a planet that has been plundered by the human race. We’re a defective race that should be gone. It’s just the same as the religious argument.My Response: So do you really think that either of these scenarios is likely to happen in your lifetime? Probably not. There are websites that will take the bet, however, so know yourself out if you think it’s true. More importantly, what action are you going to take? You could save up dried food and water, but in a humdinger of an apocalypse, that’s probably too little too late.
- The Mortality Argument – this position states that you grow old, you get sick, you die—what kind of happiness can you have in this scenario.My Response: this argument is the toughest and hits the closest to where I live. What is totally weird, however, that a great many old people will tell you, that they are the happiest they’ve ever been, even with the clock ticking down to midnight. There is a compensating sense of the wisdom that has been gained, and the ability to enjoy one day at a time.
So how can we deal with so many voices that speak against being happy? We can tap into the part of all of us that wants to be happy. We can decide to follow the light of joy that is in everyone, no matter how depressed we feel at any moment in time. At that point we are ready to develop the mental, spiritual, and physical skills that we must learn one step at a time.