It is fair to say that it's the ambition of most people to be happy. We want it for ourselves, our family, our children and our friends.
It's never too late to find happiness
It's long been recognised that if more people were happy, the world would be a better place. In his book, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama suggests that happiness is the right of all and that achieving it is the point of life.
Despite all of this, and a truck-load of research, there is still no universally accepted definition of happiness and no universally accepted prescription for it. It may well be that there is no formula for sustained happiness.
Social psychologist Hugh McKay suggests that not only is happiness not sustainable, but it is less than desirable for it to be so.
Certainly, there is research to suggest that while helpful in reducing unhappiness, money is of limited value in actually creating or delivering it.
One of the theories that appeals to me most is that happiness is a function of the gap between expectations and reality.
This theory has been profited to explain why poor villagers in Africa are so often found, in research, to be happier than Harvard graduates in the United States. One study found that five years after graduation, Harvard graduates (all well-paid, from affluent families and having graduated from the No.1 university in the world) are significantly less happy that villagers in Africa, who have nothing.
This was attributed to an observation that the Harvard graduates had very high expectations of their lives and were falling well short of them, while the villagers had very low expectations and were having little difficulty achieving those expectations. The expectations of the graduates were unrealistic, leading to misery; while the expectations of the villagers were realistic, leading to happiness.
Setting aside the difficulties associated with defining it, I have a different view of happiness. While not in any way discounting other theories, including the one relating to expectations, my view is that happiness is a direct function of an individual behaving consistently with his or her purpose and values.
If we have no purpose, we have no reason for being motivated enough to do all that has to be done. Purpose delivers meaning and inspiration. Behaving in a manner that is consistent with that purpose delivers greater motivation and inspiration.
Clearly in order to feel you are behaving in a manner consistent with your purpose, it is first important to define that purpose – a difficult but necessary task. It is then necessary to have the moral courage and discipline to only ever behave in a manner consistent with that purpose.
In my experience, people who understand their values and consistently meet the behavioural expectations created by them are far more likely to be happy. In my experience, it's about a great alignment between an individual’s values and their behaviour. Values are what we stand for – a summary of what we believe is right, wrong and generally important in life.
To behave in a manner consistent with our values, we first need to define what they are, understand what we believe is right and wrong. There is no fixed list of values. We all have different values and that is as it must be. We are all different beings with different influencers. We have to determine what we believe in and then have the moral courage and discipline to live according to those values.
Every time we lose sight of our purpose and live other than according to our values, we risk long-term unhappiness. Every time we focus on our purpose and live according to our values, we enhance our sense of happiness.
Fortunately, it is never too late to start and redemption is at hand for us all.
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