THE IMPORTANCE OF HAPPINESS
Psychological theorists — as well as the great philosophers — have long recognized happiness as the ultimate human goal. And, certainly, as we’ve seen, everyone else, on a gut level, knows this too.
But though happiness is the choice of the majority, how can we say it is the most important? Certainly, there are many possibilities to consider…
The great writers and thinkers have offered many options through the ages: the allegiance to a Grand Cause, the serving of Humanity or a God, the search for idealized Love, the seeking of Truth and Beauty, service to one’s Country, the development of one’s Ultimate Potential are but a few.
In more personal terms, the ideals are endless. “Love,” “success,” “religion,” and “good health” are, as we pointed-out above, often mentioned. But, to a lesser extent the surveys show that anything from “creating a great painting” to “my hound-dog” can be mentioned as the most important thing in life to someone, somewhere.
For some, things like “self-satisfaction,” “inner peace,” or “contentment” would be the most important. Others mention their children, their family, or their marriage. Some say “money” or “power.” Others stress the attaining of goals. “World peace” is commonly expressed; and others feel feel that things like “faith” or “hope” are most important.
One cannot argue that each of these things is not important. So, which among them is the most important? How can it be decided?
By simply forcing a choice!
Imagine, for a moment, that some magical being appears to you. The proverbial “Genie in a bottle,” so to speak. Legend says he’ll offer you three wishes, but this particular genie has something even more intriguing in mind. He claims to be tired of just giving-out any three wishes people come-up with, because most people make such frivolous and self-defeating selections. Therefore, in recent years, he’s changed his strategy…
Now, he offers choices instead!
Based on his years of granting wishes, he’s reduced these choices to a few of the most highly-prized, human desires, to give us mortals a better chance. But the mischief in him still remains. The choices, we find, are totally exclusive. If we chose one, we lose the other completely. There’s no half-way solution. He’s going to offer us choices between some of the most desired things in life. The one we pick will be ours in abundance. But the one we reject, we’ll have not at all…
“Here is your first choice,” the Genie offers, “between happiness or success!”
“I’ll grant you one — but not the other.”
“If you choose success, I’ll make you one of the most successful persons in history. Cover stories in magazines, newspapers, and television will continuously herald your fame and achievement. You’ll win a Nobel Prize every year. World leaders will be envious of your accomplishments. Everyone in your family and community will admire you. And any endeavor you choose to undertake will flourish.”
“But if you choose success, you’ll not have happiness. Oh, you’ll be surrounded with international acclaim, boundless success will be yours, but I’ll see to it that you’ll never experience a happy moment again.”
“On the other hand, if you choose happiness, I’ll make you one of the happier persons whose ever lived. Every day, from now until the end of your life, will be filled with sunshine, joy, and contentment. But you’ll never be all that successful. You’ll just be a happy person.”
Your mind is whirling. “Why can’t I have both,” you think. It’s a tough decision, but would you really take success knowing you’d never have a happy day again?
“I’ll give you another choice,” the genie says, sensing your hesitation. “This time between happiness and money…”
“I’ll grant you all the money you ever dreamed of, if that’s what you choose. You’ll be the richest person on earth. Every nation’s currency will have your face on it. Every person’s paycheck will be automatically endorsed over to you. The stock market will call you up every day, just to find out what you want to buy or sell to yourself.”
“But if you choose money, you’ll never know a happy moment again. Oh, you’ll bask in the trappings of luxury, with all the power and influence money can buy — but, as you lie in your gold-lined, basement swimming pool, filled with pearls and precious gems, you’ll be utterly and completely miserable.”
“On the other hand, if you choose happiness, I’ll grant you happiness forever! Every day will be filled with sunshine, joy, elation, and bliss. But you’ll never have much money again. You’ll live like a pauper, but you will be happy.”
“Now this isn’t fair,” you think, “I can’t imagine being happy without money.” Again you mind is awash in indecision. “Maybe I can take the money,” you’re thinking, “and fool the Genie! I might be happy anyway…” But if you knew for certain you couldn’t fool the Genie, would you really pick the riches, knowing you’d never be happy again?
After a moment or two, you’ve decided. Yet as you open your mouth, the Genie stops you…
“Hold,” he says, “there’s one last choice I can offer you. That’s a choice between happiness and love.”
You can have all the love you ever dreamed of, or all the happiness you ever dreamed of — but you can’t have both…
If you select love, I’ll make you fall in love with the person of your dreams, and that special person will be insanely “in love” with you. You’ll marry soon, and spend the rest of your lives together. But if you choose love you’ll never know a moment of happiness again. Oh, you’ll be with the one you’ve always desired, but every minute you spend with them will be utterly and completely miserable.
The other choice; is happiness. If you select it, every day you live will be filled with inner-peace, bliss, and contentment. You may never have romantic love in your life — Mr. or Ms. “Right” may never come your way, but you will be happy, no matter what happens.”
It’s hard for most of us to imagine being miserably unhappy with great wealth, success, or love. Equally, it’s just as difficult imagining being happy without any of those things. Thus such choices as the genie offers seem quite unnecessary and fantastic in real life. And indeed, as we’ve already seen, they are fantasy. Love, money, success — all contribute to happiness. In real life, you don’t have to choose. The good things in life tend to go together.
But what if they didn’t?
The point the genie is trying to make, however, is one of importance. If you had to choose between the many fine things in life — knowing you could have none of the others — which would you choose? Money is nice; success is great; love is wondrous. But would you sacrifice all chance for happiness by choosing these other things? It’s doubtful.
Forcing a choice quickly determines which thing is more important than another. And, considering the hypothetical choices the genie provided, it should be clear that happiness is much more important than these other things. After all, what good is any thing else in life unless we have happiness?
Indeed, let’s go one step further. I’ll give you a choice between happiness and anything else you can think of. Anything else at all! In abundance! But remember, you won’t be happy.
Think of anything you’d rather have? Well, don’t answer yet, because I’m not willing to stop at just anything. Let’s talk about everything!
Yes, because I’m in a generous mood, I’ll give you everything. (Everything, of course, except happiness.)
I’m offering it all! Great success, a loving family, high income, respect from others, more education, top-level social status, a busy social life, lots of travel and fun — all will be yours. Everyone else will think your life is is next to perfect. Prestige, glamour — the life-style of the rich and famous — it’s all yours for the asking. The only thing you have to sacrifice is your happiness.
“Or,” as the genie offers, “I can just make you a happy person.”
Happiness is the most important thing in life simply because, when given a choice, there’s little choice at all!