WHAT IS HAPPINESS?
Over the years that I’ve lectured in psychology, I’ve opened my talks with a simple, yet extremely profound, question.
I build the introduction this question by telling those assembled that they are about to ponder “the most significant question humanity has ever asked itself,” that the question is surely the most significant question they will ever consider in their lifetime, and that the answer could well change the direction of their lives from that day forward.
Moreover, I represent to them how central the question is in philosophical, theological, and psychological thought since the dawn of recorded history – how the sagest minds have grappled with the question throughout many thousands of years – how the question forms the core of modern social and political life…
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN LIFE
It’s most profound, “What is the most important thing in life?”
One might think, given the gravity of the question, that people might take quite a while arriving at an answer to it. But, surprisingly, most people come-up with an answer in seconds! And indeed, not only do most people come up a quick answer, but more remarkably, they usually come up with the same answer!
What is the most important thing in life? In several hundred informal polls I have taken with student and adult audiences (and dozens more reported in more formal research and opionion polls) the most common response is “happiness!”
Indeed, of the many thousands polled over the years, “happiness” is the most popular answer to this extremely significant question. More than 50% of respondents, in the groups we’ve questioned, pick this.
Other good answers are mentioned by a minority of respondents. Among the four, most typical, runner-up answers are “love,” “success,” “good health,” and “my religion.” But “happiness” is, by far, the most popular response.
Even for those who don’t pick happiness as #1, hardly one in a hundred doesn’t include it in their top three or four choices.
No, happiness is critically important to every human being. Most hardly have to debate about it. The answer comes to them instantaneously…
Such simple polling investigations show that the average individual intuitively understands what psychology has always known: happiness is among the most fundamental of all Human goals.
Happiness, as we shall come to see, is the main psychological point to our lives. It is universally sought after and hoped for. It is so good to feel, so satisfying to possess, so basic to our every living moment, so a much a desired part of of our lives and the lives of those we care about, it cannot be denied. Everyone wants it. Everyone dreams of finding it.
But, that’s where it stops…
Despite the fact that happiness is critically important. Despite that it is one of the most fundamental of Human concerns. Despite the finding that most people want it more than anything else… Most of us hardly ever think about it!
It’s a rather sad situation for poor “happiness.” It spends its life ignored, taken for granted, rarely questioned, and hardly pondered. When forced to think about it, everyone says it’s important; but when queried further, the average person doesn’t know anything about it — or even what it is!
For example, before you took the quiz in the last Chapter, did you have any idea how happy you were compared to others? Had you really thought much about your happiness in the past? Could you have defined happiness? Were you aware of what actually makes you happy? Did you know what contributes to the happiness of others? Probably not.
The surprising thing about happiness is how little people know about it. Happiness is largely un-understood. Not mis-understood, un-understood. Misunderstanding means we have heard about a topic, but have interpreted it incorrectly. Un-understood means that we know nothing of it at all.
Happiness may be the ultimate Human paradox. As I was quoted years ago:
“The one thing people want most in life, is the one thing they know nothing about.” (guide to audio tapes).
We want happiness, but we know nothing about it. This is far from a happy state of affairs!
This Chapter starts with the basics: an understanding of the basic nature of happiness.