On the Nature of Happiness Part II.

On the Nature of Happiness Part II.  In a previous newsletter, I raised the issue of ‘happiness’.  The famous British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote a book in 1932 entitled The Conquest of Happiness for which he was later awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature.  His wife, not to be outdone wrote her own contribution in a book that she entitled “The Right to Be Happy”.  Perhaps their disagreement on this topic as well as others led to their later acrimonious divorce.   There is little doubt that there is a huge difference in the belief that happiness is dependent upon an internal psychological struggle to achieve it and that of it being an inherent right belonging to everyone.  We generally assumed what makes up happiness as being obvious until such time as we start thinking about it.   Then, like so many things in life, it becomes increasingly complicated the closer we look. 

In the simplest terms, happiness is applied to getting what you want when you want it just as freedom is applied to doing what you want to do when you want to.  The latter is quickly delineated by the acknowledgement that nobody should have the freedom to wantonly do whatever they want to.  The former is delineated by the awareness that getting what you need is more important than getting what you want.  Freedom without regard to the interests of others descends into pure selfishness.  Always getting what you want will only give rise to wanting more which can only lead to frustration when limits are finally reached.  The human ego after all, like gas expands to fill available space. 

One of the most commonly shared mistakes of modern parenting is the belief that the role of the parents is to make children happy.  How many of us have witnessed the embarrassed mother at the grocery checkout where the child reaches for a strategically located candy bar and howls in anger when the mother says no all the time surrounded by other customers looking on as her embarrassment increases.? How many of us have seen the mother give in and exchange the candy for a cessation of hostilities and how many of us have realized that the next battle will be even harder for her to win?  Securing the happiness of the child by surrendering to his or her demands is mistaking surrender for victory.  It is important to keep the visual picture of this episode vividly in mind for it encapsulates at once the challenges and pitfalls of parenting.   

I would agree with Russell that considering happiness as a right is absurd in that it is not something that can be simply bestowed upon anyone.  Equally, happiness is not something that can be guaranteed.  It makes no more sense to say that everyone has the right to be happy than it is to say that everyone has the right to be healthy.  One could argue that everyone has the right to have access to healthcare but clearly not if you are a Republican.  However, universal access to healthcare does not guarantee health.  Personal health where not directly jeopardized by our own biology or misfortune is our own responsibility.  Equally, happiness where not undermined by our brain chemistry or personal misfortune is the responsibility of each of us in terms of balancing infinite wants to the restrictions of finite reality. 

Years ago, when researching educational theories and theorists, I concluded that every person felt that they were an expert in parenting because they themselves had been parented.  They might need instructions as to how to drive a car but none felt it necessary to take a course on parenting.  They would simply attempt to duplicate all the good things about their own upbringing and eliminate the things that they did not like.  Surely this would produce a much better version of themselves.  What resulted was not an improvement over their own good selves or even a duplication.  It became apparent that the bad had contributed as much as the good to the development of their personality and character. 

A few years ago, I was listening to a BBC broadcast where the discussion was the exponential increase in various childhood allergies.  Various theories were produced including sunspots and food dyes.  An interesting study from a premiere university suggested another theory.  These increases they found were directly proportionate to the increased use of dishwashers over handwashing of dishes the former virtually sterilizing dishes whereas ae later left some bacterial residue, The elimination of bacteria and the resulting adjustments the body had been required to make paved the way to increased vulnerabilities. 

I would like to close these remarks by saying that the obstacles that one person can cite for their misfortunes another can cite as the reasons for their success.  The belief that a perfect environment produces perfect children and offspring seems to be a logical tautology, but experience indicates otherwise.  Lemonade cannot exist without lemons.