August 28, 2012

Happiness Defined?

Schricker,-Mary-Dec2010By Mary Schricker Gemberling

“When I was in school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy.” They told me I didn’t understand the assignment; I told them they didn’t understand life! ………..John Lennon

On a recent summer day while sitting on my screened porch reading a book, I paused to reflect on the past year, one of infinite change. Since last year at this time, I have retired from my busy life as a realtor and senior advocate, relocated to a log home in Illinois, been blessed with the birth of a new granddaughter, and last, but not least, got married. I have met many new people, had countless new adventures and traveled to parts of the world I had only dreamed of visiting. Although many previous events in my life have brought me much joy, I have never experienced the overwhelming sense of happiness and contentment I now feel. My attempts to analyze my present state of euphoria led me to question, “How do we define happiness? What does make us happy? Why are some people, seemingly happy ‘all of the time,’ and others seem to be masked in a veil of misery?”

Wikipedia defines happiness as a mental or emotional state of wellbeing characterized by positive or pleasant emotions, ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources. Philosophers and religious thinkers often define happiness in terms of living a good life or flourishing, rather than simply as an emotion. Happiness economics suggests that measures of public happiness should be used to supplement more traditional economic measures when evaluating the success of public policy.

In a recent presentation, Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke said that gauging happiness can be as important for measuring progress as determining whether inflation is low or unemployment high. He further explained that economics isn’t just about money and material benefits, but also about understanding and promoting “the enhancement of well-being.” He challenged Federal policy makers to seek better and more-direct measurements of economic well-being, qualifying that promoting well-being should be “the ultimate objective of policy decisions.” Bernanke defined happiness as “short-term state of awareness that depends on a person’s perceptions of one’s immediate reality, as well as on immediate external circumstances and outcomes.”

The need to rise above the difficulties of everyday life is a strand that runs through most ancient philosophies of happiness. For Aristotle, happiness was the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. For him, nothing was worth doing unless it contributed to a life of total fulfillment. Plato’s greatest work, The Republic, defines happiness as “virtuous activity.” He argued that the three basic energies of the soul must be ordered in order for a person to be happy. The emotions (reactions like anger or fear), and the appetites (needs for food, sex, money, etc.) must be ruled by Reason (thinking, persuasion, argument) in order for a person to be truly happy.

With the Declaration of Independence, the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness became inextricably linked as a part of our history. The “pursuit of happiness,” however, is still the responsibility of each citizen rather than something a government can “guarantee.”

Artists and poets have sketched happy moments; musicians and novelists have set out on countless journeys in search of the happy ending. Much has been said, painted, sung and written about happiness, but there is still no general agreement on what happiness or wellbeing actually is and what constitutes a happy life. There is no one-size-fits-all model of well-being; we all have our own very different conceptions of what makes our lives worth living. Happiness is a decision to make; your happiness is YOUR decision to make. Maybe in the words of Woody Allen, “The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have instead of what you don’t have.”

I do appreciate where I am in my life. I love the absence of a timetable, scheduled meetings and deadlines. I enjoy the countless hours spent in my garden; or researching and preparing new recipes; or reading my favorite authors. I value my lifelong friendships and welcome the opportunity for meeting new friends. I love the fact that our family has grown and savor the time spent with all of our children and grandchildren. I love the endless adventures of traveling to places both near and far. I love the time I spend doing nothing with that someone special in my life. This is my happiness!
Mary Schricker Gemberling, a former educator and Seniors Real Estate Specialist, is the author of two books, The West End Kid and Labor of Love.

Mary Schricker Gemberling, former educator and Seniors Real Estates Specialist is the author of two books, The West End Kid and Labor of Love.