In a "Hagar the Horrible" cartoon, Hagar says, "I've given up trying to discover the secret of happiness." "Good idea," says his companion. "You'd be much happier."
Although "discovering happiness" may be an elusive task, here are some thoughts concerning the subject:- Remember, our quality of life is better than ever. Peggy Noonan, the author of "Why Are We So Unhappy When We Have It So Good," notes that there are many tragedies in life: "Children die. People lose their homes. Live can be sad . . . ." People are always suffering.
Yet, says Noonan, "I am inclined toward the long view. The life of people on earth is better now than it has ever been - certainly better than it was 500 years ago. This may sound silly, but when I read old fairy tales and see an illustration of a hunchbacked hag with no teeth and bumps on her nose who lives by herself in the forest, I think: People looked like that once. They lived like that. There were no doctors, no phones, and people lived in the dark in a hole in a tree. It was terrible. It's much better now.
"But we are not happier. We are just cleaner, more attractive sad people than we used to be." The challenge is to remember how fortunate we really are.
- Everyone has ups and downs. To maintain an overall bright outlook, it is vital to remember that things do change. Says Hap LeCrone, in a 1994 newspaper article: "As individuals strive for emotional balance, they need to remember that stable and static are not the same thing.
"Everyone is entitled, and more importantly everyone should realistically expect to have some ordinary ups and downs in life. Statistically speaking, a certain percentage of days will have less than satisfactory occurrences: a flat tire, an overdrawn checking account, a bad cold - all may occur within close sequence of each other.
"On these days we need to remember that there are other days when it seems we can do no wrong, when everyone thinks we are great, when life seems like a bowl of cherries swimming in milk chocolate.
"The trick is not to let ourselves believe that a bad day is a harbinger of still more bad days." Or, even that any one bad moment suggests that later moments in the day will be just as bad.
- Sometimes we track our happinesses too closely. In about the year 960, Abd-er-rahman III of Spain offered these thought-provoking words: "I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure have waited on my call, nor does any earthy blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to 14."
Offering advice to those who would "track" or count their happinesses, Nathaniel Hawthorne reflects: "Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
And Phyllis Theroux adds: "Maybe it's best to treat happiness like a deer in the forest. Sometimes it will emerge from the woods and pay you a visit. But it dislikes undue attention. And if you chase it, it will run away."
- Happiness is a choice. In a letter written when she was the first lady, Martha Washington expresses her feelings regarding happiness: "I have learned too much of the vanity of human affairs to expect any felicity from public life," she writes. "But I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may be. For I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances."
Eric Fromm adds that no one is born happy: "Happiness is not a gift of the gods," but an achievement brought about by inner pro-duc-tive-ness.
- Observe man and nature. Much of happiness comes from stay-ing in the present and enjoying the beauty of nature and one's surroundings. Says author June Callwood: "Historian Will Durant describes how he looked for happiness in knowledge and found only disillusionment. He then sought happiness in travel, and found weariness; in wealth, and found discord and worry. He looked for happiness in his writings and was only fatigued.
"Then one day he saw a woman waiting in a tiny car with a sleeping child in her arms. A man descended from the train and came over and gently kissed the woman and then the baby, very softly so as not to waken him. The family drove off and left Durant with a stunning realization of the real nature of happiness. He relaxed and discovered that `every normal function of life holds some delight!' "
To this point, reflects W. Beran Wolfe, "If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, growing double dahlias in his garden or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life 24 crowded hours of the day."