Posted: 01 Oct 2009 05:00 AM PDT
"Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence." — Aristotle
For a long time, I was unhappy. I used to think that this was because of my overwhelming debt. I believed that if I were debt-free, happiness would come to me. It didn't.
After I paid off my consumer debt, I was still unhappy. "Maybe it's my job," I thought. I'd always hated working for the family box factory; it had been a job of last resort, and I'd never shaken free of it.
But even after I quit my day job, happiness remained elusive. I now know that some of this was due to low-level depression. I've also come to understand that part of the problem was that I expected money to solve my problems. I expected money to make me happy. Money and happiness, however, are mostly unrelated. That's just not how it works.
Ben-Shahar rejects certain artificial dichotomies our culture clings to. He writes, for example:
This is brilliant. I, too, used to think that my choice was either now or then. I didn't realize I could have both. I believed that in order to have happiness (or wealth) in the future, I had to sacrifice happiness (or wealth) in the present. This isn't the case. Ben-Shahar elaborates:
Ben-Shahar advocates balance. We find happiness when we consider tomorrow and today. People are happy who perform meaningful work that challenges them. They have goals — and the freedom to pursue them.
Happier provides plenty of other practical tips. It's a goldmine of useful information.
Best Summer Ever
In short, I'm balancing the present with the future. I'm still looking out for tomorrow, but I'm not overlooking today. All of this reminds me of the end of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. It's a cold winter evening and young Laura is listening while Pa plays "Auld Lang Syne" on his fiddle.
At the end of Happier, Ben-Shahar writes that we often imagine that something or someone in the future will bring us happiness. Or we find ourselves stuck in the past. But the key to happiness, he says, is to live in the now. "Rather than allowing ourselves to remain enslaved by our past or future," he writes, "we must learn to make the most of what is presently in front of us and all around us."
Go forth, my friends, and be happy.
For more reading on happiness, check out Gretch Rubin's excellent blog, The Happiness Project.
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