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May 14 , 2010

Three Essays on The Nature of Happiness


Happiness is our natural state of being. The prominence of the phrase, in the pursuit of happiness, in our lexicon is evidence of the high value we place on happiness, but also of our realization that we have not achieved it. Why are we not happy? The answer is surprisingly simple: Our state of being is not natural.

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We look at animals and see highly organized lives. Of greater significance, the order we observe in any particular lion pride or elephant family applies to lions and elephants everywhere. Order in the natural world is clearly not created on the spot among each group of animals, but is an expression of genetic awareness that has evolved over eons to ensure the species’ well being.

Understanding the nature of happiness starts by recognizing that, though order in the natural world is the end result of a process as complex of life itself, it can all be boiled down to a single principal: Natural order is the result of each individual, at every moment of its life, choosing to behave in the way that it thinks will result in its greatest happiness.

That animals’ choices are based on their desire to be happy should not surprise us. The choices we make are also based on our prospects for happiness like choosing whether to go to school, to marry this or that individual, or accept employment with a particular firm. Though animal and human activities are both motivated by the same desire to be happy there is yet a crucial difference. Animals seek happiness in the present, while we seek it in an imagined future. In other words, we don’t choose to attend school in order to be happy in the moment, but because of the happiness we anticipate as a result of getting an education. Our choices regarding marriage and employment are also based on anticipated happiness. The problem is that, like animals, we seek happiness, but have no way to know the long term consequences of our choices regarding things such as marriage or employment, while animals are immediately aware of the consequences of their choices. Instead of resulting in the long term happiness we anticipate, our choices often trap us into extended periods, even lifetimes, of misery.

Given an environment that is not under undue stress, and a brain that functions normally, happiness in the animal world is unavoidable, while we modern humans seem fated to live in pursuit of it. This isn’t because animals understand the nature of happiness. It is because, without monetary and legal systems, animals have no reason to do anything other than try to satisfy their feelings of the moment. Being subjugated to the influences of money and law, on the other hand, each human is burdened with the task of managing for his or her personal well being for life. Given that task, being alive to the moment the basic requirement for happiness is simply not possible.

So how can we know real happiness, instead of having to live in pursuit of it? We must trust our futures to the living human spirit our emotional natures instead of to the promise of money and institutions. Not only will people who succeed in securing their lives in relationships experience the unconditional love of a real human family, but they will cease living in ways that destroy the environment. Once we comprehend the nature of happiness, we will understand why unhappiness, and environmental destruction, are inexorably linked.

Happiness results from being true to our soul felt feelings, not to our dreams.

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