The pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right according to that famous document signed on July 4th of 1776. The right to the pursuit of happiness follows after the rights to life and liberty in the document, as it should be. You have be, and be free, to have a shot at happiness. But that right to the pursuit of happiness is like buying a parking permit for parking on the UC Berkeley campus. You are not guaranteed a parking spot. You pays your money and you takes your chances. If you can find a spot, you may park.
You have the right to pursue happiness but happiness is not guaranteed.
There are things that you can do to increase the chances of being happy. Being born to rich, caring, wise parents in an affluent society which allows you great personal freedoms helps in your chances of being happy but you really don’t have much say in which cards you draw in the random draw that is your birth. What one can do is to learn how to be happy.
The ancient sages of India long ago figured it out. Now you can learn all about it in the US universities. The most popular course in Harvard University is a course on “Positive Psychology” according to this Boston Globe report (pdf). Intro to economics used to be the most popular but Psych 1504 has beaten it with over 850 enrolled for the course.
Among other things, the course teaches that you have to let go. Meditate. Just be present, observe your breathing, and just be. The Buddha taught that 2,500 years ago.
I find it interesting that the Psych course beats the Econ course in terms of enrollment. You have to have reached a certain level of economic prosperity before you ask those questions whose answers are tied to happiness. When you are materially well off and are physically secure, you reach for higher level goals. The affluent societies are ready for positive psychology courses; the developing ones need to get more econ 101 courses for now.
“Learn to fail or fail to learn” or “not that ‘it happened for the best’ but rather ‘how can I make the best of what happened?’ ” The sort of phrases that the psych course uses. Here are “Six Tips for Happiness” from the report mentioned above (also check out the “All Things Considered” from NPR link at the end of the document):
1. Give yourself permission to be human.
2. Happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning.
3. Happiness is mostly dependent on the state of mind, not on our status or on the state of our bank account.
5. Remember the mind-body connection.
6. Express gratitude whenever possible.
All the above are what the Buddhists have been saying for thousands of years. For a good accessible account of the Buddhist position, see “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living”. An old book from a western perspective is “The
Pursuit Conquest of Happiness” by Bertrand Russell.
Thank you for reading my blog. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.