Sunday, May 11, 2008

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness

A note from for Monday May 11 2008

Welcome to another shiny new week.

I hope that Mother’s Day for you was an outstanding day.

I saw a lot of folks around and about in various stages of preparation for celebrating the one very important person without whom this note would not be being read. The one thing that stuck out most was, that they all looked very happy indeed to be doing what they were doing.

It got me thinking a fair bit about the whole subject of “happiness”. So, I decided to dedicate this week to that subject.

I got to chatting with our buddy Philip Humbert, and he has provided us with a couple of readers that reflect his views on the issue. Yes, as an American, Philip focuses on research from the U.S. Frankly though his sentiments serve every one of us.

You’ll enjoy his offerings today and tomorrow.

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness
by Philip Humbert

This week I read about a huge survey (over 100,000 participants) that said only 47% of Americans describe themselves as truly "happy." This is the biggest survey ever on the topic, and it amazes me that more than half of us (think of that!) are not fulfilled, satisfied or "happy" with our lives. How can that be?

In the past couple of centuries, we've done well on two of the three freedoms proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence. We've more than doubled life expectancy. Progress in medicine, sanitation, and safety give us more years than ever before. And we certainly have more liberty!

We can say, think, travel, learn, buy, do or experience more variety than ever before. Even our parents never dreamed of the freedoms we take for granted every day.

And yet when asked closely about our lives, we are no happier (and perhaps not as happy) as past generations. Headlines proclaim that we are anxious, stressed, cranky or depressed. We take more pills than any people in history. We worry. We feel less safe than our ancestors who faced famine, war and pestilence. What's going on? How can this be and what can we do about it?

Partly, I don't think we actively seek "happiness" as much as we might. We are so busy pursuing things and taking care of business that we forget to enjoy our lives. Sometimes I'm not sure we even expect to be happy! In part, I blame our work ethic for this. We are so focused on a better tomorrow that we forget the wonders of today.

I'd like to propose that happiness be considered a kind of skill. There are keys or steps to increasing happiness, and they can be learned. Here are five suggestions:

1. Happiness Requires Safety. When Abraham Maslow introduced his "Hierarchy" in 1947 he began with security. I suspect happiness begins with locking the doors at night, with some money in the bank, with a belief that we and our loved ones are safe. Yes, we could be hit by a bus and we lost Cody suddenly last week, but to increase your level of happiness, take security seriously. Take care of your environment. Nurture a sense of personal control. Save money and invest wisely. For most of us, basic safety is attainable. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.

2. Happiness Requires Community. People are happier when they have caring, loving relationships. Spend time with family and friends. Invest in your neighbors and co-workers. Remember that we are "tribal" creatures and we need our friends. Whether it's an extended family, your golfing buddies or girlfriends, nurture your community. As I wrote recently, I love the Beatles' observation that we "get by with a little help from our friends." Happiness is found in community.

3. Happiness Requires Contribution. This means doing work that gives you fulfillment and satisfaction. Happy people make a difference! Most of us do our work through our jobs, but it can also come from volunteering or in some other way. You have talent and ability! Share it. Make a positive impact in your world. Contribute. It will make you happy.

4. Happiness Requires Fun. Happy people have fun! Whether it's playing catch, making love, watching a movie or flying a kite, we don't laugh as much as we could. We take our fun too seriously. Too often, we define "fun" as flying to Vegas or hosting an elaborate party. Why not grill hot-dogs and be done with it? Pillow fights are fun. Watching a sunset or washing the dog can be fun. I like Jimmy Buffet's observation that "having fun is about as good a hobby as there is."

5. Happiness Requires the X-Factor. We each find happiness in our own ways. For some, it's the excitement of discovery. Others are happiest climbing mountains. Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed his stamp collection.

Whatever makes you happy, do more of it.

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