Reality Check: The Happiness Benefit

Does happiness benefit happy people? Or is it the benefits that happy people have that cause their happiness? It’s the happiness version of the chicken and egg question; which comes first: the happiness or the benefits?
For example, a happy person likely has at least one close friend. Having friends can satisfy the need that we have for love and belonging. This satisfied need can inspire us to support, encourage and care deeply for our friends, which then reinforces the friendships.
Like a positive spiral, friendships contribute to happiness, which contributes to the strengths of our friendships, which further cements our happiness. It would seem that the happier we are, the more happiness we attract.
Practice being happy and you’ll be happier! Simple to say; perhaps not so simple to do. However, with information and determination, each of us can practise the activities that are associated with growing our happiness.
Some of the actions that can lead us in the direction of more happiness would include practicing gratitude. We can also choose to cultivate relationships that are important to us by using caring habits rather than destructive habits. We can be aware of the choices that we can make in the present rather than ruminating on past wrongs or mistakes.
Those actions are all possible to learn and to practise. We can be happier if we choose to follow happiness practices on a consistent basis. Even if they don’t bring us to a state of perfect happiness, actions of that ilk can certainly take us toward improved happiness.
However, just because we can take an action doesn’t mean we will. If you hesitate about embarking on a gung-ho pursuit of happiness for yourself, might it be because you wonder, “Is it selfish to want to be happy?”
The question of selfishness is an interesting one. For example, do you perceive that a happy person is less virtuous than a concerned person? Does wanting to be happy mark you as a shallow person?
We could reasonably conclude that from some of our cultural influences. If you pay attention to news, commentary, social media, or even gossip, you know that much of the communication that attempts to exert influence over us seems almost deliberately to attempt to ensure that we do not rest too happily or comfortably.
If you are happy, does that imply that you don’t care about the wrongs of the world, the suffering of others, or even the difficulties of our friends and neighbours? I think not.
So I was gratified to see the following observation from Barry Schwartz in his excellent book, “The Paradox of Choice.” He says, “…there is a growing body of evidence that people think more creatively and expansively when they’re happy than when they’re not.” He goes further to say that happy people are more physically active, energetic; and even have a longer life expectancy.
Those are all good reasons for pursuing happiness, but they could still be perceived as selfish. If it’s altruism that you need to convince yourself that taking action toward your own happiness is a worthy pursuit, then consider this, “Happy people are more likely than unhappy ones to change the world in positive ways.”
If what you want is to contribute to building a better world, then there is a place you can start. It’s with your own happiness.
Every one of us can choose to pursue anger, resentment, disappointment, contempt, and so many more negative feelings. We can let those emotions take over our lives, and feel very virtuous as we point out all that is wrong in the world.
Or each one of us could choose to work toward happiness.
And as we grow in our happiness, then perhaps we will also change the world in positive ways.

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