Friday, February 13, 2015

The secret of happiness

"What do happy people do differently?"

Our school's news and media relations department passes along a happiness query, in response to which I'm running this up the flagpole. Salute?
Q: I'm looking for experts in happiness, positive living, and psychology to contribute at least three answers to this question to be featured in a long-form article (the more unique the response, the better, and the more likely your answer will be featured in our story): What do happy people do differently? 
A: To your query about what happy people do differently, I think the philosopher Bertrand Russell put it best in his 1930 book The Conquest of Happiness:

“The secret of happiness is very simply this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.”

“The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things, or, if it is night, about nothing at all.” 

Also (a propos of Valentine's Day):
“Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.” 

But (a propos of every day, and of the hectic and noisy lives we live):
“A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live.”  

American philosopher William James also had a great deal to say about happiness, much of which I tried to convey in my book William James's "Springs of Delight" (Vanderbilt Press, 2000). In sum, he said happiness is the bonus result of deliberately attending to our own personal "springs (as in wellsprings, but also perhaps as in springboards) of delight." 

It's perfectly natural for humans occasionally to experience a dip in mood and zest for living ("a falling dead of the delight"), but this can be managed and even overcome if we'll just learn to take note of the small and habitual activities that regularly return us enthusiastically to ourselves and our lives with renewed enthusiasm. Different strokes for different folks, of course. In my case, a daily walk usually does the trick. Others find their delight in music or art or other reliably repeatable diversions. Each iteration is a kind of "moral holiday" that gives us temporary release from worry and propels us back to life.
But, as another old dead guy who thought a lot about how to be happy said: Que sais je? What do I know? 
Image result for montaigne on happiness 

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