As we wrap up 2010 and look toward all the new things that will come around in 2011, I’d like to offer a goal for the coming year: happiness.
Pursuing happiness might seem frivolous, or selfish, or distracting, but there’s a good argument for it being the single most important thing to seek in life. Happiness is more important than beauty, because what use is it to be beautiful but miserable? For the same reasons happiness can be seen as more important than wealth, success, recognition, and pleasure. To put it another way, it doesn’t much matter what we have or which of our wishes are fulfilled if our possessions and fulfilled wishes don’t make us happy … since in that case what good are these things?
Even health is arguably less important than happiness, since living a long, miserable life appears to be less rewarding than living a short, happy life.
To take a pot shot at my own argument, though, it’s true that sometimes our possessions, abilities, and advantages can be used for other people’s benefit. For instance, money can be used to buy food, clothing, a home, and better education for children. This same argument can be widened to the question of helping others in general, and to compassion: surely it’s not good to be happy if happiness makes others miserable or prevents us from helping others?
However, I would point out that in most cases happiness makes us more able to reach out, improves our influence on others’ moods (see “How Other People’s Happiness Affects Our Own“), and provides a means to improve our willpower (see “Willpower as Caring About Lasting Happiness“). It’s also true that doing good works for others is one of the most powerful ways to make ourselves happy, as shown in numerous studies. For example, in one study it was found that people were better able to increase their happiness by spending money on someone else than by spending the same amount of money on themselves.
So compassion and helping others may or may not be more important than happiness, but since they tend to go hand in hand with happiness, it’s not particularly important to choose between helping and happiness.
With all of that in mind, why not make happiness your number one priority in 2011? I don’t necessarily mean pleasure or fun (see “The difference between pleasure and happiness“), but true happiness: satisfaction and joy with your actions and choices and life.
Or to put it another way: have a very, very happy New Year!
photo by Dawn Ashley