Recently I thought of a chain of events in my life that I first considered unfortunate, though eventually they led to better results than I ever imagined. This got me thinking of “happiness,” and how wrong our ideas about it can be.
A few years ago I saw one of those lists of “10 factors for happiness” that both confirmed popular hunches (good health is factor #1) and contained surprises (children or no children makes no statistical difference in life satisfaction surveys). Searching Google for “10 factors of happiness” led to 32 million hits.
I didn’t find the one I was after, but many of those I scanned were interesting. None pretended to guarantee a sense of wellbeing – there are too many intangibles, such as personal outlook. We’ve probably all known healthy, well to do, miserable people, as well as those who find satisfaction in overcoming adversity.
I am also attuned to Buddha’s warning, that any sense of wellbeing that depends on outside conditions is subject to change because those conditions are subject to change. I view these lists not as suggestions on where to look for the ultimate good, but as factors that can improve our odds of feeling satisfied much of the time. The list I found most interesting gave five conditions for happiness according to Carl Jung.
- Good physical and mental health.
- Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
- The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
- Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
- A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.
I was especially interested to read “satisfactory work” in item #4, as “settling” for “satisfactory” work (rather than following my bliss) was the life choice I referred to at the start of this post. From what I’ve observed, following bliss is a slow, long term process, filled with trial and error, because most of us don’t know our bliss till we stumble over it in the dark – but that is a topic for another day.
In the Psychology Today article I’m quoting from, Jung observed that “No matter how ideal your situation may be, it does not necessarily guarantee happiness.” He also suggested that chasing happiness doesn’t work. I agree in part. I think happiness is a by product of other actions rather than something we can grasp directly, but I know from personal experience that numerous actions and attitudes can improve or worsen my odds. For instance, I find it helpful to limit TV news viewing to the PBS Newshour two or three times a week, and sometimes even that is too much. Dwelling on bad news we cannot change doesn’t appear on anyone’s happiness list.
Perhaps the best advice I received on happiness came from a high school English teacher, one the most important mentors I’ve had in this life. His was a one item list: “I think life is satisfying only when we’re committed to something greater than ourselves.” In the decades since then, I’ve found lots of elaborations, but nothing superior to that as a way to orient my inner compass.
What do you think? What works for you or makes your glass half full and occasionally running over?