Because It Makes Me Happy.

I was reading an autobiography from my bookshelf today wherein the subject, a well-known actress, stated that her main childhood aspiration was to be a happy adult.  As a child, she didn't tell people that she wanted to be defined by some occupation when she grew up, but rather, that she wanted to be happy.

It seems so foolishly simple: of course we'd want to be happy.  Yet everywhere we look around us, we see people who either outright ignore the goal of happiness (by choosing careers they hate, partners they don't respect) or who pursue it in dangerous ways (like drug abuse).  Most of us rarely follow our bliss, as Joseph Campbell might say. 

But why?  Is it guilt?  Do we think that, somehow, making ourselves happy should be wrong?  To put it in a spiritual sense, don't you think that God (or whatever you call your ultimate) intends all of us to be truly fulfilled and happy in life?  If not, why not?

I am not talking about selfish hedonism here.  I am not talking about Ayn Rand or do-it-yourself, damn-the-rest happiness.  I don't feel like the pursuit of happiness at the expense of compassion, generosity, and community is worth much in the long run for anyone.  What I mean is when people follow their bliss - while being mindful of what might be best for other people - people can inspire more joy and fulfillment in others.

If that sounds too vague or simplistic for you, consider this: can you recall a time when someone inspired you?  Perhaps a friend made a courageous life choice that caused you to reexamine your life choices and redirect your life in a positive way.  Perhaps a stranger did or experienced something extraordinary that caused you to rethink the very nature of joy.  I am convinced that happy people can beget more happy people, as long as those people are given the chance to be happy and don't feel like they're on the outside looking in, so to speak.

Certain things are supposed to make us happy, society says: our kids, our looks, our financial security, the toys we have.  While I certainly agree that children can make us feel deeply fulfilled, and I agree that one cannot be very happy in life without some level of security - however that might be defined - I think that our standards for happiness are different from what we might think.  (I remember the comedian Rita Rudner once giving a list about the things that sounded better than they really were; on the list were things like the beach, and hot buttered rum.)

I was talking with a friend this week about expectations; specifically, about how things that cost money are supposed to make us more happy.  My friend talked about how she had more fun just sharing a glass of wine and conversation with her husband on the back porch while the kids played than she did going out to a fancy dinner and paying a babysitter to watch the kids.  It's also the same feeling when you buy a nice pair of jeans for $40 vs. $80 vs. $1, and thinking about how much you could do with the extra money and the $1 jeans.

But I get a little awkward when I describe what really makes me happy.  I mean, why did I get married, procreate, and raise kids?  Because all three things made me happy, of course.  (Many children aren't conceived because their parents deliberately wanted to make a wonderful difference in the world.  Instead, the children were a byproduct of joy, so to speak.)  Was I supposed to give a different answer?

But what about other things, like homeschooling?  One of my "dirty little secrets" is that I wanted to homeschool because it makes me happy.  It makes me happy to see my kids constantly!  It makes me happy to put lesson plans together and watch my kids learn.  It's exciting!  We don't homeschool because we feel that, regrettably, we have to... we do it because it's awesome for us.

All in all, why wouldn't we do things out of happiness?  Can we do things out of a sense of duty, and still feel really happy about them (like volunteer work)?  We've only got one of these lives, so we'd better find some happiness in what we do.


  1. When you were away from Facebook, I posted a new favorite quote which is, "Happiness means so many different things to different people, which is why I think it is a scientifically useless concept." --Martin Seligman
    This sounds harsh at first, but he goes on to talk about things, like fulfillment, which bring us happiness. Instead of focusing so hard on the concept of "happiness" itself, focus on other things which in turn create the feeling of happiness in us. I really like this idea.

    ♥ Jenn

  2. This is a great quote! Thank you! Alan took a class at church about happiness, and now quotes Seligman all the time.

    However, I am inclined to believe that, to borrow from Tolstoy, all happy people are happy for the same reasons, and all unhappy people are happy for different reasons. When we feel secure, purpose-driven, and content, we are fulfilled, and thus, happy. What brings us to that place, of course, is what is different for everyone.

    I do agree that if we just do what makes us happy, rather than overthink this and always keep it at arm's length, that will make us happy. I know I spend/waste lots of time planning for the perfect time in which I'll be happy. But it's like Shel Silverstein's
    "The Giving Tree": we've got to make our happy.

  3. Love it!

    It's sad when you see those that are reaching for that silver's there, just out of their grasp and if they slowed and took stock of their surroundings, most would notice that what they've been tripping over, is a golden lining thats been at their feet the whole time.



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