Happiness is a Serious Problem

Over the winter break I read Happiness is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager. I forget who recommended it to me (will that person please stand up and take a bow), but it is a great read.

Prager begins by asserting that being happy is a moral obligation. He asks us to think about how we feel when our spouse, children and parents are happy: we feel happier. We want them to be happy, and they want us to be happy. It is our moral obligation to those we care about to increase their happiness, and not decrease it. Being happy ourselves is a keystone of that obligation. Somewhere in the book he reports on a study that an unhappy interaction reduces the other person's happiness by 7%, but a happy interaction increases it by 9%.

It turns out that my discussion of happiness and purpose (from August 2006) echoed Prager's chapter 20, "Meaning and Purpose". I had homed in on exactly the idea Prager wrote about in chapter 21 "Happiness is a by-product", where his footnote reads:
Ask parents today what they most want for their children, and the vast majority of them will tell you that they want their children to be happy. As well intentioned as this is, by making happiness the greatest value in their children's lives, these parents are, unfortunately, making it far harder for their children to be happy adults. Parents who want their children to be happy but who raise them to believe that some values are even higher than happiness are more likely to raise happy children.
The book is less trite than the title, or the themes I mention, might suggest. There are some ideas which are compelling, and not so hard to adopt, and there is no dodging the causes and depth of real unhappiness in the world, including in the lives of the materially comfortable.

Many of you may have read about the country of Bhutan and its measurement each year of Gross Domestic Happiness. In these current times of falling GDP and general economic malaise, thinking about our overall happiness rather than our overall wealth is no bad thing.

Have a happy week.

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