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After 25 years of lecturing on happiness, writing a book on the subject (“Happiness Is a Serious Problem”) and devoting an hour of my radio show every week for the last 13 years to happiness, here are some conclusions about who is happy.
People who control themselves.
Happiness is dependent on self-discipline. We are the biggest obstacles to our own happiness. It is much easier to do battle with society and with others than to fight our own nature.
People who are given little and earn what they have.
That is why lottery winners are rarely happier than those who have far less money — they didn’t earn their newfound wealth. And they are often less happy after their win than they were before it.
So, too, those who get used to receiving unearned material benefits (such as government entitlements) are likely to be unhappier than they were before receiving those benefits — and much less happy than those who have earned whatever they have. That is why the entrepreneur who has worked day and night for years is usually happier than the person who inherited vast wealth.
People who do not see themselves or their group as victims.
Virtually every person can legitimately see himself as a victim — of an unloving upbringing; of bullies in school; of a loveless, or just plain bad, marriage; of financial problems; of membership in a victim group; of health problems; and of so much else. But however valid the fact of one’s victimhood, perceiving oneself primarily as victim is the road to misery.
If the primary conclusion you have reached after years of therapy is that you are a victim, you really are a victim — of lousy therapy.
The post-’60s labeling as victims of virtually everyone except WASP males (blacks, women and Hispanics, etc.) has exponentially increased unhappiness in America.
People who rarely complain.
Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainer’s day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get. Want to raise children who will be happy adults? Teach them not to whine.
People who have close friends.
Close friends not only prolong people’s lives; but on a day-to-day basis they contribute more to most adults’ happiness than even their children do.
From their teenage years on, children are considerably more capable of causing parents unhappiness than bringing them happiness. That is one reason parents who rely on their children for happiness make both their children and themselves miserable.
People who are in a good marriage.
A good marriage — having a real partner in life — is so contributive to happiness that it is almost enough. Almost.
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