Who Is Happy?


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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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  • maturin20

    It's telling how hard happiness is to define, and how people in vastly different levels of objective health and prosperity can report the same amount of it.

  • KarshiKhanabad

    To regard every good fortune in life as a gift from G-d, to experience a blessed circumstance and then to look upward and say, "Thank you, Lord", that is a source of happiness.

  • noam streseman

    I have a happy disposition, but there is a big downer in my life. I believe there is an x-rated movie of me being shown secretly in campuses all over the world. I've run into disgust, hostility etc. On top of this, I believe a mafia gets into my house on a night basis, and uses drugs to harass and damage me and my parents. Nonetheless, part of the time I feel moderately cheerfull – the sky is blue, the woods are beckoning etc. My guess is that many Israelis feel happy some of the time, even though the shadow of nuclear annihilation looms. And despite Obama and the great prosperity collapse, some Americans feel happy.

  • Mike Swaney

    Dennis hit a home run there. The end is the best part. Ingrate used to be one of the worst things you could call someone. Now the word has been practically erased from our vocabulary. Most kids now don't even know what it means. We need to be thankful for all the things we have been given in this life even if it's not as much as others we know. Thanks Dennis.

  • Eric G

    "But high self-esteem contributes to unhappiness. People with high self-esteem rarely have close friends. First, almost no one is good enough for them."

    Maybe we use terms differently, but I would take "high self-esteem" as meaning truly confident and not needing validation. In this case, I would replace "high self esteem" with the term "narcissistic". Deep down, narcissists have a poor sense of self and a poor sense of boundaries; and they routinely rely on others to validate them, which is quite repellent.

    • stevefraser

      Excellent comment. Thanks.

  • Zena

    Wow, didn't expect to find this here. Very well said. Pardon the cliche, but hits that ol' nail right on the head. Thanks.

  • elaine n. smith

    True happiness, contentment and joy will come on Nov.6 2012 when the "duplititous one-in-chief " is not re-elected

  • mikehouar

    While I enjoy the general message of the article, I must strongly disagree with the concepts that high self esteem and high expectations are detriments to happiness. High self esteem, when tempered by real life experience and a focus on the higher values of life can only lead to making choices that include making high quality friends and choosing to be in high quality relationships. Likewise, goal setting and achievements that are self referencing can bring an incredible level of satisfaction and accomplishment to any person,

    • Texas Mom

      High self esteem correlates with high intelligence and narcissistic persons have low self-esteem – high self esteem does not mean conceited or self-centered.

  • Vermont Yid

    A cousin of mine once said, "Money can't buy hapiness, but it can rent it for a while."

    • maturin20

      How much did she charge you?

  • tarleton

    Gratitude is the secret of hapiness, or to be precise, a BYPRODUCT of gratitude …don't take my word for it , just try it !…every time you show gratitude there is a rush of joy…every morning I go through a ''check list '' of all my major organs and limbs resulting in a joy to be alive …if you have a ''god '' to show gratitude to , it makes it easier , but atheists can also show gratitude

  • tarleton

    we all have a civic duty to try and act happy and cheerful, even if we aren't …during WW2 the British cheerfulness helped win the war ….bad attitudes are like bad breath or body oder , not to be inflicted on others …it's anti social

  • JakeTobias

    I hope everyone forgives me for this…..but…. "I second that emotion…!"

    Very good column Mr. Prager. I use to take all kinds of meds for depression, anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. And even more. Which I no longer do, thanks to the "Attacking Anxiety And Depression" program. Perhaps some of you have seen the infomercials on TV. It works. Or at least, it sure worked for me. This program covers everything you have touched on in your column, and then some. I would recommend it to anyone dealing with these issues. I have always enjoyed your columns, and this is one of your best.

  • BS77

    Thanks Dennis. SHowing gratitude for what you have brings happiness…or at least some comfort. Helping others, sharing, working constructively, learning, singing, walking , hiking…..so many sources of contentment. Be grateful you can work, learn, sing, walk…..sometimes the very most essential things are taken for granted….but they are precious beyond measure.

  • kentatwater

    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.

    How true. The sort who threw spitballs at recitals as children, or fling tangentially derisive snide posts on forums such as this, as "adults," just demonstrate a deeply abiding dissatisfaction with one's self.

  • Motown Mike

    I've never liked the term "self esteem." I prefer "self acceptance." There's more than a difference in semantics.

  • Angel

    I do agree with this article, Happiness brings to every life's excitement. Happiness can be a good way to express your emotion to others or self.

    VZ 58

  • keblon pogi

    That's right Angel happiness cannot buy thats why I love to see this post..

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