Who Is Happy?


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People who act happy.

A fundamental rule of life is that the deed shapes feelings more than feelings shape deeds. We feel what we act. Act loving, and you’ll feel loving. Act happy, and you’ll feel happy, or at least much happier than if you don’t act happy. The notion that acting happy when we don’t feel happy is “inauthentic” is foolish.

People who aren’t envious.

No matter how little or how much one has, envy destroys happiness. We naturally envy those who have more money or a nicer home, and those we think have better kids, better spouses or better jobs. But the fact is that we almost never know the pain and suffering of anyone we envy. As a wise woman said to me when I was in high school, “The only happy people I know are people I don’t know well.”

The next time you envy another person’s life, just remember that you don’t know anything about their inner demons, their childhood, their battles with life. Even friends often know little about their friends’ marital problems. The unhappy think that those who walk around with a happy disposition have had less pain than they. They’re almost always wrong.

People who don’t have high self-esteem.

Low self-esteem doesn’t contribute to happiness, and some self-esteem can add to one’s happiness. 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. Second, such people are usually insufferable, and while they attract sycophants, they repel friends. Self-respect, not self-esteem, should be the goal.

People who have few expectations.

The more we expect, the less happy we will be — because the more we expect, the less grateful we are for what we receive. And ingratitude is the mother of unhappiness.

People who are grateful.

Gratitude is the mother of happiness.

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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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