So many people confuse happiness with the fulfillment of pleasurable desires. This is fleeting and actually has little to do with happiness. Happiness is something much more substantial.
A happiness definition has more to do with a life well lived than a life fully enjoyed. There are many virtues that we will have to suffer to achieve and happiness is nothing more than a virtuous life lived till the end. Need fulfillment is vital. Fulfillment of the will is inconsequential.
When coming to terms with the actual versus perceived definition of happiness, we have to be honest with what we know to be true. Get what you want and you will simply want something else. Get what you need and you are satisfied. This is what we need to explore to understand how to truly be happy.
Table of Contents
Needs Versus Wants: The Key To Happiness
What is the difference between needs and wants? How is it that so many confuse them?
It is not an issue with intelligence that keeps many from understanding the difference. There is a deep misconception in our societies, especially in our media today that confuses the two. We are entertaining ourselves to death, and that entertainment is purposefully designed to keep us from seeing the reasons it is killing us.
Don’t be fooled. The purpose of entertainment and infotainment (the 24 hour news cycle) is to sell you something, not to help you live a happy and fulfilled life. You, your time, and family are a commodity to those producing our media. They use psychology, sociology, fear, and addiction to get into your pocketbook.
It’s nothing personal. Or is it?
For example, they sell you sex in every avenue possible, because it is good for your relationships and family life? No, we know why they do it. They don’t care how it deforms our understanding of the roles of men and women. They only want your money.
Men should protect women, not objectify them no matter their race, socio-economic status, or their genetic endowments.
The dehumanizing effects our entertainment pushes on us constantly disables our ability to see what we need, because of the bombardment of the things we can be led to want.
That’s intentional. That’s personal.
Satisfying The Desires Of Our Will Does Not Bring Happiness
In a consumer culture, we are taught by every outlet of electronic and print communication that pleasure is king and we all must bow. In their book Constructing the New Consumer Society researchers studied the effects of “a new consumerism” and its role in redefining happiness from its previously held definition for thousands of years.
They speak of “new codes of happiness” based on consuming products, culture, and entertainment. Happiness has become fulfilling our escapist dreams when stress confronts us. Hours and hours of escaping into video games not only takes our children, but many times fathers and even mothers.
Sacrifice and suffering to fight against the things that come against us is seen as absurd. “Me time” and “De-stressing” has taken the place of blowing it out on a heavy-bag and chasing our kids around the yard as the villain to their hero. Self development and improvement are only seen as a means to attain more stuff instead of an end in themselves.
Our will to seek pleasure instead of pain can lead us to lose out on some of the greatest accomplishments in life.
Happiness is standing on top of that mountain and screaming at the top of your lungs at the wind, rain and mountain itself that tried to stop you from reaching the summit. That is a need. Bettering ourselves and those around us, that fight, that struggle will bring us to happiness in the end.
Pleasure is dust in the wind.
Need Fulfillment Is The Only Real Path To Happiness
What is it that humans were designed to be? Are we here to exist and get all we can until our last breath? That goes for stuff, pleasure, and experiences. Most of us collect one of those things. Will that collection make us happy?
We all know the answer deep down. It is the thing that we fight against when we want to take something we didn’t earn, and the voice we silence when we want to step on someone else to get that next shiny, whatever it is. We are here for more than this.
What we need is to be who we are designed to be. There is a goal we all seek. Happiness embodies that goal. It is the light we see in the distance that keeps us moving forward.
What we need is a life we can be proud of, one that stands for something.
Even if that hill we planted our flag on is the last one we stand on, we will stand and fight for it to the last. Meaning is found in what we do. Action following being is a concept Aristotle told us about since the time of ancient Greece.
Say what you want, I know you by what you do.
Happiness is being. We need to be what we were designed to be. What is that design? Character.
The Role Good Character Plays In Fulfillment Of Our Needs
There is a certain level of misery that comes with every act of bad character. You see yourself in your actions in the same way others see you by them. We need to see ourselves as a contributing member of society, upholding our role in our families, and making the lives of others better.
When we neglect that role, we see ourselves as less and misery follows. Selfishness is a turning in on ourselves and looking to our own pleasure, whereas selflessness is akin to love. Love is willing the good of the other.
Many misunderstand love as a feeling. Love is being and action. There is no way you can show more love for another person than to sacrifice on their behalf. Where is pleasure in that? Nowhere.
The happiness that good character brings is something that suffering to the point of death can’t take from you. You know you fought the fight and every time you got knocked down, you stood back up and kept going.
Our kids need to see us get up, wipe off the blood and sweat, and move. Just move. They want to immolate you, you just have to be worthy of immolation.
Seeing your kid produce the same good character you strive to show. Now that is happiness.
Happiness Is Being What We Were Designed To Be
So what is that design specifically?
We are meant to be character filled followers of what is true and just. That sounds all well and good, but what does truth and justice mean?
Truth is the unchanging upholding of order. There is a term the ancient Greeks used called Logos. The word Logos has about five pages of meanings in a Greek to English dictionary. The definitions all center around one central theme. Order.
There is an order to how all things are that exist. If we strive to live according to that order, we are becoming part of the order and truly alive.
In quantum physics, there is a theory describing the chaos the fills any vaccuum where ‘nothing’ is said to exist. There are tiny random photons that pop in and out of existence constantly. This seemingly chaotic and random action is not disorder at all. From this seemingly random set of events comes patterns, boundaries, and limits.
In a study of black hole theory, scientists from the University of Pisa, Italy noted that order emerges gradually from the quantum theory of gravity. What looks like chaos to us on first analysis is actually an order above our understanding.
We are surrounded by order. It makes us who and what we are. This order calls us to be a certain way and therefore act a certain way. To break away from that order is to go against our very natures.
We are social animals, in a material world, with laws on how to be and act in each one of us, toward one another. It is written in our DNA and organized by our RNA. We are a character defined being.
Justice is following that design. Bowing to truth instead of our own will and our never ending search for escapism and pleasure is what true justice entails. Willing the good of the other is just. Love is just.
Happiness comes from owning that truth and following the logos that is in us and all that is around us.
Bad Character Is Only A Mask
We are nothing more than children hiding under our blanket from the sounds in the darkness when we deny our innermost yearning for a character filled existence. The blanket is not protection and nothing is truly hidden by it.
When we deny what we know to be true and go against courage, fortitude, love, truth, compassion, and faith we deny our very selves. That denial of the real self is the core definition of misery. This is the opposite of happiness.
Sacrifice is not misery. Done towards a purpose… it can be beautiful.
Sacrifice means striving and pushing against all that tells you to just give in and escape with this game or that possession. The next entertainment or drama filled bit of gossip will dull the pain that sacrifice brings.
Our plight is to sacrifice, to make ourselves better. Cutting laziness from our lives. That is pain. We have to treat others as if they matter, even if we don’t like them. That is also pain. We have to strive to be perfect even though that perfection will always be out of reach. Not giving yourself the excuse to quit is pain.
When life says no, you are not that person of character. You say yes. When someone knocks you down and tries to impose their will over your striving for perfection. You say no. You stand up, because your reason is bigger than their will.
Your why, is truth. Run from it, hide from it, lie to it, and you will get knocked out every day. Be, just be.
There is a why to our lives. If you deny it, it is still there. If you run from it, when you turn around it is still there. If you embrace it, everything changes.
Your decision to act is action. You have to decide to be better. You cannot hide behind indecision and excuses. It catches up with you.
One cold night, you will have the blanket pulled up under your chin. You will be willing yourself to sleep, but it won’t come. You will be haunted by the cowardice, the laziness, and the lies you told yourself.
It will only be you there, and in that moment the person you were supposed to be will not be fooled.
The Definition of Happiness Is Not Subjective
The ancient philosophers and their attentive students up through the middle ages all knew and told us what happiness entails. They warned us against fleeting fads and pleasure seeking. We didn’t listen.
Happiness is inseparable from the character we need to live upright and just lives. If we try to decide what will make us individually happy and ignore the wisdom that has stood the test of thousands of years, we will destroy our chance at finding it.
Those that hide their selfishness keep themselves from the remedy of the poison it put in their minds. Those that promote their greed hide in plain sight from the light that shines on it for all to see. We see them, then many ignore the greed and want their pleasures of life. That is a mistake.
We should learn from these people that flaunt their avarice and spite. Like a great teacher we can learn almost as much from the failings of others as from our own. There is no substitute for our own failures as we put ourselves out there and die to our old selves. But watch and learn from others as well.
Happiness Is Objective
If you were to honestly ask yourself “why” to many of the things we call goods, you usually could come up with a reason that motivates you to follow it.
- Why should we be kind?
- Why should we care for the less fortunate?
- What is the reason we need courage?
- What is the point in temperance and moderation?
All of these have reasons that we can point to that is not the thing itself. We don’t say kindness is the end in itself. We should show kindness because of love and compassion which are greater goods than kindness. We don’t say that about courage either. Courage serves many purposes. It is motivated by love of another, compassion, duty, honor, etc.
The one thing we cannot say has an end outside of itself, that doesn’t rely on external motivation is happiness.
Why do you want to be happy?
You want to be happy because happiness is the culmination of all the other goals. It is the summit of all other reasons and motivations. So, if that is true then is petting a puppy happiness? Or is that simple comfort and pleasure? What does petting a puppy have to do with becoming the person you are meant to be? Puppies are great. But puppies only fulfill a desire for comfort.
True happiness is the end in itself. True happiness is the character and virtue filled life lived without compromise to the end. When we are on our deathbeds, we will not wish we made more money or did more sky diving. We will wish we had more time for the people we loved, to give without expecting anything in return, and to do the good and right things that matter. It will be too late then, time will be up.
Happiness Is A Process
We are on a journey you and I. We are all headed in a direction that we have chosen. Freedom is always there no matter how small.
If we are in chains, we still have a choice of what we think.
On this journey we either choose happiness and a fulfilled life or a million forms of misery that leads to despair and depression. We get confirmation on the way, but it won’t be until the end that we know for sure whether our lives were happy or not.
I am not talking about pleasure and ease of living. The poorest of the poor can lead a much happier life than you or I if they won’t bend to compromising their character.
What this means is suffering, sacrifice, taking joy where it comes and accepting pain when necessary. This sort of life builds you into someone that can look darkness in the eye and not flinch when it roars.
Contentment can be had along the way, but that is not happiness. Elation is also attainable at times, and so is joy. But these are not happiness. They are fleeting and depend on our changing wills. The one thing that remains solid and that we can count on as our end goal is virtue.
Virtue will not change no matter how much we want it to. Though situations may be nuanced in how we apply it, virtue remains forever unchanged. It is our end, what we are to strive to be.
The striving is a tough and arduous path. Everything from the desires within us for the status quo to people around us wanting us to stop pushing because of how it critiques them, all of it stands between us and happiness.
To reach it we have to run the race and fight the fight no matter how many times we have to pick ourselves back up.
If Happiness Equals Good Character, Does That Mean It Can be Taught?
Absolutely it can be taught. It can be taught directly and indirectly through words and actions. We can lead by example, showing others what it looks like to be a happy man or woman of good character.
We can also teach our children and others what living according to the order all around us means. It is vital for ourselves, our families, and our societies.
If you want to know more about admirable character traits you can help give your kids, see my article here.
We can make small ripples that move out across the waters and touch one person after another as it spreads. Just imagine if each of those people then made ripples. One good action could affect the entire world.
It matters how your kids see you react to adversity. Do you punch the guy in the face repeatedly that assaults you or do you take him down and hold him until security of the police arrive? Do you go back and pay for the extra meal placed in your bag or the case of water the grocery store clerk didn’t see on the bottom of the cart? They are watching.
Even if you are alone, you know what you did. It will begin to build and you will become the type person that does those things, whether good or bad.
The small things matter. Men, hold the damn door open for women. Being a man means you don’t care if they want you to or not. It is what a man does. He takes care of women. Teach your sons to do the same. And if they resist, impose your will upon them until they do. Teach them to be men. But you have to be one first.
Teach them about hard work, by working hard yourself. Then expect them to follow you. If they don’t… consequences. Don’t accept a child not wanting to learn to fulfill their role.
Yes, character can be taught. In turn, you are teaching them how to truly be happy.
Happiness Is A Type Of Being
Though requiring children to do the things that good character demands is a good way to set the boundaries, it is not the whole plan. The main point of it all is being. Show them by word and action that you are willing to do the hard thing to uphold truth.
Here is an example of what I mean.
A father was working in his garden unbeknownst to his daughter who was playing with some friends nearby. He smiled occasionally at some of the topics they would discuss.
He noticed many of them were what the children considered ‘adult’ topics. Some were trying out the issues while others were trying to impress their friends with their ‘grown-up’ knowledge.
He was almost finished when he heard his daughter’s voice. What caught his attention was the curse word she used in describing something she pretended to be an expert about.
Now, he could have ignored it. She didn’t even know he heard what she had said. But that was not who he was.
He went inside and cleaned up, waiting for his daughter to come in. She bounced through the door with a sweet, “Hi Pa!”
At this point he could have just let it go, but who he was to her wouldn’t allow it.
Still facing the sink, he began, “Annie, do you remember when we took the train last summer to see your aunt?”
His tone made her stop in her tracks. This was ‘that’ voice. “Yes, Pa.”
“Remember when you were struggling to carry your luggage to the train?”
Annie nodded to his back.
“Do you remember when I came and took your bag for you, led you to the train, and loaded everything up so you could go find our seats?”
He turned around and faced his daughter, kneeled down, and looked her in the eyes. “Those words you said with your friends are like that suitcase. They are too heavy for you to carry. When you are older you can carry them on your own. I will hand them back to you then. But for now, I am going to carry them, do you understand?”
A tear rolled down here cheek. This was the man she respected most in the world and she had disappointed him. “Yes, pa. I’m sorry.”
She had an extra chore that evening and the whole thing was forgotten.
Why was he the man she most respected in the world. Because he was the kind of man that no matter how cute she was, or how good her “Hi, Pa” made him feel as her little curls bounced, he wasn’t going to let her stray from the path of virtue.
That was his job. It didn’t matter one bit that what he did made her sad. This wasn’t about him having his daughter like him, this was about her happiness. Sadness is not the opposite of happiness. Sadness is a passing emotion. Misery is the absence of happiness. Happiness is a state of being.
Being is everything. You have to be the person that does the good, and you will do it. If you are that person, happiness is that light that shines at the end of your path.
Children And Adults Are Able To Learn To “Be”
Being a person of good character is the most important thing in all of our lives. That is what being a mom is. That is what being a woman, a sister, a wife, a friend is. Good character is everything. Guard it with your life.
How can you change and be the person you were meant to be. Just turn around. Just turn around and do it now, not five seconds from now, now.
Stand up and fight your addictions.
Don’t escape from reality, meet it head on.
Be the role model your family and friends need, until it hurts.
Learn a language, learn to be healthy, pray, improve yourself.
Be Better. Be Happy.