Some 2,000 years ago the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle famously stated that “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”. It’s one of favourite quotes of all time!
We might all agree that our purpose of life is not just to live, but to live well. So, if there is a desire to be happy and an ability to be happy how can we pursue happiness, our well-being for ourselves and others? Since the dawn of time philosophers have been pondering just that - what it means to be happy and how we can experience this sometimes elusive yet incredible feeling.
Socrates put forth that “the secret of happiness is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” Similarly, the 19th Century British philosopher John Stuart Mill shared that “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.”
While external rewards can spark joy, true happiness comes from the private internal success we can bestow upon ourselves by minimizing our needs and appreciating simple pleasures. In our current era of climate change and the need to reduce our impact on the environment, this motivation to live better with less may even create a sense of relief rather than deprivation.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhaur elaborated this internal context that “Happiness belongs to those who are sufficient unto themselves. For all external sources of happiness and pleasure, are by their very nature, highly uncertain, precarious, ephemeral and subject to chance.” His asceticism demands that our material pleasures are given up in the fight against the irrational blind will that drives human nature towards illogical desires.
While we all can probably agree this is true, how do we reframe our relationship to happiness and experience this state of contentment?
We can look at Eastern scholars for further elucidation. The Chinese philosopher Confucius encourages that “The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large.” Lao Tzu explained that “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
So you can see that when you focus on the present moment with a light of appreciation and receptivity to future possibilities you may experience happiness. It is through this perspective that we can begin to embrace our current state and identify with happiness. The Buddha claimed that “there is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.” Taking this wider perspective on happiness helps to broaden our understanding of happiness with a more inclusive belief.
We often apply labels to our life experience, judging whether something is positive or negative. What if we decided to just be happy instead of sad? The Greek philosopher Aeschylus affirmed this by stating “Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.” Though happiness is not always an easy choice, with repeated effort it can become your default state and you will start seeing happiness all around you as you become a happier person and spread joy to everyone around.
Afterall, “Happiness is not doing what you want but wanting what you do” – Jean-Paul Sartre.
So, go put on a smile with your favorite outfit and choose to be happy today!