Happiness – part one.

It seems everyone wants happiness. If you google “happiness” more the three million results pop up; and thousands of self-help books are written on the subject to help us be happy; thousands of products are sold with the promise of happiness. Yet, it seems only few people are truly happy over long periods of time. I see patients dying of terminal illnesses almost everyday. Sometimes I come across a patient that has been truly happy during their whole life, they are content and have no regrets about the situation they find themselves in. They almost seems to laugh in the face of fear , they breath with ease, are relaxed and feel at peace. They feel that they got all they need and done all they needed to do in this life ; they are ready for the next stage of their being, whatever that may be. Those that have never been happy for any length of time are usually more fearful, agitated and suffer from mental anguish; they are not ready to leave this world. They usually have regrets about the life they  lived; they made many wrong choices along the way. The question is, what are the right choices; so we do not make the same mistakes. This is the question I often ask myself and wonder if I am making the right choices in my life. I have looked at the self-help books, different religions, spoke to many spiritual people ,but never found a satisfactory answer. However, ancient philosophers may give us some insight as to what these right choices maybe.

Which Way Is The Right Choice

Happiness is commonly used word, most people use it to mean psychological happiness. Which is to say when our mental state is content or satisfied by getting what ever we want then we feel happy for that moment; or unhappy when our wants are denied , frustrated or unfulfilled for that moment. In this meaning of the happiness we can feel it in our bodies when we are happy or not; further more we are conscious of being happy or sad. So psychological happiness is a state of mind that is content and satisfied when all  desires and wishes are fulfilled, resulting in a feeling of happiness of which we are conscious. This kind of happiness never last for ever, it is dependent on whether our desires and wishes are fulfilled. The videos and the quotes I posted above are mostly dealing with this kind of happiness. It comes and goes fleetingly, dependent on our fulfillment of the desires.

Psychological Happiness

Is there a another kind of happiness, that is not psychological in kind and lasts for the whole lifetime? Aristotle and many other since the ancient times thought it so; that there is another kind of happiness. For Aristotle , “Happiness consisted in a complete life lived in accordance with virtue, and accompanied by a moderate possession of external goods”. When I first read this , I didn’t grasp the full wisdom of this simple statement. Notice he is talking about happiness in a complete life time as opposed to the temporary psychological happiness which may only last for very short time. This happiness is to be cultivated with passage of time , over ones whole life span. Only when life is over , can we say that it was a good life, that individual who lived it achieved happiness.One can compare it to a hockey game, we can only say a hockey game was a great game  once the game is over, until then we can only say the game is promising to be a great game.

Happiness Cultivated Over Life Time

How does Aristotle propose we cultivate this happiness? He makes the argument that we cultivate virtue – by which , he means one should cultivate all the perfections that human being should attain and  enrich ones life with only the real goods ( which are good for us) as opposed to merely apparent goods ( which can be bad for us). He actually puts it even stronger, he says we ought to cultivate these perfections and acquire these real goods even if we don’t want too. The real goods are those that fulfill our inherent human needs as opposed to just our acquired individual needs. We will talk about these goods more in the next half of this article which will be coming soon.


1. A Vision of the Future

By Mortimer J. Adler

2. Six Great Ideas

By Mortimer J. Adler

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  1. Sandra

     /  December 3, 2011

    Happiness . . . an interesting feeling – a most desired state of being . . . I remember as a small child always being in pursuit of happiness . . . always something outside of myself . . . to be caught and then held so tightly by me that it would not escape . . . like an illusive butterfly that lets you get close enough to almost catch it and with one “flick” of its wings . . . it’s gone . . . and you are on the chase again . . . I have had trauma and many challenges in my life . . . and “see” that these have made me who I am – molded and shaped me into this individual . . . taken that path less travelled . . . always looking (for more) . . . a friend once said a few years ago that “I was a seeker” and I was aghast and felt angry – because I thought “I know who I am, what I want” . . . but know I understand what she meant . . . I don’t want to settle for the “status quo” . . . I don’t want to just exist . . . and I am a “seeker” . . . a seeker of a life well lived . . . of one who is happy and shares that light and happiness and joy with those around me and in turn they with others . . . I believe (as many others do) that happiness is from within us – although I do agree that the “right external goods” can make this experience and state easier and possibly richer . . . I believe that the “practice” of “psychological happiness” is paramount. I have known people that are blessed in “just being happy” . . . and they are! . . . but my experience has been that most are just not “naturally happy”. If I am diligent in my practice of “loving myself, being grateful, counting my blessings, mindful meditation (however that happens to look at the moment) and doing those things that are good for my body and enrich my life (and soul) – then Happiness is my state of being! I think happiness is a “big picture” . . . not just a little picture. I have experienced the “fleeting happiness” – the highs so high it is pure bliss and then the lows so low you wonder can it be worse. I believe (and have experienced) that one must do their daily practice or rituals and be mindful of their psychological happiness (even when they are in that state of bliss and happiness – and you think you are “there”) . . . and the life journey to live in a state of happiness is attainable. Not that we won’t have those moments or times that one experiences as “unhappiness or sadness” . . . but all these experiences help to show us the way back. It is easy to go to the mountain and meditate and be in a state of bliss . . . of happiness . . . to go to an Ashram and not worry about living in the “outside” world . . . the “real” world . . . I believe that the beauty, the sweetness of life, is in living and bringing this state of bliss and happiness to this “reality” . . . in this “real world” where we must work and earn a living to support ourselves, care for our families and find time to nurture and care for ourselves. I believe that communicating and being in community with like-minded individuals assists each of us and enhances our personal journey and our journey together . . . to be happy, to bring happiness to ourselves in the here and now!
    Thank you Dr. Chana for creating this community of sharing . . .

    • Thank you for the wonderful comments, and taking the time to share them with us. I agree with all you say, psychological happiness is very important but underneath it all we need to cultivate ourselves by some of the daily practices you mentioned. In the second part we will see what the old man Aristotle has to say about it all. Thanks again.

  2. Hey, I just came across a very interesting fellow named Dan Siegel who is a psychiatrist in the US. He has very clear neuroanatomical explanations of emotions and how they can be affected. I tried to attach some of the Youtube lectures he has made…but perhaps you can have a listen to him yourself. He speaks of the effect of being mindful and aware, particularly having the mind aware of itself and how that rewires our brains – neuroplasticity being a part of this.
    Hope you find that interesting.

    • Yes he is very good, some new ideas with lot of MRI evidence. I recommended his book on the post ” Emotional Health and Happiness”. The book is called MINDSIGHT by Daniel J. Siegal. I will look at the youtube lecture and maybe post it on the blog. Thanks

  3. Wilma

     /  December 5, 2011

    I read a book a few years ago by Dr. Bernie Siegel “Love, Medicine and Miracles” – very interesting. Very anecdotal – talks about mind-body connection playing a big part in cure and healing from diseases.
    Also read a book by David Servan-Shreiber, M.D., PH.D. “Anticancer A new Way of Life”. He had brain cancer which went into remission after conventional treatment. He had a relapse and after that began to explore non-traditional and complementary approaches to prevention and treatment. A very good read.
    I look forward to “alternative” and “complementary” approaches in health care becoming mainstream and just as acceptable as modern western medicine for treatment to lead to not just prevention of disease but to promote health and wellness.
    Thanks Dr. Chana for creating this blog. I think I’m all caught up now. Look forward to further postings.

  4. sahar

     /  December 5, 2011

    I am looking for happiness for a long long time. lately just realized, all my life, I tried to make others happy, no matters how sad and unhappy I would be, all my life, I was looking for other’s approval for who I should be, I worked so hard at my job and no one ‘s recognized my hard work anymore, Now, is time for me to find who truly I want to be.
    I love this quote from Rumi, Iranian Poet.

    “You suppose you are the trouble
    But you are the cure
    You suppose that you are the lock on the door
    But you are the key that opens it
    It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
    You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
    Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.


    Quotes Rumi’s Books

    Dr.Chana, thank you again for this blog, each time I read your blog, I feel I need to do more soul searching, need to learn more and looking forward to read more.

    • Beautiful poem, thank you for sharing. I was hoping we all think about our live and then improve and cultivate ourselves if we need to.

  5. seaman7576

     /  January 2, 2012

    I agree with the the psychological frame of reference in understanding what happiness is: getting what we want.
    The Aristolean idea of working towards the “Perfections” I find personally unrealistic and can be, in turn, a source of much personal unhappiness. No human being alive has attained the “Perfections” – if they have I would like to meet them! If the “Perfections” are achievable why then do we have people who live monastic lives till they take their last breath? Why is there a need to adhere to a set of practises, be they buddhist, catholic, or whatever prescribed religious or secular methods, for the rest of ones life on this planet.
    The very essence of being human is that we will always want something (judged either ‘virtuous’ or “bad for us”), it our way of being in the world. How we address our humanity in realistic and respectful ways is the core of defining ‘happiness.’
    I am curious about your use of the injunction ‘should’ as it comes across as juridical and I wonder if it may not nurture a sense of personal responsibility and choice. I understand that because human beings do not always act out rersponsibly from their want driven nature that we need rules and laws to protect us from ourselves and each other.

    • Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. I don’t think Aristotle is claiming that one needs to achieve perfection to be happy only that one should strive towards it. In fact he say you don’t know if you lead a happy life until the end of life. What Aristotle is claiming is that we need certain goods to be happy, some of these goods are limited ( wealth for e.g.) and some are unlimited ( wisdom for e.g.) and we should strive to cultivate them => the more real good one has acquired in ones life time more likely he is to be happy ; he is saying “should” not in juridicial sense but he is saying it makes no sense to want something that is bad for you.
      I hope that clarified some of the issues.

  6. seaman7576

     /  January 2, 2012

    I thank you sincerely for the clarifications, they are most helpful.

    Aristotle’s recommendation that we “should” strive for perfection seems to imply that there is a problem with being human, with being imperfect. I do not understand how recommending ‘the striving for perfection’ is a solution to our basic imperfection. Taking a historical perspective, all striving for perfection seems to have not worked. One only has to examine history to see how increasingly unhappy we have become as a species. Even taking a contemporary perspective we can see the extent of unhappiness there is in the world today.

    It also seems to me that Aristotle has set himself up to decide what is good or not good for people which I have reservations about. The “goods that are unlimited” are of no use to someone who has an empty stomach. I was once told when I was a young man that “…principles don’t feed you…,” and I believe a starving human being would understand this.

    While it would make no sense to Aristotle to “…want something that is bad for you…,” I wonder has he made any effort to make sense or understand why people do “…want something that is bad for (them)?” I am particularly thinking of addicts in this regard.

    Again, sincere thanks for your response.

    • Aristotle doesn’t have any problem with humen imperfections, he does however believe that our appetites get carried away and we pursue wrong things, he also assumes that humens can improve thier lives with proper guidance, he also believe cultivating good character to lead a good life. In doing these things he is asking us to use our gift during our life time in reflective way. Don’t just get stuck on doing drugs, presuing pleasure, fame, money etc, because that by themselves is unlikely to lead to a fulfilled life and happiness. Another words don’t let your appetites or your greed dictate your life, be mindful about your choices in life.

      I agree and aristotle also agrees in his writings that you can’t persue happiness unless your basic needs are satisfied ( I also mention this in the articles), so YES the principles will not feed you. he also goes on to say that a completely virtuous man cannot be happy unless he has other goods as well.

      Aristotle would say drug addicts are unlikely to lead happy lives unless they make the effort to correct the appetite for the addiction. As to why some have appetite for addiction,he thought some are just born that way. Thats why he thought you cannot make people morally good they have to have inborn affinity for it. You can teach people to be morally good but it is difficulty to make them act morally.

      Hope this helps.

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