“And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness …,” he noted, “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.” – Into the Wild, by John Krakauer
This passage in the book “Into To The Wild” inspired me to write a short reflection on happiness.
Many philosophers and scientists have struggled throughout the times to define “happiness”. For some, it is an emotional state that can’t really be described in words. For others, it is simply the result of complex interactions of genes and behaviors. Happiness is an important asset in life, one that even defines the quality of life. Some consider it to give meaning to life and to be a reason to exist. Regardless of the views, there is consensus that happiness is worth pursuing in the life of every individual.
But what is happiness all about? It can be argued that it is the role of neuroscience to tackle this question. But even in this case, a definition would be necessary.
A person who wins the lottery can certainly feel happy. But for how long would that be before the excitement dissolves and all gets back to normal? Same applies on cases where we hear some great news, or achieve something unique in life. A common factor is that the feeling of happiness is only temporary. This, then, raises the legitimate question of whether happiness can be thought of as inherently limited in time, or whether it can extend to longer periods. If the latter is possible, it will certainly lead to a much more fulfilling, enjoyable and satisfying experience.
In my view, real happiness cannot be the product of single life events but must be defined as a continuum of feelings and emotions. It is only in that continuous state of well-being that an individual can truly feel happy.
One way that can help reach this state of continuous happiness is to savor the little moments we get to enjoy from time to time. For example, it happens that, whether I am listening to my favorite melody, enjoying a great dish, or simply reading a nice article, I find myself naturally drawn to linger over the activity I’m doing, trying to prolong the enjoyment. Other instances where this can happen could be as simple as staring at a beautiful landscape, or listening to the sound of the sea waves as they hit the shore.
Another way is to be grateful for all that I have and all that is surrounding me. There are so many things that can go unnoticed in our daily lives and without which life can be a real struggle. Being thankful for what we have, and not falling in the trap of always wanting more and more, is in fact key to reaching a certain peace of mind, which is essential for any happiness to take place. It is interesting to realize the number of people who do not necessarily have the best social status, live in tough circumstances, and yet, when you speak and get to know more about them, you discover how happy they are.
A third element, or rather skill, that can help in reaching happiness is to be optimistic. By that I mean being genuinely optimistic, and not falling prey to blind optimism – one that focuses on the bright side without giving enough consideration to the dark sides and potential pitfalls. Genuine optimism fuels the individual with positive energy and improves the attitude towards managing problems. It helps overcome obstacles and makes goals easier to attain. It also gives a certain purpose and meaning to life, in that it promotes hope- a key ingredient to happiness.
Finally, in my view, and in accordance with the inspiring passage in the book, happiness can only be complete when shared, and one cannot reach it in isolation. If that happens, it would lead to a very selfish and somehow outrageous view on happiness, one that contradicts human nature. There is a lot of satisfaction to be found in sharing with others. Providing help, giving time to listen, showing empathy, are all things that benefit both the receiver and the giver. In fact, there is a great sense of joy that can emanate from spreading knowledge and helping people go through tough times. If money can help, it should also be an option. Giving, sharing, and showing empathy, are great means to achieving a deeper sense of self, one that interconnects the individual with the outer and larger world. Only then can one see life for its true meaning and incredible beauty.