Happiness: The Number One Goal

best_thingsIn the past year I’ve read a score of scholarly articles, each one about Happiness (and written about it half a dozen times myself with varying degrees of success).

Yesterday, still another one popped up in the New York Times: Love People, Not Pleasure, by Arthur C. Brooks and for about a minute I began thinking, Yes! they figured it all out!  We can all press on!

But then, as usual, the writer wavered a bit and drifted off-target.  Not casting aspersions, I haven’t succeeded either.  As it turns out, this is an elusive target…because the closer you come to definitively pinning it down, the more elusive it becomes.  It’s possible that happiness can’t be viewed full-face…only peripherally. Here’s a link:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/opinion/sunday/arthur-c-brooks-love-people-not-pleasure.html?_r=0

The Point of  Brooks’ argument is that happiness isn’t the opposite of unhappiness, it’s a different animal completely.  His conclusion is based on a study that shows that the left cerebral cortex is more active when we’re happy…and the right cerebral cortex is more active when we’re unhappy.  Think about that for a moment and it doesn’t really prove very much.  Do you really care which half of your brain is making the happiness?  In the end, I believe the two halves are connected somewhere.

Putting that aside, he points out some studies which you might find interesting:  In 2004, a study was made involving 16,000 adult Americans.  The goal: to determine whether more sexual variety leads to greater well-being (happiness). The conclusion?  Across the board, for men and women the optimal number of romantic partners is……………one.  So, if you think you’re going to be happier dating your brains out or juggling two, three or more mates, guess again.

materialismThe other biggie and it’s probably the biggest trip-wire in America is…STUFF…materialism.  In 2009, researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study comparing intrinsic goals ( love, friendship, enduring relationships) versus extrinsic goals such as becoming famous, or acquiring money or  material objects.  The people who focused on fame and fortune were unhappier across the board, suffered more negative emotions such as shame, fear, low self-esteem and suffered more physical ailments.

One eye-opener for me occurred about a decade ago.  I’d just gotten the thumbs-up from the publisher for a book I’d written and was absolutely 1000% positive that suddenly the clouds would part, the birds would sing and my life would change.  I threw a party…invited a bunch of friends to celebrate.  At some point, I cleared my throat and clinked my wine glass to make an announcement.  Afterwards, I think someone said, “Hey that’s great,” and then a second later someone asked where that pot of warm goat cheese was hiding.  That was it.  A lightbulb lit and I learned an extremely important lesson.


happy-the-movieEarlier this year I wrote an article entitled simply, Happiness.  In it I suggested a little documentary by the same name.  If you missed it, it’s worth its weight in gold.  It’s worth 1000 times more happiness.  It’s both heartening and eye-opening, a difficult balance to achieve. Trailer: www.thehappymovie.com  Free on Netflix.

Sadness vs. Depression  The consensus seems to be that sadness and depression are maladies, some sort of illness requiring either a pill or some form of therapy.  Sometimes, when the dark feelings are overwhelming, that may be the case, but sometimes, sadness and even depression are appropriate.  When our pup, Oogie died, Pamela and I went dark…extremely dark from intense sadness.  Did it require a pill?  No, it did not.  Was it appropriate?  Highly.  Depression, however, is often a different animal.  I suffer from it occasionally…usually when I’m tired or feel overwhelmed.  My mind asks the question, “What’s the point of it all?” but another part of my mind says, ” Oh, it’s gonna be one of  those days.”  Like a squall coming in over the ocean, I try to batten-down and weather it.  For me, the solution is sleep.  Sleep and making myself scarce.

On a whim last night I googled: Famous People who suffer from Depression, figuring there’d be fifty or sixty or so.  Well, they went alphabetically, and they were up to about fifty without even getting out of the A’s.  There are a whole lot of us.

01-02 BBB Scootie doing what he does bestOne thing, and it’s not a pill that usually works for me, is a three-letter word.  No, it’s not sex, although, come to think of it, that works pretty well, too.  The three-letter word is DOG.   More specifically, my Boston terriers.  More than any shrink I could imagine, when I’m down, or when I’m not, Scootie, Gigi and Moose will ambush me.  Sometimes it’s when I’m reading in bed.  They just about yank the i-Pad out of my hand and start gooming my face, nibbling my toes and making stupid faces.  One will find an old sock and shake it in my face…It’s PLAY TIME, Dad! and then Moose flips over on his back.  I need a tummy scratch right now…Dad.  And Gigi is the most relentless of all.  I don’t know if it’s scent based but she knows when I’m down and for five minutes all I see is Gigi’s face point blank licking my face till I laugh.  She won’t stop till I laugh.  And it works.  Pound for pound, ounce for ounce, my pups bring me more happiness than any Maserati in the driveway or a new book published.   It’s no contest.  It’s a slam-dunk.

And so…in closing, if you’re feelin’ like life went kinda flat on you...take a look at that movie on Happiness, crawl in bed with your wife and play hide and go seek, go get yourself a nice bar of Bavarian chocolate…and then go to the pet store.  Better yet, go to the pound.  Come home with a mutt or a beagle or a dachshund, or a basset hound, etc. etc…or a Boston terrier and turn the page to happier times.  Life is good.  And when it isn’t…take a nap.  Below is our golf cart overflowing with Happy!

Pam and pups



P.S.  A little tip:  That little documentary entitled Happy is so good, Pam and I periodically go back and watch it…one more time.  When my car has hit one too many potholes, I take it in for a realignment.  When life throws you one-too-many sucker punches, boot up this documentary and realign your soul and your smile.



4 Responses to "Happiness: The Number One Goal"

  1. Richard Rex says:

    Henry, how on earth do you find time to write all this material? Interesting piece, ditto the video clip. Fortunately for me, as Margie will attest, I’ve never been afflicted by: 1. Depression, or; 2. Unhappiness … just an innate ability to look on the bright side.
    Dick R.

  2. Henry Harvey says:

    Editor’s note: Dick R. who’s commenting above is a friend. Unfortunately, he’s also a Brit and consequently predisposed to dark droll humor which he is wielding above.
    H H

  3. Henry:
    I read your suggested article by Arthur Brooks. I agree with you, but you left out a significant section where he addresses the large number of Facebook people who craft a perfect universe of themselves (often perfectly false or at best misleading) by cherry-picking facts and photos…then get depressed when they view their “friends” doing exactly the same thing. Has it come to that?
    Julie P.

  4. Henry Harvey says:

    Short answer? Yes, it’s come to that. Now we can all have hundreds upon hundreds of friends, most of them never meeting us or actually communicating with us. We just “like” them. The friendships are .0000001 microns thick and evaporate with a touch of a key stroke.

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