Although some would have you think otherwise, the uniquely human pursuit of happiness is not merely some frivolous idle-time activity for the fortunate few. Far from it. Instead, it is a serious pursuit—a duty and responsibility for each of us.
As the progress—or lack thereof—of human evolution has demonstrated, being in a positive, optimistic, and happy frame of mind seems to be what allows some humans to be more successful than others in obtaining life’s essentials: food, shelter, social support, even a mate. So it has always been and so it continues today. And if you still doubt the seriousness of pursuing a happier life, consider your loved ones. Fulfilling the duty of being happy benefits not just yourself but also those closest to you.
Most of the benefits of living a happier life are familiar, yet they are powerful and seemingly endless—and they far outweigh the costs and work needed to achieve this state. Nonetheless, many in our societies often try to diminish the idea of simple, lasting happiness, instead extolling the thrill of peak pleasures and magnificent accomplishments. As a rejoinder to them and a reminder to us all, here is a consensus of what researchers around the world (including those cited in the Suggested Readings list in the Appendix) have proven to result from simply being happy, especially when compared to unhappy, sad or depressed people:
- Success. Overall, happy people are more successful across multiple major domains of life including work, social relationships, income, and health. In addition, the relationship between happiness and success seems to be reciprocal: not only can individual success—whether in love or at work—contribute to feelings of happiness, but happiness also results in more success. In this way, happiness becomes an even more worthwhile pursuit, both as a desirable end in and of itself and as a means to achieve other significant life goals.
- Personally. Happy people more frequently exhibit characteristics such as being strikingly energetic, decisive, and flexible. They are more creative, more helpful to those in need, more self-confident, more forgiving, more charitable, more sociable, and more loving. Compared to unhappy people, happier people are more trusting, more loving, and more responsive. They have greater self-control, can tolerate frustration better, are less likely to be abusive, are more lenient, and demonstrate enhanced coping skills.
- Socially. Happy people have more friends, richer social interactions, correspondingly stronger social support, and experience longer and more satisfying marriages.
- Work. In addition to bringing all their positive personal attributes to work, happy people have been proven to be more likely to perform better, achieve greater productivity and deliver a higher quality work product. They tend to receive a higher income as a result.
- Physical health. Happy people experience less pain, are often in better health, are more active with more energy and even, not surprisingly, live longer. They have lower stress levels and stronger immune systems that fight disease more effectively. By comparison, stressed and depressed people are more vulnerable to various illnesses.
- Mental health. Happy individuals construe daily situations and major life events in relatively more positive and more adaptive ways that seem to reinforce their happiness. They are also less likely to exaggerate any criticism, however slight, that they may receive, as opposed to unhappy individuals who react to life experiences in negative ways that only reinforce their unhappiness.
What’s at Stake
Take your pursuit of a happier and more fulfilling life seriously—it is a worthy goal especially in times of uncertainty and strife. Your success in striving to thrive is a precious gift that benefits not only yourself but also all those around you as well as the world at large—benefits that can’t be overestimated.
Trust and believe that you are worthy enough to prioritize and focus your time and energy on living a happier life. First and foremost, you owe it to yourself to try to be as happy as you can. You also owe it to those around you: your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends and acquaintances and coworkers and colleagues. If you question or doubt the seriousness of this pursuit or tend to trivialize the value of being happier, just ask any spouse or significant other what it’s like to live with an unhappy and unfulfilled partner. Ask a parent about the pain suffered by all if a child is unhappy. Or ask a child what it’s like to be raised by an unhappy, unfulfilled, angry, and bitter parent. Ask a supervisor what it’s like to try to work with unhappy, frustrated, and unmotivated employees. Then ask a worker about working for an unhappy manager. Or ask an unhappy and probably friendless acquaintance about the worthiness of happiness as a goal. Think carefully about the impact of choosing to live a happier life. Realize that because happiness has been demonstrated to be contagious, your individual happiness can affect not only you and those closest to you but also those living nearby. Individual happiness matters much more—and can have a much more extensive impact—than ever realized before.
Finally, recall your childhood: groups of young children playing together, exploring, curious about everything, giggling in wide-eyed wonderment. Compare that picture to a group of typical adults commuting in cars or trains or buses or subways: dull faces gazing unseeingly straight ahead, emotionless. What have they lost? When did they lose it? And can they get it back?
Remember that one day, you will be sitting on that proverbial rocking chair on some front porch or veranda, maybe overlooking the ocean, and a stranger will sit down beside you and politely ask: “So, what did you do in your life?”
What will you say?
The stakes are high.
The price of unhappiness is steep.
And life is short.