By Nicholas Pediaditakis, MD, DLFAPA
“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” said Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers in his immortal proclamation, heralding the independence of our country. Well, life and freedom one can understand but “happiness”? How do we pursue it? What is happiness anyway?
Our third President certainly had the resources to be happy; but, he never spelled out the details for us. So, how can we define happiness? The ancient Greeks had two words for it: “eutychia” (ευτυχία) and “euthemonia” (ευθιμονια). Both simply meant the state that follows after you have good luck. Also from Greek: Arete, meaning good attitude and level-headedness.
These words also don’t explain things enough, so, let’s contemplate on it a bit ourselves. We can define happiness as a state-of-mind, in thinking and feeling, which give us a sense of well-being, a sense of gladness. But, this state-of-mind depends on three factors, all of which have to be just right:
- Circumstances that agree with your temperament and attitude in life.
For instance, a good book in hand while under the shade of a lovely tree in the countryside watching the sun-drenched surroundings is in accord with a thoughtful and contemplative person. On the other hand, an avid hunter happily coming back from his excursion carrying dead pigeons or a small deer he just shot is neither thoughtful nor contemplative. And, then we have the leader by temperament, sitting happily at the head of a table dictating, ordering and directing people for future actions. While an athlete is happy out distancing his competitor in winning, so happiness is a state that can happen only when the circumstances match the attitude, temperament, and the life view of the now happy one.
- One needs to try to inventory oneself about their nature, “to know thyself” as the ancient Greeks used to say.
- One has to have energy and oomph enabling themselves to bring about the enjoyable and most-desirable moments. One has to have the will, determination, and energy to bring these circumstances around.
All of the above make up a formidable and complicated task. So, one has to be lucky enough to have available the means, circumstances, along with the drive, determination, and flexibility (so to be able to tolerate small setbacks )
It turns out that it is easier to know what happiness is not. For instance; neglecting your body because you don’t want to bother, or lack of mindfulness in lifestyle, eating habits, and exercise, or not creating networks of affection with those people that matter to you, and not being kind and helpful to your fellow humans. It’s easier, yet not helping one to bring about happiness at large. Let’s face it, happiness depends not only on good luck under your circumstances, but, diligence — an eagerness to work for it, determination, and optimism.
Lastly, let’s not forget in having also a philosophical attitude that “…the little lighted, beautiful candles” representing our days ahead are limited in their number and their line is finite. And by looking back from time to time, witness with a touch of shuddering “how quickly their long line lengthens, how the number of extinguished little candles are piling up” enabling you to contemplate matters of the eternity and immensity we all will enter soon enough. This keeps us clear minded as to what things matter and what things don’t.
Meanwhile, don’t forget we have to mind earning a living and the possible rocks — like death in the family, loss of a job and illness — that inevitably fall from heaven from time-to-time to us all. But the most important factors are attitude; such as unjustified expectations, i. e., a sense of being entitled for more, shaped by early childhood upbringing
Early circumstances, experience, and tutoring shape attitudes of the type and significance of the components that make one person happy. Here is an example from my personal experience: I still remember with excitement and joy the tasting a wonderful, thick, sweet substance previously unknown to me. It was a substance given to all of us school kids following the liberation of the starved Greece from Germany by our USA my new adopted country. I felt happy,in tasting it and excited wondering how such a wonderful substance could exist.
Later, I learned that this substance was — of all things — plain old peanut butter.
It was also back then that I, for the first time, encountered a statement that became a guideline of my life:
“I AM,” said the man to the universe.
“I KNOW,” The universe replied, “but, this fact doesn’t put me under any obligation.”
It is this statement, in its wisdom, relating to expectations and entitlement that can interfere with attaining happiness and joy of being alive.
Copyright © 2018 by Nicholas Pediaditakis, MD
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