Happy new year. But what is happiness?

Enjoy this excerpt.

The excerpt

This is a good a time to go over some theories of happiness.

The gurus believe they have the answers. They conduct studies, asking brilliant questions such as: “Are you happy? (a) most of the time, (b) some of the time, or (c) leave me alone, you should only have my problems.” They conclude something like Calcutta’s inhabitants are 14% happier than Budapest’s. Here are the common threads I’ve noticed. Read on if you are less happy than you’d like to be. If you are happy you obviously already know the answers.

Money? Uh-huh. Money brings a temporary high. They talk of lottery winners who felt great initially but actually were soon gloomy as they could not adjust to their new wealth. I suppose if you had a chat with a lottery winner you would hear him say, “Ah, those days before winning the fifteen million dollars in SuperLotto—we had a huge mortgage, the finance company owned the Camry, and we could not afford Charlie’s braces—those were the good old days.”

So if it’s not money, then love? Love makes the world go around. King Solomon had one thousand wives. Was he happy? Who knows? He went around saying, “Everything is vanity.” I’m not so sure. With one thousand wives at least you no longer have to waste time with online dating services.

Is happiness having the right job? Like a professional athlete? Athletes have both fame and fortune. Alas, how often you see them in misery. We see baseball players sitting in their dugouts, utterly dejected as their team is down 9-0 in the eighth inning. Pay me ten million dollars U.S. a year and I’ll find a way to smile at the camera. Many of us would be thrilled just to get a good seat to watch the game. And here is a guy who gets to see the game for free from ground level, and he’s not happy. What gives?

What about professionals? Certainly not the happiest. My dentist always reminds me that dentists have one of the highest suicide rates. I suppose the rate spikes for dentists living in Budapest.

And being a lawyer, I can certainly confirm that many of my colleague legal beagles do not explode with ecstasy after the judge in the case they spent three years preparing for says, “I don’t believe a word your client says. I’m surprised you ever took on this frivolous file. Case is dismissed.”

Could the answer be religion? The crusaders certainly thought so. Thousands came from Europe, dressed in smart tunics bearing embroidered red crosses, to the Holy Land expecting to make the infidels happier by imposing Christianity. It didn’t make anyone happier, except maybe the tailors.

The problem with religion is that there are no guarantees to getting what you pray for. You hear people say, “If I win that lottery, I’ll be good. I’ll give half of it to charity.” And what happens if they don’t win? They question the existence of a higher being and feel miserable. This is when love can kick in. Your partner can utter those comforting words, “Money isn’t everything.” You get philosophical and you feel happier, right? Wrong. You’ll likely say, “Why did that unemployed janitor from Quebec win the fifteen million dollars? I deserve it more.”

Which brings us to the philosophical angle: attitude. Be positive. The glass is half full, not half empty. I actually did this experiment. I filled up a glass of water 50%. I then muttered, “This glass is half full.” You know what? It did not make me feel any better.

The gurus also preach gratitude. Be grateful for good health. I find that works, for a while. I took my temperature and it was 36.5 Celsius. I said to myself, “Hey, my temperature is normal.” That experiment really lifted my spirits.

I decided to maintain the momentum. I filled that glass to the brim and said, “Hey, now the glass is 100% full.” That didn’t exactly make me a paragon of ecstasy.

The studies then drop the big downer. What if the propensity for happiness is mostly genetic? Maybe those guys in Calcutta have more happy genes than the residents of Budapest. In that case, are we stuck at the level of happiness we are preprogrammed to have? Get me a drink.

End of excerpt.

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