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May 5, 2008
We Can Be Happy;
History Says It’s Up to Us
Since the beginning of time, man has been concerned with how to achieve
happiness. Philosophers, theologians and, later, psychologists have all
tried to provide the answers.
the Fourth Century B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristippus told us that
the key to happiness was to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. He
called his approach to happiness “Hedonism,” the Greek word for
pleasure. Decades later, Epicurus went even further and said it was
man’s moral obligation to maximize his experience of pleasure.
Socrates took a different tact. He believed happiness is achieved
through the pursuit of virtue and knowledge (aretē and epistemē in
Greek). Continuing in this vein, Aristotle wrote that man can only be
happy when he identifies his virtues, cultivates them and lives in
accordance with them. The idea is that we should develop what is best
within us, and then apply our talents and skills to the betterment of
others and our world. Socrates and Aristotle’s approach to happiness is
known as “Eudaimonia,” loosely translated from Greek to mean happiness.
the other side of the world, Confucius taught us that all men have the
power to transform their lives: A good life is possible for everyone,
not just the privileged in society. And then like Aristotle, Mencius
believed that true joy in our lives is possible when we nurture “our
sprouts of virtue.” Zhangzi then shifted the focus to the importance of
intuition, and away from the mind. He taught the power of the Dao, and
how happiness comes from living in harmony with nature. Buddha then
introduced “the way of the eightfold path.” Buddha taught that the key
to a good life was found in controlling your mind – that peace and
happiness could be attained through a meditative life.
Many more have spoken and written about happiness through the centuries.
Marcus Aurelius said, “Remember this, that very little is needed to make
a happy life.” The renaissance philosophers Erasmus and Thomas Moore
believed that it was God’s desire that man be happy, as long as the
means taken to achieve happiness were not superficial. Benjamin Franklin
wrote, “Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of the mind
than on the outward circumstances.” German philosopher Immanuel Kant
said, “Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make
ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.”
William James, the father of modern-day psychology believed, “How to
gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness is in fact for most men at
all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing
to endure.” Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote that we must satisfy our
hierarchy of human needs before true happiness – self-actualization – is
achieved. And psychologist Viktor Frankl emphasized man’s search for
meaning: Our happiness is reliant on our ability to live a life full of
meaning and purpose.
Throughout recorded history it is clear that man has contemplated and
pursued happiness. And the great philosophers, theologians and
psychologists have helped us realize that happiness is achievable for
all of us.
Whenever I needed to meet a challenge or pursue a goal when I was
growing up, my grandfather used to tell me to say, “I can. I will.” His
guidance is relevant to all of us.
can be happy. We will be happy. History says it’s up to us.
David J. Pollay. Distributed by North Star Writers Group. May not be
republished without permission.
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