A Set of Criteria, and an Implication
The Dali Lama teaches that the purpose of life is happiness.
The American founders declared that the pursuit of happiness
was an inalienable right.
Both are revolutionary ideas.
Understandably, the leaders of the American Revolution
found it unnecessary to specify exactly what they meant
Better that we, as individuals and society, find out for ourselves.
The subject of happiness has inspired anecdotal accounts,
reports, descriptions, and stories told and retold throughout
history. Although, admittedly, they are few compared to those
related to misfortune, grief, and tragedy.
Endless philosophical discussions, treatises, and more recently
scientific studies, polls, and questionnaires on the subject of
happiness are routinely developed, evaluated, and analyzed.
Subjective and objective attempts to qualify, quantify,
and generally reach a consensus as to the true nature of
happiness tend to be dismissed, maligned, marginalized,
misunderstood, accepted without qualification, or
relegated to the mystifying or the unattainable.
Given the desperate search for true happiness, world-around,
clichéd as the subject may be, I offer a set of criteria
for defining human happiness.
Here are three elements, taken collectively, that may describe
the state of true happiness.
1) Adaptability (the secret of life): the ability to adapt to one’s
immediate surroundings; to be flexible under a variety of
circumstances and situations; to adjust, without necessarily
2) Realizing individual potential: the ability to maximize
one’s intellectual, emotional, and physical capacities *
3) Knowing that you are fundamentally loved and appreciated
by family or friends; accepted by society
These three criteria for happiness: adaptability,
realizing individual potential, knowing that you are fundamentally
loved, easy to describe, are clearly outside the grasp of many,
and extremely difficult for most. **
When things in our life don’t work, when things fall apart
we become stressed, angry, disappointed, depressed.
The result is often loss of pleasure, joy, and
as time goes by, contentment or happiness.
Figuring out how to make things work
is essential for our success.
When we are able to satisfy enough of our needs and dreams,
pain and stress are diminished and contentment fills the void.
The implication is that humans are genetically predisposed
toward a state of contentment,
that most people are ‘hardwired’ to be happy.
Decades of research in child psychology have shown
that healthy babies are content until a basic need goes unsatisfied,
or when pain or discomfort intervenes.
We are born into an initial state of well-being.
Only later do we allow pain and stress to block
natural wellsprings of contentment and happiness.
* (Many believe that living a ‘meaningful’ life, one filled with ‘purpose’, is a requirement for happiness. I am one of them and suggest that meaning and purpose, due to their many individualized variants, fall naturally under the second category – Realizing Individual Potential.)
** (Sadly those who lack the requirements for basic survival, such as food, shelter, and safety are not in a position to consider long-term contentment.)