Some people seek happiness by way of "The Twist." The author of this article has other ideas, developed in part since deciding to remove his family to Australia from Michigan in protest against such things as the government prescribing how much wheat he could grow on his own land to feed to his own chickens.
Who can be happy in this day and age with newspaper reports constantly shouting the threats of atomic warfare?
Many individuals blame their unhappiness on all sorts of sticks and stones. How often you must have heard remarks like this:
"I couldn’t pass the school test because my pen wouldn’t work."
"Who could be happy in this ramshackle old place?"
"This weather depresses me."
"How can I be cheerful without fashionable clothes to wear?"
This popular method of finding objects to blame for our misfortune reminds me of a sign in Parramatta, Australia: "A post never hits a car except in self-defense." What a clever way of calling attention to the self-responsibility of individual men and women for their deeds. The following adventure in thought begins with the assumption that happiness is an individual experience growing out of responsible action and the desire to learn.
Most everyone wants to live happily. Our sweat and toil is directed toward this goal. We always wish one another a "Happy New Year," and perhaps think how wonderful if each leaf of the calendar proclaimed, "Today is the best day of the year." Instead, reality makes us suspect that unpredictable circumstances have allotted us a double quota of trouble. And still, despite our worries, we desire to be happy.
Are you happy? This is an enigma to most of us. We are reluctant to admit that we don’t know; it seems we should. But happiness is an illusive shadow that changes and grows with the man. Uncertain whether happiness is a never-ending pursuit, or something to be found far in the distance, I have often half-jokingly commented: "I am writing a book, How To Be Happy Forever. Would you be willing to help me with it?" And the usual response: "I can’t help write the book, but I will buy the first copy." The admission generally is that we are quite uncertain what makes for happiness or else we regard the attainment of happiness as an impossibility. As one friend summed it up: "I’ll bet you won’t have much luck finding an answer."
Not in the Books
How can we be happy forever? It would seem logical to assume that thousands of famous and wise individuals have meditated upon happiness with keen introspection. By examining their revelations in the pages of history and adopting the best of their findings, we should become happy, too. The following fable reveals some of the foolishness found in all of us:
Long, long ago there lived a King who was very unhappy. One day he decided to find the happiest man in his kingdom and buy his shirt. The King believed if he wore the shirt of the happiest man, he would be happy, too. So the King’s soldiers searched far and wide for the happiest man. But no one would admit he was truly and completely happy. Just when the search was about to be called off, a happy man was found in a remote village. The King was notified, and he offered to buy the man’s shirt at any price. The happy man bowed graciously before the King and said, "I have no shirt."
The moral is clear. Hoping to find happiness by the mere reading of a book that knows all and tells all is a vain impossibility. Trying to buy happiness ends in frustration. If these gates to happiness are shut, what approaches remain open?
Self-improvement is a worthy consideration—the discovery and correction of our own errors. The opposite of error is truth. In seeking the truth, we may well find that happiness is the measure of abandonment of error. To aid in discovering fresh paths to the truth, there are useful guides. To those individuals striving earnestly to increase the happiness of their lives, I offer for consideration five worthy ideals. I believe happiness depends upon their constant review and expansion.
A Worthy Purpose
First, happiness depends upon adopting a worthy purpose in life.
As a young boy in school, I began to wonder what life was all about. First we are born, then through successive stages we grow up a little, go to school, reach maturity, get a job, in most instances get Married, have a family, struggle to raise the children, get old ourselves, and finally die.
All of this seemed humdrum—a mechanical routine without rhyme or reason—endlessly repeated by countless men and women through the ages. I searched for explanations: "Is it all necessary? Is there nothing more to look forward to? Does it make a speck of difference whether I’m good or bad, a success or a failure, happy or unhappy?" Without a reason for living, happiness could have no significance.
You may be sure my parents, teachers, and religious instructors told me what to believe. But there were conflicts of opinion among them. And I had doubts of my own, questions which no one could answer to my satisfaction. How could there be a beginning or an end to time, infinite space, or the creation of man and matter?
It took me a long time to discover that these things are "unknowable"—that they are beyond the reach of man. Man did not invent himself, the world, or the universe. There is a mysterious force that transcends the mind of man. Only by developing an intense desire to search for the truth in order to live in harmony with the laws of God’s nature have I found a purpose and meaning in the days of my life. Without this approach, I believe the search for happiness is a hopeless task. Unlike any other creature, man alone is endowed by the Creator with an unknowable mind to grapple with the invisible world and fingers to touch the visible material world.
When men fail to discover the spiritual nature of their lives, finding happiness becomes a search for amusement—wine, women, and song. Or else the search descends to the depths of despair and gloom, most vividly expressed by one of the translators of the Rnbaiyat of Omar Khayyam: "Since it is the fate of man upon this earth to feed his soul on sorrow, he must be accounted happy who departs swiftly from the world, but he most happy who never comes into the world."
Each thoughtful individual ultimately seeks an answer to the age-old question: "What is thought? Where does it come from?" The mystery in "the word" separates man from the beast. Each thought is born unknowably—an invisible miracle beyond comprehension. This recognition of the spiritual nature of my life has instilled a feeling of awe within me. Happiness requires an awareness of the unknowable. Gazing for the first time at the intricate design of a multicolored foxglove blossom, a visitor from the city exclaimed, "And some people say there is no God!" Dazzled by the material wonders of science, it is very difficult to become aware of the obvious spiritual nature of happiness in our lives.
A Creative Outlook
Second, happiness depends upon the cultivation and development of a creative outlook on life.
One of my acquaintances said he had a question I couldn’t answer: "Is fire good or bad?" The first conclusion most of us would reach is that fire is both good and bad. However, a thoughtful man will discover that fire itself is neither good nor bad since it is incapable of moral choice. Moral choice is an attribute of individuals. Fire can be used by men creatively for good purposes and destructively for bad purposes.
Arsenic, pins, ropes, electricity, you name it—no object exists which cannot be used either to build or to destroy. The same can be said of such intangibles as laws, thought, and energy. Each individual has the free will to direct his talents into creative or destructive acts.
Happiness eludes the individual who uses his talents destructively. A law of nature cannot be broken with impunity. No one can be forced to be happy. This simple lesson has eluded the father who bemoans his family’s ingratitude: "I’ve done everything to make my children happy, and I can’t understand why they don’t appreciate it." This parent has done everything except recognize that the happiness of each individual depends upon engaging in and fulfilling some useful productive task. Delegating this part of life to someone else would be like hiring someone to eat for you.
Pleasant friendships and harmonious marriages which provide so much of our happiness don’t just happen—they require the best of our efforts. The kindness and love we extend toward others or receive ourselves must of necessity be creative in nature. Fear, hatred, misery are the only dividends that accrue from destructive actions. Cursing people’s ignorance and exposing their evil deeds occurs so frequently because destructive actions are easy. Any oaf can light the fuse of a bomb. Men devoted to the idea of upgrading themselves by creative effort are conscious of the necessity of opposing the destructive actions of misguided men. There is no argument on what to do when a rattlesnake threatens a child. Force used in defense of life, liberty, and property is justifiable when no other choice exists.
However, there is scarcely an individual on this earth who has not committed some destructive act. So what can be done about it? Shall all of us fight with each other? Or is there a better way to solve the problem? No sensible mother would shoot her baby for spilling the milk. The maxim, "Use your head before your hands," emphasizes the value and wisdom of intellectual action. Happiness is the result of our personal growth—the measure of our success in self-improvement. The development of a creative outlook upon life is a propeller that cuts the air without leaving a scar, lifting us to new heights of happiness.
A Daily Struggle
Third, happiness depends upon recognizing the value of a daily struggle.
In my opinion, the greatest single cause of unhappiness in the world is socialistic government contrivances promising gifts pleasantly labeled as benefits, security, subsidies, programs, compensations, endowments, and human rights. These are but the reflections of men seeking to remove the struggle from their lives. A government cannot give gifts unless the taxpayers have the choice of refusing to pay taxes. By definition a gift must be voluntary. A cow in a pasture and milked daily is in the same position as an individual enjoying the blessings of government "gifts."
Suppose that getting something-for-nothing were a possibility. Have you ever observed what happens when wishes come true by the roll of the dice? A farmer in Michigan inherited a farm, debt free—and lost it by indifferent management. Easy come, easy go. What isn’t earned, isn’t happiness. The next owner of the farm went heavily into debt—and paid off the mortgage and built a new home. In your judgment, which man lived a happier life? Recently an Australian family won a large sum of money through a lottery. Did they live happily ever after? Indeed not. The money attracted kidnapers and they lost their son.
Each of us is familiar with the remark, "All I need is money to be happy." A child thinks, "All I need is toys to be happy." But the fulfillment of these wishes never has the fairy tale ending, "And they lived happily ever after." Unlike adults, children are quick to abandon their toys and start making mud pies of their own.
The pursuit of happiness is not attained by success, fame, long life alone. The native Hawaiian language has no word for "weather." Nature reduced the hazards of Hawaii‘s weather. The struggle was missing and the natives found the weather problem not worth wasting words upon.
The value of life lies in responsibility for self. And the acknowledgement of responsibility is acknowledgement of life’s struggle. Many a young bride has been brought to tears when life’s challenge has been removed for her by a kind mother-in-law who baked the pies, sewed the buttons on, and cleaned the house. Elderly couples glancing backward through the years of their life consider those years happiest when the struggle of raising a family and paying for a home were the greatest. In His infinite wisdom, the Creator gave man life and a struggle for existence. One’s enjoyment of a peanut lies in the work of chewing it. Happiness is the invisible by-product that comes from man’s contest with nature from morning to evening, from planting to harvest, from beginning to end. Without a struggle, life is like a bicycle that was manufactured but never scratched or pedaled.
Fourth, happiness depends upon man’s right to own property.
Happiness is twice mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, most notably in this instance: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men… are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Some thoughtful men, who hold liberty in high esteem, think the Declaration should have been phrased, "life, liberty, and property" instead.
A discourse on the pursuit of happiness would appear to be more properly a subject for philosophers. Why did hardheaded, two-fisted men fighting for the right to own property insert the subject of happiness into so solemn a document as the Declaration of Independence? The right to own property and the pursuit of happiness are stuck together with waterproof glue. Happiness depends upon the pleasure of roasting frankfurters, enjoying a cold watermelon on a hot summer day, purchasing a gay hat, learning to ride a bicycle, listening to musical recordings, growing a garden of flowers, or any one of a multitude of things we strive to achieve—all of which involve the ownership of objects.
None of us could be happy without the right to own what we earn. Even the most zealous socialist could not sustain his life without owning food, clothing, and shelter—except as a slave. The right to own property is indeed an indispensable condition to the pursuit of happiness. Socialistic dreamers proclaim: "The purpose of life is to serve the state—the government." But they are wrong. What is government? Is it a big capitol building or a stack of law books? It is neither. Government is men in possession of force.
Has slavery been abolished when one man serves another against his free will and without wages? The socialistic purpose of life is slavery. Modern socialists have become sly. They know that progressive slavery by taxation for the common good is easier to accomplish because the force is hidden from view. Socialistic schemes which deprive the individual of the right to own property destroy one of man’s basic sources of enjoyment. I believe the authors of the Declaration of Independence understood there could be no happiness without the ownership of property—there could only be slavery.
Fifth, happiness depends upon liberty.
If happiness were merely an attitude of the mind or an inner contentment, as is commonly believed, it would be possible to reach the pinnacle of happiness in a slave labor camp by declaring with blind faith, "I am going to be happy!" Apparently there is more to a happy life than just that. A recent visitor from India criticized my unfailing belief in liberty as a condition of happiness by saying, "Many people exist in this world who have never known the freedom of Western civilization. People do not miss liberty if they grew up without it."
This is a widespread belief which deserves thoughtful explanation. Turning to my visitor I said, "Let us imagine a man living in a country whose citizens had the least amount of freedom in the whole world. Suppose this man wanted to plant a potato, or feed his hen some wheat, or visit a friend, or go to church, or read a newspaper, or fulfill any one of a hundred desires that make life worth living. And suppose someone with government authority forbid him to do so. Do you really believe this man would be truly happy?" My visitor grudgingly agreed that happiness under these conditions was unlikely.
Even the liberty to make mistakes—to burn our fingers—is important. It provides us with the opportunity to gather wisdom and education in the school of life that is unobtainable in any other way. A sense of humor—the reflection of happiness—often stems from the liberty to make silly mistakes. Smiles and laughter are noticeably absent from an enslaved people. Some men erringly think they will find happiness in controlling and planning the lives of others. But where is the person who finds happiness in being controlled? That is a question socialists evade.
What is the most effective way to make people unhappy? Observe the commonly approved methods of punishment. Children who misbehave are usually deprived of certain liberties and privileges by their parents and teachers. Auto drivers charged with infractions of traffic rules dread the loss of their driver’s license more than they do the money fines. Criminals in jail are secure in food, clothing, and shelter. Only liberty is missing. Therefore, if loss of liberty is unhappiness, it follows that liberty is an indispensable condition of happiness.
The Creator endowed each of us with life and the free will to choose our own pursuit of happiness. But search as one will, he will never find the right to control the lives of other men that wasn’t based on the idea of force—a punch in the nose and a gun in the ribs.
A Personal Problem
I do not know how to make you happy forever; neither do you know how to make me happy forever. This is not merely an admission of ignorance. This is the essence of liberty and a guide to happiness. It is a realization that we can make people unhappy by interfering with their lives. Not guilty, you say! Have you ever had the urge to reform someone, thinking you know all the answers to happiness? What makes you so sure you are right? Can you honestly say that anyone has ruined your enjoyment of life by trying to force their ideas of happiness upon you?
I heard an excellent salesman advise, "Keep Smiling!" Is this good or bad advice? What if I don’t feel like smiling? A dozen occasions come to mind when smiling would be in bad taste. "Minding your own business" is the hardest business to learn and practice. If it were an accepted concept, there would be no laws regulating agriculture, prices, wages, and so on through the gamut of moral, individual decisions which lie within the concepts of the Decalogue. The Creator designed us without using the same pattern twice. Discovering "why" we are different is unknowable; but knowing that we are different is a valuable fragment of truth. Each person has his own pattern for happiness, too. To think otherwise is to pass judgment on the Creator. If you still believe "keep smiling" is good advice, there is nothing to prevent your giving a smile, and you will receive with each giving. Forcing your ideas on others will only make you a tyrant and make others unhappy.
Happiness is not the exclusive possession of the young or the old, the strong or the handicapped, the beautiful or the homely. Your own observation will verify that happy people exist with all combinations of these natural endowments. The happiness we find in life is a measure of our wisdom, and keeps pace with every advance in self-improvement. To me, happiness comes in satisfaction with the course of life I have been following at the moment. Unhappiness is the poverty of men who lack true purpose in their lives.