Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Happiness Is A Serious Problem, Dennis Prager


An alternate title for this excellent book would be "Wisdom About Happiness".  I'm not wired to be a particularly happy person, nor am I wired to be a thin person -- so I do the best I can to play the hand I have been dealt. While neither diet books nor happiness books are likely to make me thin or happy, they help me understand my wiring and predilections so that I can possibly be a bit wiser, and compensate where possible.

Nearly anything written by Prager seems to at least border on excellent and this book is no exception. It walks through a lot of the many  misconceptions on happiness. I'll put a few more quotes in than I usually would, since this book is chocked full of short, well-written and to the point statements.
Everything worthwhile in life is attained through hard work. Happiness is not an exception. 
But not working AT happiness -- and especially not at YOUR happiness. As you look back on life, you will almost certainly realize that you were most happy when you were enmeshed in some "cause" or "project". In my case, the big development projects at IBM and raising kids were the largest examples. Hopefully writing will continue to develop into another.
But the purpose of life is not to avoid pain. That is the purpose of an animal’s life.
Many of our problems and even false desires about happiness are due to forgetting that man is not an animal. If we were, the rich, successful, beautiful, etc would actually BE the most happy -- but we see examples all the time in which this is not the case. Animals don't know human happiness -- they know relaxation, satiation, pleasure, etc -- all of which humans feel as well. A simple definition of hell for humans is mistaking the pursuit of animal pleasures with happiness -- addiction, obsession, disaster are terms associated with these, certainly not happiness!
whatever brings the most happiness can also bring the greatest unhappiness.
Ask a parent who has lost a child, or just has a child that has returned the love and care of the parent with disrespect and derision. Ask the loving spouse whose life partner has died. We know this to be true -- one whole chapter, chapter 25 is titled "Everything has a price -- Know what it is!". How much wiser (and happier!) the world would be if just a tiny extra percentage of our fellow man understood this simple truth!
The problem in our time is that maturity is not high on the list of goals we offer the next generation. We stress happiness, success, and intelligence but not maturity. And that is too bad, both for society, which suffers when too many of its members are immature, and for the individual who wants to be happy. For happiness is not available to the immature. And one of the prominent characteristics of immaturity is seeing oneself primarily as a victim.
"Maturity", defined as "wisdom, self control, perspective, having a philosophy of life (or even having a clue what philosophy is!)" When "maturity" is defined to mean some combination of the terms I listed (and I believe that to be his intent), then the quote above is true.

The "sage" can be "happy" in the sense that they have access to and make use of many of the "secrets" of this book, but when they live in a culture that often glorifies sensation, immaturity, mixing ends with means, substitution of animal senses for human wisdom / maturity / development, they are going to feel regret for the rest of humanity.
Yes, there is a “secret to happiness”—and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person.
The problem with the "secret" to happiness is expectations. We don't feel happiness when expectations are met, we feel happiness when they are exceeded, and our human nature is to expect A LOT! Our culture, media and education system is all about telling us of our "rights" and how much we ALL "deserve" this and that. We are each so VERY special and deserving!! Our expectations are sky high -- for products, events, teams, friends, spouses -- EVERYTHING!

Grateful? To who or what? The order of the day is entitlement -- and nobody is ever grateful for what they are entitled to! So modern western man is saddled with the greatest unhappiness in world history -- gravely wounded soldiers in terrible wars have been grateful to be alive, modern man is often distraught and grossly unhappy if their Facebook "Friends" fail to put a "like" on their new rainbow profile picture!

There is a lot more in the book -- Prager does a characteristically insightful and compassionate discussion of medications and being wired toward depression.
If we are, in fact, “built” this way, we no longer have to blame ourselves or loved ones for our unhappiness. There is something worse than depression—blaming it on yourself or a loved one.
For those of us with such wiring, this is possibly the most important day to day advice -- because the depressive wiring comes with self-blame as a "feature". How strange that even the modern "progressive" would likely agree with Prager on this relative to depression, but find it TOTALLY WRONG for someone with say a tendency to homosexuality to seek to understand and control that "wiring".  Does the depressive, alcoholic, or even narcissist NOT have some sort of a responsibility to be "true" to themselves and "authentic"? Consistency remains a non-sequitur for the "progressive".

I highly recommend the book even if you are a very happy person. It is an excellent broad-brush skim of some of the more important, but often forgotten today, wisdom for a meaningful human life.

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