The Pursuit of Happiness

A Commentary by James A. Graves, Jr.


I’ve just read a article by David Romanelli ( titled Happiness: 3 amazing tips from the world's oldest case study” reporting on an on-going 72 year old Harvard University study started in 1937.  The results were reported for the first time in the June 2009 issue of Atlantic Magazine.


According to the study, the three tips are:

1. “Have a Healthy Outlet”

2. “Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously” &

3. “Happiness Must be Shared“


Could it really be that simple? 

Could happiness be just three easy steps away?


I examined the steps a bit closer and realized that, at least for me; the conclusions are overly simplified - primarily because of the inherent facts of reality.


Taken one by one, I came to the following conclusions...


1. “Have a healthy outlet.”

Finding a diversion from work, escaping the everyday stress of life and chasing away personal demons are not easy tasks.  A healthy outlet suggests that relaxation should be good for you, like sports or other physical exercise, becoming involved in community affairs or volunteer work, or simply pursuing something that you enjoy. 

The rub comes when you discover that the few things that you enjoy pursuing aren’t necessarily that healthy, your family isn’t interested in doing them with you, the activities are too expensive, or trying to do them causes even more stress in your life. 

The only alternative is forcing yourself into a “healthy outlet” and I seriously doubt that is the path to happiness. 

So, I decided that “having a healthy outlet” isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds.


2. “Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously.”

Now this one is something to which I can relate.  This may be next to impossible for some, but I decided years ago that taking myself seriously was like calling a Three Stooges movie a tragedy.

But on the flip side of that, how do you deal with the serious side of your life and still not take yourself too seriously? 

Not everything is frivolous.  By dismissing a particular situation or event as a self-involved trivial moment, you might be ignoring something far more serious that will end up coming back to bite you.


3. “Happiness Must be Shared.”

While I must admit that family and friends are very important, it is possible, in my opinion, to be alone and be happy.  I am truly blessed to have my family and many close friends and I wouldn‘t trade that for anything.

However, it has also been my experience that the pain caused by the betrayal of a family member, or a friend, is very hard to overcome.  It took away from my happiness and, it seems to me, took away from the happiness that I could have shared.


For some - perhaps most people I suppose - turning to caring family and/or friends eases hurting. 

Oddly, at least, up to this point in my life, that brings me no comfort at all. 


Some say that time heals all wounds, but I could disagree with that, too.


I agree that happiness must be shared, but what about sadness? 

Sadness and psychological pain are part and parcel of life, so should pain be shared as well? 

And how do you share pain? 


I’m not that certain about how to spread happiness around, but sadness is a very personal issue for me and I do not have the desire to share it.  I’m afraid that too much of my sadness has unintentionally rubbed off at certain points in my life and that should not have occurred at all.  To me, intentionally sharing sadness seems a bit sadistic.  But at the same time, I know that keeping pain bottled up inside is not a good idea.


So, I’m quite uncertain about the whole sharing happiness thing.

The conclusion of the article suggests living in the moment. 

I’m uncertain about that philosophy as well, because I’m not that comfortable with living in the moment. 


Certainly, I’d like some moments to last forever.  And I’ve missed a lot of those moments by not paying attention, so I believe that paying attention to each moment is essential, but I’ll decide, as it occurs, if I want to live in that moment or not.  Some moments are better left un-lived and relegated to the past. 


However, I also treasure the past and I have no intention of letting it go. 


Living in the moment suggests ignoring the past and the future for the here and now, and while I agree with the philosophy; the past is gone and the future is promised to no one, so right now is all we have, I’m still compelled to remember the past and look to the future.  The past provides teaching opportunities. Hard lessons hopefully learned. And I must look to the future because, assuming that I have a future, I must prepare for it.  My life is not just about me.  I have a family to support and protect and the future plays into those responsibilities considerably.


Although, living in the moment has its possibilities; if I had no responsibilities, living in the moment could become a very carefree and enjoyable occupation.


So, could happiness be just three easy steps away?


Perhaps for some - and I’m happy (no pun intended) for those who are able to find joy that easily.  For the rest of us, it’s a bit more difficult.  Benjamin Franklin explained it nicely when he said, “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”


So, for me, the pursuit of happiness is the best that I can do. 

Although, I may be closer to catching it than I realize;

Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965) said, "Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory." 

While my health is tolerable (all things considered), I’m over—qualified on the bad memory requirement.


But, I think that Will Rogers said it best; “We are all here for a spell; get all the good laughs you can.”


Be well…



©2009 James A Graves, Jr.


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