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Week 17 Questions for Know Thyself 2019: Happiness

(This post is part of a weekly series for Know Thyself 2019, a 365 day journal project. Start here!)

This Week’s Journal Topic: Happiness

person holding round smiling emoji board photo

Show me your happy face!

Do you want to be happy?

For all humans, the answer is an unambiguous Yes.  To be human is to seek happiness, wouldn’t you agree?

The desire for happiness simultaneously brings humanity together and tears us apart. Sure, we are all united in our desire to be happy. However, happiness means different things to different people and therefore, we’re divided in how we go about getting it!

Concepts of Happiness

Happiness as Pleasure: The Greek school for “happiness as pleasure” is called Hedonism.  Hedonism thought that pleasure was the ultimate human good. There were higher pleasures and lower pleasures.  A lower pleasure is a physical pleasure such as eating or sex. Higher pleasures were intellectual goods and virtues which had the effect on the possessor of increasing her other pleasures.  For example, the virtue of moderation allows a person to receive the most pleasure from her body – if you drink too much alcohol, you’ll get sick and become of poor health and overall decrease your ability for pleasure.

Happiness as Tranquility: The ancient Greeks had philosophical schools that thought that happiness is tranquility. To be tranquil is to be undisturbed in the soul, i.e. free from distress and worry.  Happiness is not an abundance of pleasurable emotions that bubble up as smiles and laughter; rather it is the ability to maintain calm in the face of difficult circumstances.

Happiness as Freedom: For some, happiness is characterized by choice, especially arbitrary choice. Eleni Zaude Gabre-Madhin writes: “Happiness is freedom of choice.  The freedom to choose where to live, what to do, what to buy, what to sell, from whom, to whom when and how.” The freedom to choose can be the greatest happiness for some people.

Happiness as Detachment: Stoics and Buddhists hold that true happiness is freedom from attachment to objects, emotions, concepts, and points-of-view, etc. Happiness requires what many would call “extreme” detachment, going so far as to deny an individual self.  By being detached – not getting worked up about circumstances, situations, other people, worrying about what you want to eat for lunch or which company you will work for, how much money you have, etc. – the Buddhists and Stoics believe you will achieve the utmost calm and inner peace.

Happiness as Purchasing Power:  Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase that money can’t buy happiness, and at certain times it rings truer than others.  A Princeton University study showed that earning more than $75,000 per year tends to lead to a self-evaluation of happiness; more than $74,000 doesn’t create more happiness, but earning less and less increases dissatisfaction.  Apparently, when buying power decreases below the $75,000 mark, at least some of us find less satisfaction in life. Whether the idea that happiness comes from owning things is superficial or short-sighted, many of us will agree to some extent that happiness is related to purchasing power.


Journal Questions:

  1. Do you agree that all humans want to be happy?
  2. What elements make up happiness for you personally? Describe what a happy life looks like, perhaps using the schools of thought described.
  3. Could you be happy in a life without intense smiles, laughter, excitement, or thrills? (Imagine a life of simple, tranquil, serene pleasures only)
  4. Why do some people seem to enjoy being unhappy and dissatisfied? Think of it this way: what are they getting out of being miserable?
  5. Imagine you are standing in front of two doors: Behind door A, you’ll have a life journey that could be pleasurable or not. Behind door B, you have guaranteed pleasure but absolutely no choices about what that pleasure will be. Would your happiness be having more choice or more pleasure?
  6. Can you imagine (as the Buddhists and Stoics do) that happiness comes to a person who denies the existence of his own “self”? If the “self” as an individual is non-existent, who is experiencing happiness?
  7. Can money buy happiness?

How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:

Don’t rush through the questions. Try to do only one question every morning, leaving space to add thoughts that might come up later during the day. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.

If you liked this week’s post, please like or comment! I appreciate the feedback and use it to choose future topics. If you want to see more posts like this one, let me know!

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