The Value of Happiness

How happy you are is largely influenced by your values and expectations. People with extrinsic happiness values expect to find happiness outside of themselves in material objects like cars or houses, or something like praise, recognition or status. The people with the highest expectations are most often the most successful, but also have the most disappointments. Those with the lowest expectations have the least success, but fewer disappointments. Happiness involves taking a few risks, but they have to be carefully chosen.

An example of extrinsic values might be Elvis Presley, a man with a lot of talent, success and fame. He had everything except happiness because he expected to find happiness outside of himself. At the other end of the spectrum are children in many third world nations who would be happy to have dinner tonight and a safe, warm place to sleep. Tragically, they have learned not to hope for this most basic of expectations so they do not have to feel the helplessness of disappointment all over again.

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What is Happiness?

In our society, happiness is considered a birthright, and yet living in the most successful societies in the history of the world, happiness seems to be in short supply. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, more than six million people suffer from a depressive disorder every year. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. If materialism is connected to happiness, why is unhappiness so prevalent?

Thomas Jefferson wrote in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” The edit for the version we now use, “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was contributed by John Locke. Many people still believe that the pursuit of wealth and material gain is the primary cause of happiness. Sometimes it can feel like failure  to admit to not being happy, but many of us tolerate unhappiness in significant parts of our lives –  careers, relationships or simply wondering if there is “something more” to life.

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