I had lunch with my old friend and adventurer Brian O’Malley. Our conversation covered many different topics but kept circling back to the challenges of the times and the zeitgeist of our culture.
At the end of life Brian lamented about the irony of pursuing happiness. Aristotle held that happiness was a byproduct of a life lived well; that we weren’t entitled to it but rather earn it. It reminded me of the ’70’s poster that reminded, in the fluffy language of the day, that happiness was like a butterfly: if we chase it, it eludes us. But if we wait patiently, it lands gently on our shoulder.
I think the metaphor breaks down at the waiting patiently part which might suggest standing around like a tree while contemplating one’s navel. It isn’t as simple as that. But it sure isn’t about chasing happiness either.
Abe Lincoln famously said most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. It’s hard to improve on his pithiness, but perhaps most people are about as happy as the way they choose to live their lives. Some things make us happy–health, money, recognition–but the more important point is that some things make us worthy of happiness–creation, contribution and character being primary.