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What’s Happiness Got To Do With It?

A couple months ago, I was having dinner with friends and we were discussing some issue or problem and I challenged my friend about the way he was looking at the issue by asking, “But does it make you happy?”

His response? “What’s happiness got to do with it?”

This post is my answer.

At different periods in history, humans have collectively contributed a body of art, philosophy, music, etc. that has forever changed the trajectory of the world by changing what we believe to be true and by harnessing the creative energy that drives humans. Plato, Socrates and the rest of all those smart Greek philosophers. Galileo. DaVinci, Michelangelo and the all the rest of those smart and influential Renaissance folk. Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare. In the last century, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali.

This is just a teeny-tiny handful of individuals who changed the world by changing how they—and now we—saw it.

They were brave and courageous, questioning conventional wisdom and choosing, instead, to explore and honor the integrity of their own minds.

As humans, we are at a crossroads. Scientists and world leaders predict doom if we do not stop global climate change. Political wars are robbing generations of people of their basic needs. Our choices now will determine what kind of world (or if) we have in the future.

According to this TedTalk with Jared Diamond, one of the key factors that caused the collapse of societies (e.g., the Vikings and the Mayans, among others) is the unwillingness of the elite leaders and decision makers, who are sheltered from the consequences of their decisions, to recognize that their society has a problem. In short, they are protected and unwilling to change their thinking.

Years ago a study came out that said happier people make better choices. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the damn article now.) For the record, when I talk about happiness, I’m talking about the kind of internal happiness outlined is this blog, not the pursuit of external pleasure. Check out this blog for a number of tips on pursuing happiness.

I see it as our duty to humanity to pursue happiness so that our thinking can evolve. This is at the root of social justice, is it not? If we help those less fortunate than ourselves, it is because we believe at the core that people deserve to be happy—and helping them have their basic needs (health, food, shelter) met is one step toward that.

I would argue that the lack of happiness is what leads to war. When people mistake power for happiness they go to war. When an entire population is having its freedom violated, when basic needs, which are the cornerstone of building happiness, are not met, people pursue whatever they think will fulfill those needs, and ultimately, make them happy. This is an oversimplification to be sure, but think about it.

Why do we have a global climate problem? In part, because people believe money and profit and accumulating stuff will make them happy and they aren’t willing to let that go.

The thinking that created the problems we face now is not the thinking that will solve them.

I say we need a thought revolution.

Are we willing to change our thinking? How can we harness our collective intelligence and creative energy to solve a problem that is bigger than all of us?

I have some ideas.

I believe we can learn a lot from the movement of positive psychology, and my hope is that it is the revolution in thought that we need to help get us out of the mess we are currently in. According to the positive psychology website, “Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.”

Thrive. Not self-combust.

If you want to hear more about how this movement has already made a difference in the world, here’s a great TedTalk on it with Martin Seligman.

So, what does this have to do with you and humanity as a whole?

Call me crazy (it’s ok, I can take it), but I believe that if we, as a species, pursue inner happiness we will change how we think, and therefore, change how we view problems so that we can arrive at better solutions. Who knows what we could come up with if we focused the collective energy of humankind on what’s going right and how can we do more of it.

What will you do today in the pursuit of your own inner happiness? What thought pattern gets you stuck—and are you willing to change it?

Change your thinking. Change your world.

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