Are there some ingredients for happiness that stand the test of time? What does classical wisdom say and what have we experienced?
He was a father in his fifties, with a less flexible back than it should have been and his energies more just. And also more aware of the enormous happiness and responsibility it entails.
I think about the future and, like all parents, I wonder what am I going to leave him? If I used to recycle, now I recycle more and try to pollute less; If before I was concerned about the state of the river that passes close to home, now I look at it as if it were ours and I watch over the health of its waters; If before I tried to eat well, now I want to do better.
My daughter has caused these and other changes in my life and when I ask myself what I want for her, I respond like all parents: I want her to be happy. But it is easier said than procuring, because it is not just a material question.
How do you get a good life? That is the question that I am going to try to answer in this article, as a review of the things that I have learned and that I would like to pass on to you.
CHARACTER CAN BE CHANGED
The first is that you can be reasonably happy regardless of your character or way of being, although obviously an optimistic disposition makes things easier.
Simplifying, you can be one of those who seek the good or those who believe that we can only aspire to avoid evil and also have a good life, because the character, despite what the romantics of the nineteenth century and later were tired of repeating we have accepted as is, it is not destiny.
Character, or “humor”, as the classics called it, is something else, it is an inclination, who knows if it is innate, that we cannot avoid, although we can take it with the force of habit and reason.
Evolutionary psychology says that we have inherited from our ancestors a natural disposition to identify threats before benefits, the negative from the positive, something necessary for our survival when it depended on being extremely sensitive to dangers.
But even so, the malleability of the human being, his ability to adapt to any situation and overcome himself, is so great that it has allowed him to enjoy life in extreme situations.
The “character” is therefore not a straitjacket, but a starting point. And what we have to do, as Schopenhauer said, is to get the best out of our personality, our way of being, relying on the positive aspects it has, and not use it as an excuse for our lack of curiosity, indolence, courage or inability for the most varied.
HAPPINESS DOES NOT DEPEND ON ABUNDANCE
Nor is it an obstacle to being happy living in difficult conditions, as long as they do not exceed certain limits. If we listen to what some sociologists say, it could even be counterproductive to have too much.
This is what the studies carried out in recent decades say: ours is a time without obligations other than one’s own satisfaction, something that is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve (Gilles Lipovetsky); we are immodestly attentive to others’ signs of approval and admiration and we need them to be someone (Jean-Claude Kaufmann); we live in a society of buyers and we lead a life of shopping (Zygmunt Bauman).
According to Zygmunt Bauman, improvements in the standard of living of the most developed nations have not been associated with any improvement in people’s subjective well-being, rather the opposite.
This dissatisfaction is not something new, because the enlightened Alexis Tocqueville was already surprised in 1831, during his trip to the then young United States, by “the singular melancholy often shown by the inhabitants of democratic countries in the midst of abundance.”
A reluctance to live that does not exist, for example, in the smallest and poorest villages on the planet or in the most suburban neighborhoods, as anthropologists, sociologists, adventurers and journalists have observed so many times.
WHAT YOU DO AND HOW YOU DO IT: THE KEY TO THE GOOD LIFE
Therefore, a question remains in the air: if character is not decisive for having a good life and material conditions are not either, as long as you have enough to live, because misery is the greatest obstacle to personal fulfillment, is it? What is it then?
What we do and how we do it. It’s what I believe at this point in life after thinking about it a lot. And it’s what I hope to instill in my daughter. The art of living does not appeal to “be” in a certain way, but to act in a way that releases opportunities for improvement and joy in our lives.
For many, the art of living is something of greater importance: it is the art of giving meaning to the life of each one, something, without a doubt, important. I believe, however, that there is something prior that has equal or greater benefit: continually experiencing that we are alive.
The “meaning” is often a mere narrative of our lives that we tell ourselves and others; And in reality it is not very different from any other narrative: it is full of forgetfulness, exaggerations, mystifications or lies and only, in the end, it takes on all its value, when what is lived is much more than what is to be lived.
While the experience of life is something fleeting and repeated, I continue. A walk on the beach, an afternoon of chatting with friends, the hours spent doing a job that has demanded the best of us, a meal that has awakened sensations, the touch of a loved or desired skin.
All are moments in which the experience of life manifests itself and does not require any explanation. Just letting yourself be carried away by them to fill yourself with that unique feeling that is the joy of living, here and now.
MAY THE JOY OF LIVING MOVE YOU
Montaigne, a life that I admire, did nothing that was not moved by that strong feeling.
In his last days, the great French dilettante, far from leaving us a “transcendental” testament, although he lived through one of the most cruel and intolerant periods in the history of Europe, torn then by the wars of religion and by the plague that devastated the cities, wrote just this:
“I love life and cultivate it as it has pleased God to grant it to us. I would not wish that she were deprived of the need to drink and eat. nor that we sustain ourselves by just putting in our mouth a little of that drug with which Epimenides is used. Deprived of appetite and supported itself; neither that we stupidly produced children by fingers or heels. nor that the body was devoid of desire and excitement. I accept willingly, and gratefully, what nature makes of me, and I am happy and I congratulate myself.”
The art of living, seen this way, is closer to what Schopenhauer said: it is the art of conducting life in the most pleasant way possible. It is, therefore, a practical, positive art, and as such it can be learned and carried out. It does not appeal to “be” in a certain way, but to act in a way that releases opportunities for improvement and joy in our lives.
Or as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say, it is a way of acting, of flowing, that stimulates the “natural psychic defenses”, which are none other than empathy, creativity, a sense of justice, gratitude, forgiveness. Qualities, values, which, in the words of this psychologist, contribute to individual happiness and the proper functioning of society, because if something is contagious, it is precisely happiness.
But how do you get that status? For Csikszentmihalyi, it consists in always acting in a concentrated way, attentive to what is being done, stimulated by the challenge that lies ahead but not overwhelmed by it. Living and acting with the five senses in place and with the mind focused instead of dull by noise and dispersion, something essential in our overstimulated society and who knows if in the future.
It is simply a matter of doing things seriously and not haphazardly, however banal they may seem, because the quality of our life depends on the quality of our hours, as her grandmother continually repeated to the British primatologist Jane Goodall when she was small. And its same meaning also depends, I add, and so I will try to explain it to my daughter.
Perhaps to some it may seem a little baggage to fill a life and very poor as a philosophy of life. After all, someone proclaimed some years ago that we are all entitled to “five minutes of fame,” the form that transcendence has taken in our time. But if mindfulness has filled lives as rich as those of Csikszentmihalyi or Jane Goodall, what miracles can it work in ours?
THE RIGHT MEASURE OF HAPPINESS
For Montaigne, for example, the true masterpiece to which we can aspire is not to compose books (although his Essays have inspired people for several centuries), nor to win battles, achieve great wealth or be admired, for him “our great and glorious masterpiece is to live properly”, to achieve” order and tranquility in conduct. ”
And for Montaigne, as for some of the greatest sages of antiquity, only moderation can give us something like this: moderation in eating, sleeping, working. A moderation that before was called mediocrity, the “just measure”, although over time this term has lost its original meaning and has become loaded with pejorative dyes, so that no one claims it today.
However, the right measure is probably what we need most at this time that, even now that we are experiencing the greatest economic crisis that most of us can remember, continues to call us to excess more things to buy, more food to eat, more places to go. To go, more desires to bear, as if our time were incompatible with what Lao-Tzu called “the truth of the middle ground.”
We don’t have a thousand lives to fill, but one, and wasting it chasing or getting futilities is not something I want for my daughter or anyone else.
I will try to teach you how important it is to choose at all times, to free yourself from the absurd dominances of each moment and create your own space where you can walk leaving your mark.
Because perhaps, as Edmund says in the play King Lear by William Shakespeare, men are like the time in which we live, neither worse nor better. In bad times, we are all worse. And in the good ones it is easier to get the best out of us.
But I don’t think it is totally so. We are not puppets in the hands of circumstances. With each election we open a space and a time of our own, which, in the words of the sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann, makes us happier or brings us closer to that state.
APPRECIATE THE ABILITY TO BE HAPPY
Conclusion not very different from that reached many decades ago the way of happiness the French philosopher Emile Chartier, who signed his works as Alain: ” Appreciate fully happiness is a matter of action and know how to live. To the like strawberry has the taste of strawberry, life has the taste of happiness.” And I would like my daughter to appreciate that unique flavor.
Happiness is an art that is achieved with guidelines of good living. He says it and many of those who have sincerely been interested in that mystery that is happiness say it. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer called it eudomology and to him he dedicated numerous pages that have been published in Spanish grouped in various books: Aphorisms about the art of living, the art of knowing oneself or the art of being happy.
To achieve this, he proposes not to neglect the following aspects:
- Preserve the best attributes that nature has given us: health, vigor, beauty, temperament, intelligence.
- Get enough livelihoods to feel protected from adversity.
- Take into account what others think of us, but without letting self-esteem depend on them, but must arise from oneself.
THE 7 KEYS TO A HAPPY LIFE
In times of crisis like today, happiness may seem more elusive, but it is still within our grasp.
- Aristotle said that the best we can have is health, and after him there has been no wise man who has not corroborated it. To maintain it, the fundamental thing, according to Socrates, is to avoid the causes of the disease: “Nothing in excess.”
- Satisfaction. You can evoke the little satisfactions that you get throughout the day and see if there are reasons to seek other ones. In this way, as Seneca said, one is satisfied internally and with the goods that arise from oneself.
- Thanks. We cannot avoid emotions like sadness or anger. But it’s always happy to think about what life has given us, how much we owe to some people. and thank them for it.
- Share. Human beings need to give, love and share as much as we need to take, defend privacy and protect what we believe is ours.
- Choose. We often think, feel and act conditioned by points of view acquired almost without realizing it, without ever questioning them, which favors the repetition of certain misfortunes. Analyzing the things that annoy us or disturb us broadens the possibilities of choice, and each choice brings us closer to the life we want.
- Enjoy. Do not miss an opportunity to enjoy life, no matter how small, because in them is the flavor of life.
- Balance. Says the Tao-Te-Ching: “He who stands on tiptoe cannot keep his balance; he who walks with great strides will not go far; who is exhibited cannot stand out; whoever is being celebrated will go unnoticed; whoever exalts himself does not deserve praise; he who boasts is not lofty.”