Happiness is only achievable when it is a by-product of something else….” – Dennis Prager

 In my continuing effort to fully enjoy every last drop of my summer, I have occasionally featured some “guest writers” for this column over the past two months — both to give myself a break and, more importantly, to let you hear other voices with important things to teach us about how to live a fulfilling, prosperous life. 

In my role as The Practical Prosperity Coach ©, I have helped more than 150 clients thus far manifest a specific something that they ardently desire to have, usually in 30 days or less.  These Intentions run the gamut of almost anything you could imagine – a new kitchen, a large amount of cash, a matching set of dishware, a specific number of clients, a new romantic partner, a specific number of signed contracts, a new house, a new car, a new career, etc. etc. etc. 

The only thing that all these heart-felt dreams have in common is that the people pursuing them apparently feel that having these things will make them happier.  And isn’t being HAPPY the number one goal of human beings?  But how do you know when you have achieved happiness anyway?  How do you gain happiness and, more importantly, how do you keep it in the face of the major curve balls that Life will inevitably throw at you from time to time? 

The respected author and host of The Dennis Prager Show on L.A.’s KABC radio is a philosopher who has done a lot of deep thinking about these questions and has become something of a self-made expert on the subject of happiness.  Because it is such an important – and largely unexamined — topic in our society today, I am devoting this blog and the next to providing you with just one chapter from Prager’s great paperback called Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual. 

I chose this particular chapter because it provides a good reminder that although external things — and even people — can make our lives richer and much more pleasurable, they are not the source of our happiness.  And in fact, if we truly want to experience happiness, we cannot make it our actual goal at all. 

I hope you enjoy this excerpt and that it inspires you to go out and get this very helpful and entertaining little book for yourself…. Or just wait to cross paths with my husband, who is one of the happiest people I know. Whenever Rick runs across someone who seems to be unhappy, he has been known to give a copy away to a stranger.

Happiness is a Serious Problem: Chapter 21 – Happiness Is a By-product

By Dennis Prager 

As important as happiness is, if you make it your most important value, you cannot attain it.  Happiness is only achievable when it is a by-product of something else, and you must hold that something to be more important than happiness.* Moreover, it is impossible to fool yourself.  You cannot, for example, say, “In order to be happy I will value x more than happiness,” while in your heart continuing to value happiness more. 

[*Author’s footnote: Ask parents today what they most want for their children, and the vast majority of them will tell you that they want their children to be happy.  As well-intentioned as this is, by making happiness the greatest value in their children’s lives, these parents are, unfortunately, making it harder for their children to be happy adults.  Parents who want their children to be happy but who raise them to believe that some values are even higher than happiness are more likely to raise happy children.] 

I offer six values that are widely held to be more important than happiness – and that therefore bring people much of it.

Passionate and Meaningful Pursuits 

The first and perhaps the most obvious sources of happiness are those pursuits for which people feel a great passion and that give people’s lives meaning.  The number of such pursuits is almost infinite – from studying insects to a career in baseball to comforting the dying. 

Because of the power of passionate and meaningful pursuits to bring us happiness, it is essential to help children develop as many passions as possible.  The more passions we have – whether for people, things, work, hobbies or something else – the greater happiness we are likely to experience.  But again, we cannot fool ourselves.  Having a passion for something is not enough.  It must have intrinsic value and meaning.  Thus a person may have a passion for watching television, but watching television in great amounts is neither intrinsically valuable nor meaningful, and it is therefore not conducive to happiness.

I rarely cite studies, believing that they usually either find what common sense and human experience already know or whatever the study-maker wanted to find, but regarding the relationship between happiness and television watching, I have seen studies that have opened my eyes.  These studies found that after a certain amount of television watching on any given day, people actually became less happy.  Now one might counter that after a certain amount of time doing any one thing, one will become less happy.  But this is not true.  Take, for example, something as esoteric and uninteresting to most of us as studying insects.  Because such study, unlike television watching, can be both intrinsically valuable and meaningful, a person who loves studying insect life will not become more unhappy after a certain amount of time studying insects.  Six hours a day (the average amount of time spent watching television in an American home) devoted to studying insects can actually increase the happiness of a person – because it leads to growth and knowledge. 

To cite another example, although a career in sports can bring a person happiness – thanks to the person’s love of the sport, deep interaction with others in the game, and the mental, physical, and emotional challenges of the sport – merely being a sports fan (i.e., watching sports) after a certain amount of hours does not bring a person happiness.  Watching sports is a source of fun but rarely a source of meaning to fans.  One proof is the vast amount of gambling on sports among fans.  Gambling gives watching sports a meaning that it otherwise lacks.  On the other hand, watching sports can be meaningful to those involved in management, player development, and sports writing. 

Depth 

A second example of a goal that yields happiness as a by-product is depth.  At the present time, depth (along with maturity) is almost never cited or even considered when people – especially young people – think about what they wish to achieve.  Ask most people, “How important is being deep to you?” and you are likely to receive a puzzled response, “What do you mean?” 

The subject of becoming a deeper person deserves its own book, so I will offer only a brief definition and a few examples.  Perhaps the best way to understand depth is to think of growth: we become deeper when we struggle to grow – emotionally, morally, psychologically, intellectually, and in wisdom.  Note, please, that struggle is part of depth.  Very little that is acquired easily is deep. 

However, human nature once again works against us.  Human nature motivates us to seek immediate pleasure, not depth.  Yet those who transcend their nature and seek depth will derive great happiness from that struggle. 

Who is likely to be intellectually deeper (and happier) – the person who devotes most evenings to reading good books, taking courses, and studying a foreign language or a musical instrument or the one who devotes most evenings to watching television?

Who is likely to be emotionally deeper – the person who commits to a relationship, marries, and raises children or the single person who goes from relationship to relationship? 

Who is likely to be psychologically deeper – the person who devotes time and effort to learning about herself/himself or the one who rarely looks within? 

Examples apply to every area of life.  Even fun can be deepened.  You can relax with hours of card playing or by involving yourself with interests that make demands on you, such as taking an adult education course.  You can enjoy “easy listening” music, or you can make the effort to enjoy deeper music such as classical music.  You can watch movies that just entertain or watch movies that provoke thought as well as entertain.  You can read pop novels that just entertain or read novels that make intellectual and emotional demands as well as entertain. 

When you have experienced deeper fun, it is difficult to go back to the more superficial variety because the rewards of depth are great.  Ask anyone who has truly enjoyed both popular and classical music which one ultimately brings greater rewards (and I say this with a deep appreciation for the joys of popular music.) 

Pursuing depth is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the human being; it is one of the noblest goals in a human life; and it brings ongoing happiness.  Indeed, the journey to depth brings as much happiness as its attainment, and since depth has no limits, the journey to it never ends. 

To be continued next week: Join me to learn the remaining four values that Dennis Prager claims “…are more important than happiness and that therefore bring people much of it!”

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 MONTHLY REMINDER

The next F.R.E.E. Create Prosperity Now 60-minute tele-class will be held this Wednesday, August 26 at 6:00pm PACIFIC.  This month’s topic is “Integrity Fuels Intention.”  Join us to learn about this essential prosperity tool for attracting positive people, things and resources into your life! If you can’t be there, the call REPLAY will be sent to you, but ONLY if you have pre-registered. So send your full name and email to: caroll@practicalprosperitycoach.com. The call number and password will be emailed to you the day before the call.  Please let me know if you plan to be there live or via replay, so we’ll be sure to have plenty of lines available.  And don’t forget to invite a FRIEND – they’ll thank you for it!  

Your questions and comments are most welcome!  To request a complimentary phone consultation, contact caroll@practicalprosperitycoach.com.