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Most humans, I hope, strive and yearn for happiness in whatever they do. It’s almost as if it’s a basic human need. They want to “feel good,” content, and satisfied with whatever they do or have. In the Jewish Text “Ethics of Our Fathers” it is written, “Who is Rich? One who is happy with his portion. ” I wholeheartedly believe this scripture. People always want more and more, yet they never seem to be contempt. They want the next best car, or the nicer shirt, but they can’t seem to achieve the happiness they so desire.
Unfortunately we see often in the news of a wealthy businessman, or a famous actor/actress who are either arrested or worse, found dead because of an alcohol or drug related event. Why do these wealthy, successful and beautiful people do this to themselves? They have everything there heart desires at their fingertips, but there is something visibly lacking. I believe that it’s because they weren’t able to achieve true happiness and they fell into a bad depression. Someone can have so much money, clothes and cars, but where is the love? Where is the true human interaction?
I can honestly say most of these people live artificial lives. From their “celebrity relationships” with 5 kids from 3 husbands to having every new piece of clothing, they see themselves that it’s all empty and meaningless but they can’t get out of that rut. Business men who either have the “too-much-money” syndrome or the ones that have fallen on extremely hard times have the same issue, so much as they even have a stereotype when it comes to depression- doing drugs, and lots of it. While this all seems clear cut and simple, it’s truly not. The human mind is very complex and very unique.
Richard Layard, in his book “Happiness- Lessons From A New Science” tries to shed some light on this topic and even suggests some ways on how to change ourselves to become happy and to attain more and more happiness during our lives. He uses his knowledge of several different sciences and economics to try to show us where happiness comes from and how we can attain it. Layard starts off with a series of questions on page 12 “So what is the feeling of happiness? Is there a state of “feeling good” or “feeling bad” that is a dimension of all our waking life? Can people say at any moment how they feel?
Indeed, is your happiness something, a bit like your temperature, that is always there, fluctuating away whether you think about it or not? If so, can I compare my happiness with yours? ” Layard asked some very in depth and powerful questions here. He then proceeded to answer them all with a yes. I don’t believe that the answer is a universal yes. There are billions of people in the world with billions of different backgrounds, feelings and beliefs. One point I can agree with Layard on is his second question, Is there a state of “feeling good” or “feeling bad” that is a dimension of all our waking life? There is.
When we as humans do tasks or interact with other people, we need to be in a certain mind frame. If someone, for example, isn’t in a “happy mood” they might not be able to accomplish what they would like to because their mind is in a state which won’t allow them to. When I was studying abroad in Israel I went through a traumatic, near death experience. I was jeeping with my cousins near the Jordan Desert when suddenly ground gave way to our jeep and we overturned into a deep ditch. I was on the side that the jeep landed on and was buried under debris and all of the gear and belongings that were in the jeep at the time.
My oldest cousin Yossi, an ex-delta sniper for the Israeli Defense Forces, extricated me out, I was in a shaken up but happy mood. That happy mood didn’t last too long. We had to wait over 3 hours for a team of professionals to come and evacuate us out of the desert. I was getting scared and cold, all the meanwhile with much time on my hands to sit and ponder. I eventually went into a mild depression for the next few days. Little to no appetite, almost no conversation, and even skipping prayer services were some of the effects of this mini-depression. I went to Israel to study and to become more observant in my religion.
The experience of the jeeping accident led me into “bad mood” that temporarily blinded me from my purpose, and what I wanted to accomplish couldn’t be accomplished at that time. When Layard talks about “The Function of Happiness” on page 24, he makes a strong statement “It (happiness) is supremely important because it is our overall motivational device. We seek to feel good and to avoid pain. (not moment by moment, but overall. )” He brings examples of things that we do in everyday life that bring us happiness or sadness, things that if they weren’t done, would have brought the human race to its demise.
He brings this to light to show that even when we are not realizing it, we are looking to bring ourselves happiness and joy, and while not realizing it, we are achieving a human need of happiness. Layard, on page 48, delves into something I can honestly assume a great portion of humanity deals with. It is the concept of the “Hedonic Treadmill”; once a human gets something nice or something “happy” occurs in one’s life, the good feeling only lasts a while until that person wants more, or the next best happiness.
Rich people always want the next fastest car, the watch with the most diamonds that year, the dress with the most zeros on the price tag than the year before. If one wasn’t able to acquire that “need or want” that they so desired, they would not be as happy as they were and, according to Layard, one would “revert” back to how they felt before they had that next best thing. I deal with this feeling every day, but through discussions with close mentors of mine, I have been able to curb that want somewhat, but sometimes I still can’t help it.
I always wanted to lease a car with features, but I was rejected by car companies many times. Finally this year after much thought and after getting my finances in line, I was approved to lease a 2012 Honda. The car came with leather, power seats, heated seats, and alloy rims. I was ecstatic! I finally got what I have been wanting. Now it’s a month later and I’m getting used to the car, but I want more features in it. I see myself “running” on this treadmill. I realize it’s a natural human want, but I try to make myself happy with what I have and I utilize mentors and friends to help me feel the way I desire to feel.
Taking NLP into consideration, I see a perfect example of “mirroring” involved with the way we feel with regards to happiness and feelings. For example, at on occasion or get together, whether a happy or sad one, people usually act the way most people are at those events. When a bride or groom walks down the aisle at a wedding, one might not have the intention to clap for them, but they do anyway unintentionally because other people are doing it. Another example is when couples are married and live together for 40 to 50 years. They tend to start looking similar to each other even though they looked completely different at time of marriage.
The same goes here with materialistic happiness and satisfaction. We sometimes want the next best thing because our friend does, or because our friend has it and we want to mirror them and have the same thing. While I feel that Layard makes amazing points on the topic of happiness and the way we deal with feelings on a daily basis, I don’t believe he has the final word on it. He is an independent researcher with only his opinion to back it up. The world is way too large and diverse to even base a scientific study on happiness with a range of 80,000 people.
He definitely makes some headway into shedding light on the way we feel and what makes humans feel the way they do. My personal formula for happiness hasn’t changed much, but after reading some of what Layard has to say, and considering some NLP, I actually understand more why certain things make me and others happy, things that I didn’t understand previously. I now know why I feel the way I feel sometimes after purchasing an item, or going through an experience. Happiness is a very tough concept to understand but with learning and self-introspection, one can move closer to true happiness every day.