The argument goes like this:
Why should I be happy when so many people are suffering?
This sounds pretty noble on the surface, but if we change the subject matter then our faulty thinking is exposed.
Why should I be good when there is so much evil in the world?
Good does not need justification, and neither does happiness. Not only is happiness valuable on its own, happiness IS good. How does self-inflicted suffering ease suffering in the world?
Now admittedly, the ability to grasp the whole world is hard (only God has that capability). So let’s reduce the world to just 10 people, including yourself.
All 10 people are sad. Then one day something good happens to you. Being grateful for what has transpired makes you happy. You also notice that the other 9 people are not happy. What should you do? One option is to feel guilty because you have something others do not have. So it turns you to sadness. The result? Now the whole world is sad. One of the other 9 is happy because she is going to get married. Yet she follows the same reasoning and, again, everyone is sad. And that is a sad world, indeed.
Being concerned about suffering in the world, and being moved to lessen it, does not mean that choosing unhappiness is a part of the solution.
Following are 5 truths to guide your thinking.
1. Your happiness is contagious. Happiness breeds more happiness. If good things happen to you, sharing your good feelings in encouraging ways helps others have good feelings too. It tends to lighten their load. Putting on a sad face during a happy time is both dishonest and counterproductive. Your sadness does not serve anyone, nor does it create options that will serve others.
2. You can’t give away what you don’t have. Do you want to extend love, compassion, and happiness to others? Then you must cultivate it within yourself. Two virtues I hold to be true and valuable are compassion and loving kindness. Compassion is the desire to ease the suffering in yourself and others. Loving kindness is the desire to bring joy and happiness to yourself and to others. Compassion and loving kindness build on each other. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a great precept to keep in mind.
Your misery does not serve anyone.
It might create a bad atmosphere, but it certainly doesn’t create the kind of options that serve others.
3. Happiness is not a limited resource. You are not going to use it all up. It is not finite. Your happiness does not reduce its availability to others. The scarcity mentality says it will run out. The abundance mentality says that if we run out of pie, we’ll bake another one. It’s an endless resource.
4. The pursuit of happiness has always been encouraged. The legitimate question is “what brings it?” Happiness is not like a gold nugget that is buried in some riverbank that we need to search for and dig up.
Think journey – not destination.
We would be better served if we changed the phrase the pursuit of happiness to the happiness of pursuit! It should be a part of our daily experience as we journey through this life. I’ve had people say to me, “I don’t have a right to be happy.” Show me one person who has ever made a positive impact in the world who has said that – including the people you work with.
5. Turn your guilt into giving. If my guilt nudges me to help others, then that is an appropriate use of guilt. Guilt is not to be a perpetual state. Helping others could be in the form of money, mentoring, a listening ear – all of which include the gift of time. By the way. Studies also show that this leads to happiness. It seems that the more I give, the more I receive.
The issue is not about relieving your guilt. The real issue is about expressing who you are in all your wholeness. It’s about being the kind of person that truly wants to make a difference in the lives of others.
The more you give, the more you live. The more you for-give, the more you live.
Have you ever felt guilty about being happy? How did you deal with it?
We’d like to hear from you.